Book Reviews / Books / Desert Island Books

Desert Island Books: Sophia Money-Coutts


Sophia Money-Coutts

It was after reading an article by Sophia Money-Coutts in the Sunday Times Magazine – on ‘what it’s like to be single, 34, and in a fertility fix’ that I began reading as many of her previous articles as I could get my hands on. Thankfully for me, there were many. I loved her honest and open style of writing, and with topics she covers being as varied as retreating to a cottage in Yorkshire for two months, to the rise in sperm banks, I spent a very joyful weekend eyes glued to my laptop. And so, when I discovered she had a new book coming out, I immediately invited her to take part in my Desert Island Books series. A journalist and author, she started out working life as a writer and editor on newspapers including the Evening Standard and Daily Mail, and then spent five years working as Features Director at Tatler, where she mostly travelled from castle to castle interviewing dukes and their Labradors. Her debut novel, What Happens Now, is out now, and you can find out which eight tomes she’d take with her to the sandy shores of a desert island below.

Ma’am Darling by Craig Brown

In no way a boring heavyweight biography which you read because you feel you ought to. This book about Princess Margaret documents her life in chronological order via the snippets and anecdotes of others, all cleverly weaved together by the master satirist. It will have you howling. During a visit to a friend’s house where the staff had arranged a table of cakes, scones and sandwiches, Margaret declared ‘I HATE tea!’ At an old people’s home, when presented with a plate of coronation chicken made specially for her, she said ‘This looks like sick.’ Once you’ve read it you need to listen to her Desert Island Discs, recorded in 1981, for a further insight and amusing line where she describes Buckingham Palace as ‘a terribly cosy house.’

The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman

The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman

Alright alright, Laura’s a friend but I’d recommend this book even if she wasn’t. It’s a revealing and moving memoir (my pages are all splotched with tears) about how she overcame anorexia through her love of reading, and specifically by reading books about food. From the fat, jolly characters in Dickens to cups of tea in the trenches, the plum jam in Anne of Green Gables and Elizabeth David’s ravioli, it’s a book for food and book lovers alike. Also, the clearest depiction I’ve ever read about how eating disorders take over the brain like knotweed. I constantly recommend it to parents with children who are suffering.

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Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson

Whenever I mention this book, people say ‘Don’t you mean Notes from a Small Island?’ and I have to tell them that, no, I absolutely don’t mean his book about travelling across Britain. Notes from a Big Country is a compilation of columns that Bryson wrote for the Mail on Sunday when he and his family returned to America from Britain in the mid-1990s. He tackles issues like over-familiar waiters, over-complicated car hire and the number of injuries every year in the US from bedding (400,000) with his usual sense of humour, lols on every page. This book will forever live on my bedside table for the nights when I wake at 3am, fretting that my life is imploding and I need to drink less/write more/go on a diet/practise yoga more often/meditate. Bryson always talks me down again.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

In the introduction to my first novel, my heroine Polly blames Marianne Dashwood for her lamentable romantic history. Willoughby breaks her heart and Marianne nearly dies as a result. I was borrowing from real-life here. When I first read this book, aged 12 or 13, this seemed an appropriate level of drama for a relationship and, trapped in an all-girls’ boarding school, I dreamt of such passion myself. I’ve now reached the grand old age of 34 and believe I’ve had enough romantic drama, but I’ll always be grateful to Willoughby for stirring my early romantic ideals.

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Middlemarch by George Eliot

This is on the list purely because I’ve never read it and am heartily ashamed. ‘Oh Middlemarch,’ my friend Clare sighs, practically in raptures, whenever it’s mentioned and I blush. But if I had a plenty of time kicking about this desert island, I could probably get through all 316,000 words.

A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

Roll your eyes all you like but this self-help book has saved me during various personal dramas in the past few years. Eckhart is the German-born guru who also wrote The Power of Now. This book followed eight years later and builds on the idea that human beings need to stop obsessing about the past or worrying about the future and be present right now, otherwise we drift through life missing it. It’s another one that remains next to my bed at all times to dip into when things feel bleak. And if you get properly into it, there’s an accompanying chapter-by-chapter podcast with Oprah.

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Other Men’s Flowers – a poetry anthology compiled by A P Wavell

This was published by the British military leader and Viceroy of India in 1944 when the outlook for World War Two wasn’t looking so hot. It’s a wonderful collection of poems – uplifting, moving, and very recitable. When my step-mother introduced this book to me, aged eight, I learned to chant lines from John Masefield, ‘I must go down to the seas again’, and Hilaire Belloc without really understanding them, but loving the lyricism and the beat all the same. I only have to hear the odd line from it now to feel comforted.

Where The Ocean Meets The Sky by Crispin Latymer

In 2005, my dad sailed across the Atlantic on his own. It was a journey his father had done before him and he wanted to do the same. It was a perilous crossing of three weeks which involved Somali pirates and broken ribs, and a chocolate Lindor ball every evening was his only treat. But eventually, thinner and more bearded, he made it across and wrote up his adventure. I’m biased, obviously, but it’s not just a book about sailing. It’s a story about chasing ghosts and making peace with them. I couldn’t be prouder.

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Images © Niki at the Cottage & The Book Boy

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