My first reaction when the British Book Awards asked me to be a judge was, “They want me to read how many books?! Oh gosh no, I definitely do not have the time.” So it was a hard no for about 10 minutes, then I took some time to actually think about it properly. Growing up, I devoured books. And did so too in my 20s and 30s. I would always have a book in my bag during the morning and evening commute, ready to grab as soon as my train left the station. My mind would momentarily be taken somewhere different other than the cramped smelly conditions of the 7.51am to Charing Cross.
But then I had my children, and somehow my love for reading took a back seat to just about everything else you’re juggling. And commutes were suddenly dominated by replying to emails and trying not to drop any organisational balls when it came to the children and, well, general life. And I realised I missed reading. I still buy a huge amount of incredible books which I cram onto bookshelves around the house, but I never seem to find the time to devote enough time to get through them all. So I realised that by agreeing to become a judge, it would spark my love affair with the written word once again. Plus, and this was probably what sealed the deal, the organisers said that most of the books were available to listen to as audiobooks. As soon as they sent that email, I replied instantly. Yep, I’d do it.
Your support changes lives. Find out how you can help us help more people by signing up for a subscription
And my British Book Awards category? Non-Fiction Narrative Book of The Year. Now there’s a group of books that you can really get your teeth into. What was joyous for me was that bar one (Edward Enninful’s A Visible Man), I’d never read any of the books before. And yes, even Matthew Perry’s autobiography. I must have been living under a rock when that one came out, I genuinely didn’t know that he’d written one! And I think it’s important to note that some of them – one in particular – I know for sure I would never have picked up and read of my own volition. I hand on heart know that I wouldn’t voluntarily read Super Infinite by Katherine Rundell – mostly because the last time I read history books was at university. And I sort of felt like you only read history books about 17th century poets when you had an essay to write, not for fun. I’m pleased to report I was totally wrong about that one. I spent a week listening to it on my walk to work and loved it keeping me company.
- Rock of Ages – the marvellous memoirs of Elton John and Debbie Harry
- ‘The Accidental Memoir’ is the inspirational guide to writing your life story
- Lucid prose, raw accounts of grief and witty memoirs: The Big Issue critics’ books of the year
Perry, Enninful and Madly, Deeply: The Alan Rickman Diaries made doing housework a joy actually. They kept me company as I pottered round the house cleaning and decluttering. I genuinely looked forward to pulling on the rubber gloves and getting down to work, as it gave me good reason to pop in the headphones and get lost in the stories of others. Sophie McCartney’s Tired & Tested was basically a reflection of my current life navigating motherhood. McCartney kept me company as I went for long walks without my children, it was a constant reminder of why I needed long walks without my children. Peace and quiet, and peeing alone, are hugely underrated.
The only book I sat and read was Manni and Reuben Coe’s brother. do. you. love. me. A beautiful piece of work that I ended up being thankful for in term of having a physical book between my fingers and being able to bend the corner of the page ready to devour the next night. (And yes, I know that’s sacrilege in some quarters, But I have a track record of losing bookmarks).