As with many of the guests on my Desert Island Books series, I first heard Rebecca Seal on a podcast (Francesca Specter’s to be precise). An an award-winning food, drink, lifestyle and personal development writer based in London, Rebecca has also recently launched a podcast – The Solo Collective – and written a book called SOLO: How To Work Alone (And Not Lose Your Mind).
From foodie favourites to the book that she thinks all women should read, find out below which eight books Rebecca would pack for a summer sojourn to the sandy shores of a desert island.
Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater
I learned to cook from Nigel Slater, and then years later, began learning to write about food from him, too. We had this and a couple of his other books when I was a teenager. I cooked a fair amount back then, as a messy but enthusiastic beginner, in part because I was the only vegetarian in my family. I took the books to university when I left home, and then some years later, my first proper editorial job (after years of interning) was at Observer Food Monthly, a food magazine, where he was a contributing editor and recipe columnist. I learned so much there and from his work – although I still have plenty to learn – about what food writing can be. And I still have and love the book.
The Wolf Hall Trilogy by Hilary Mantel
Is it cheating to take a trilogy? I love historical fiction; I love being absorbed into another era and forgetting, for a moment, where I am – something we all need a bit more of right now. And Mantel is surely a master of the art. I know some people struggle with length of the books, but I celebrate it – I enjoyed that the books lived me with for weeks, and that I didn’t have to resurface into the real world too quickly.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I haven’t re-read Pride and Prejudice a while, but there was a time when I read it at least once a year, and if I’m going to be on a desert island, I want one book, at least, which I never get bored of. I don’t quite know why it’s so special to me – perhaps because I read it first when I was very young, and maybe because of the seminal television adaptation (with Colin Firth) which my family watched together. If I really was on an island, it would be a reminder of home.
Chasing the Sun by Linda Geddes
I think that Linda Geddes was one of the writers who helped me understand that you can write about personal development and science and physical and mental health in a way that still includes fascinating and captivating narrative. This book is about the way light affects the human body, but she also wrote a book about pregnancy, Bumpology, which is one of the most sensible and illuminating on the topic. Read this, and then move your desk closer to a window.
Spoon Fed: Why Almost Everything We’ve Been Told About Food Is Wrong by Tim Spector
Last year, I wrote a gut-health cookbook (it comes out this summer and is called Happy Guts, part of the series of Happy cookbooks I write with the LEON restaurant chain in the UK) and so I read a lot about our microbiome and good and bad gut bacteria. It’s a relatively new area of complex science but Tim Spector does a brilliant job of synthesising a lot of recent research in this and his previous book, the Diet Myth.
Underland by Robert McFarlane
A book about everything under our feet, from caves to catacombs to mines. It’s really an epic work, as it often feels that the author is travelling back in time (despite it being non-fiction) as well as deep underground. The writing is so beautiful; sometimes reading it felt like being inside a poem.
Rest: Why We Get More Done When We Work Less by Alex Soojung Kim Pang
This book really informed my thinking, when it came to writing SOLO, in terms of how we got to a cultural point in which we actually celebrate over-work while simultaneously neglecting everything our bodies and brains need in terms of rest and recovery. Alex is one of the interviewees in the first series of my podcast, the Solo Collective, and he makes a very strong, evidence-based case for the restorative power resting.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
This is not my usual kind of book – I thought. It was too popular and too many people were evangelising about it, so I wasn’t going to read it – until my desk mate left a copy on my desk and I felt like I had to give it a try. And then…I devoured it. I immediately wanted to read it again. All women should read it. It elucidates so much about how women feel about themselves and the contorted ways we live our lives because of the invisible structures which surround us – and how to break out of them. It’s highly readable and deeply inspiring. If everyone else hadn’t said it already, I’d say it was life changing.
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