Four authors on the book they always recommend to others
David Nicholls, Meg Mason, Kamila Shamsie and Bolu Babalola help celebrate Well Read’s first birthday
It was one year ago tomorrow when I first shared my plans to launch this newsletter. I had been planning it for a while, and thinking about it even longer, but until I sent that tweet, I wasn’t sure I would actually do it. And after pressing the button, I hurled my phone onto the sofa as if it were on fire, left the room, and refused to look at it again for a good few hours.
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I may have been a bit of a drama queen. But really, I felt nervous about putting myself out there. I had only told a handful of people my plans for Well Read, I’d created my own very rudimentary logo (now beautifully updated by my wonderful and talented friend Meg, of last edition fame), and I was convinced no one would care. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here.
Now, to the best first birthday present I could have asked for: four of my favourite authors generously agreed to share their book recommendations just for Well Read readers in this special anniversary edition. What a treat! I hope you enjoy reading about the novels they love as much as I did.
Four authors on the one book they always recommend
David Nicholls on The Spare Room by Helen Garner
“Helen Garner is one of my favourite novelists, under-rated in this country but a brilliant writer of non-fiction too. I love The Children’s Bach, a story of a happy family blown apart by a new arrival, but I think her best work is The Spare Room, a novella about two old friends in Melbourne and what happens to their relation when one of them is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
The prose is simple and powerful, with the quality of reportage (there’s a strong autobiographical element there), and she is brilliant on the reality of illness and the limits of friendship. It’s tough, shocking sometimes but tremendously powerful, with not an ounce of sentimentality. Not an easy read but a wonderful book.”
David Nicholls is the author of One Day, Starter for Ten, Us, Sweet Sorrow, and The Understudy. I think it is fair to say his novels have shaped me into the reader I am today.
Kamila Shamsie on The Startup Wife by Tahmima Anam
“Tahmima Anam’s The Startup Wife is an enormously smart and entertaining novel — Anam is uncommonly perceptive and funny about both the world of tech and the world of romantic relationships, and what happens when the two collide. Plus, she created a website so convincing for her invented start-ups that venture capitalists got in touch wanting to invest in the companies.
Primarily though, I tell people to read it for its depiction of shifting power dynamics between a man and woman who live and work together, and set out to do both thinking love is all that matters.”
Kamily Shamsie is the author of Home Fire, an astonishingly good novel which won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2018, and the newly-released - and just as brilliant - Best of Friends.
Bolu Babalola on You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi
“A love story that isn't linear, this book is a complex, messy and glorious exploration of grief and the depths of love - and the surprising ways it can both find us and help us find ourselves.
You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty is challenging and rewarding.”
Bolu Babalola is the author of Love in Colour, a gorgeous collection of love stories, and Honey & Spice, the romcom I raved about in July. Far more excitingly for Bolu, so did Reese Witherspoon.
Meg Mason on One Day I Shall Astonish the World by Nina Stibbe
“I’m reading One Day I Shall Astonish the World by Nina Stibbe for the second or possibly third time since it came out in April this year. It wasn’t on purpose, I just accidentally opened it again while tidying up and then... you can’t help yourself, you just get picked up and carried from joke to joke, although the author does give the occasional pause to let you catch your breath and have your heart broken by some incredibly poignant image or unexpected turn of phrase.
It’s about a life-long friendship between two women whose choices over time pull them in different directions until their relationship no longer makes sense. But how to get out of it - and should you try - is the question it asks, and I think is a question we have all asked of legacy friendships at some point along the way. I haven’t so much been recommending it as bulk-buying it for everyone I know. So far, no one I’ve given it to has felt anything but total rapture for it, both pre-existing Stibbe fans and newcomers to her oeuvre alike. I think if anyone did come back a bit lukewarm, I couldn’t really see our friendship lasting, tbh.”
Meg Mason is the author of Sorrow and Bliss, truly one of the most special books I’ve ever read. Before that, she wrote You Be Mother, which was published in the UK for the first time this summer. This made me exceedingly happy as it is the Meg Mason fix we all needed.
Like many, I am devastated about the death of Hilary Mantel. It is a colossal loss to the book world – and beyond. There have been may of her best quotes going around since the news, but I thought I’d leave you with this one, from Bring up the Bodies:
A thousand likes to this post, and a thousand happy birthdays!! Love the authors you have here, and can't wait to check out some of these recommendations. Just finished Sorrow and Bliss and found it astonishing. Cheers to Well Read and another great year.
Congratulations on one year of great books! 🎉