Laura Jane Williams is a writer from Derbyshire, England, who I first came across on Instagram. A regular contributor to the likes of Red Magazine and Stylist, I loved her memoir, Becoming, and was thus thrilled to hear she was publishing her first novel, Our Stop. A novel about almost missing the love of your life, that Laura claims made her see love through a new, more hopeful paradigm, you can buy it here.
From her favourite book of 2018, to the book that gave her a permission slip to believe another life was possible for her, read on to find out which books Laura would take with her to a desert island…
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
I read this on a work trip to London when I was 20, and I’d never seen such a broad cast of characters that were so three-dimensional before. It was my first exposure to Zadie Smith, and it made me understand that I wanted to write, and write things that made people understand their humanness as much as reading On Beauty helped me navigate mine. It’s about two academic families and set in London and New England, and the dialogue, especially, is so naturalistic, so reflective of the individual personalities, that all ten of them felt like friends. There’s a beautiful moment where three of the early-twenties siblings all bump into each other on the street and go for coffee together, and I’ll never forget how Smith explores the strangeness and familiarity of that – that moment when you spend time with your brothers or sisters out of the watchful gaze of parents, and by choice. Stunning.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
My friend gifted me this book, who is third generation Italian and grew up in Brooklyn before it was the hipster Brooklyn we all see on TV now. Reading about the borough as it was, then, made me feel closer to her. It’s a semi-autobiographical 1943 novel that focuses on an impoverished but aspirational adolescent girl and her family living in Williamsburg, during the first two decades of the 20th century. I can’t even remember much about the story after that – but I can tell you I finished it on holiday in Sardinia, and hid under a bush to cry my eyes out afterwards. It floored me.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
My dad gave me a copy of this when I was 14 and really struggling with the fact he’d moved us, and I hated my new school. He inscribed it with, ‘Follow your heart and heed the omens’, and it is advice that I follow to this day. I re-read this about once a year, despite the fact that I’ve heard the author is a total egomaniac and unpleasant to be around. My love of this book is less about Coelho, then, and more about my father. He understood I was hurting all those years ago, but more than that he understood that the way out of my hurting was reading.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
I read this at the end of 2018 and officially announced it my book of the year. It is incredibly subtle, with the shifting dynamics of two people growing up, and growing towards and away from one another. The exploration of sexuality was unflinching, too, in a way that normalized what might otherwise be considered deviant if done with a less deftly aware hand. Rooney is one of those authors whose brain you wish you could have – her writing makes me wonder what it must be like to be so clever, to see people so clearly. I suppose that’s what good writing is, really, isn’t it? Seeing people and what makes them tick, even in spite of (or perhaps because of) what they say, and what they don’t.
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
The woman who made memoir a rite of passage, Eat, Pray, Love was my permission slip to believe another life was possible for me, just like it was for 13 million other people around the globe. Gilbert’s kindness with herself in this inspires me to give myself an easier ride, and her exploration of the “selfishness” of women who chose an unconventional path bolstered my own forging of a new way to be. I love Gilbert’s fiction as much as her memoir, but this will be a book I continue to re-read for its reminders on listening to your heart (and, actually, like my dad said, heeding the omens) – even when that is inconvenient. In fact, she advocates for quietening your mind to listen to your heart especially when it is inconvenient.
She Wants It by Jill Solloway
Jill Solloway created the Amazon Prime series ‘Transparent’, and I got the pleasure of meeting her (as she identified back then), at the press launch to that show. In her memoir, Jill goes from female-identifying with she/her pronouns, to divorcing her husband, recognizing she is a lesbian, recognizing they are non-binary and declaring they/their pronouns, and exploring their most comfortable outward expression, which they decide is short hair and baggy clothes. The interview with Sophie Heawood for The Observer about the book is well worth a Google, too, for both the content but also Heawood’s brilliant interviewing and feature writing technique. I am changed in my own identity for having read this, and it feels like a really modern and relevant look at why we even “need” male/female as default labels.
Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
If this is the peak chick-lit, then I am honoured to be associated with this genre. The original columns are some of my favourite ever writing, and the eventual books are so smart that you get whiplash from trying to keep up with the humour, wit, and charm of Fielding’s writing. I called my protagonist in Our Stop Nadia Fielding after the Bridget Jones author, because if I achieve even a nth of the light-hearted humanness of her words, I’d consider myself a success. The original MPV of commercial women’s fiction.
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
This book! This book!!! I ADORE that Atkinson took one of the most loved characters from Life After Life, which I also loved, and gave him his own novel. I read this on a flight back from Bali, and like the protagonist of a film I was the only one awake in a darkened cabin, with just a solitary spotlight on me as tears slid down my face uncontrollably. It’s no mean feat to get a reader to care that much, and now I eagerly await every release she has, pre-ordering as soon as new work in announced so that it lands on my doormat the day it comes out. Spellbinding.
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