Jeanette Winterson: ‘I couldn't finish Fifty Shades. Are straight women really having such terrible sex?'

The novelist on Mary Portas’s call to arms, Tove Jansson’s Moomin wisdom, and not reading Thomas Pynchon

The book I am currently reading
Sincerity by Carol Ann Duffy. I have this by my bed and read a poem every morning before I get up. Paired with a pot of coffee it is the perfect start to the day – mental energy. I’m also reading Eve Was Shamed by Helena Kennedy – how the British justice system continues to fail women. Stimulating and scary. I’ve just finished Now You’re Talking by Trevor Cox – the story of human conversation from Neanderthals to AI. I’m about to start Work Like a Woman – the fab Mary Portas calls us to arms.

The book that changed my life
The Bible. I was brought up hearing it read aloud twice a day, and learning to read from the book of Deuteronomy – because it is full of animals (mostly unclean). The King James cadences formed my relationship with language. Bible stories framed my world. My secular life is the next layer up, not the deepest layer, and it is better to know that and work with it, not deny it.

The book I wish I’d written
Finn Family Moomintroll. Just remember Tove Jansson had the Hemulen (male) in a dress. How ahead of the pack was she? In fact, I just wanted to be Snufkin.

The book that influenced me
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. As a young writer in the 1980s I wanted an escape from the Anglo-American novel with its emphasis on narrative and character. I was looking for writing that was more elusive and driven by language. Calvino was my beginning.

The book that changed my mind
There are so many! Reading is a life-long collision with minds not like your own. We should book-bomb Donald Trump.

The last book that made me cry
Educated by Tara Westover. How to escape the Mormons by educating yourself free.

The last book that made me laugh
The Trouble with Women by Jackie Fleming. These cartoons are laugh-out-loud funny. I keep my copy by the kettle.

The book I couldn’t finish
Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James. Are straight women really having such terrible sex and terrible lives?

The book I’m most ashamed not to have read
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I just can’t get past page five. Everything by Thomas Pynchon. I will try again …

My earliest reading memory
My first visit to the public library in Accrington, which used to have a whole building for children full of books and little chairs and even a fireplace. I sat with one of Kathleen Hale’s Orlando the Marmalade Cat stories. And I realised there were a lot more books than the Bible.

My guilty pleasure
Strip cartoons when I should be working. But they are by Alison Bechdel, so maybe that doesn’t count.

The book I give as a gift
No such book – I often give books and it depends on the moment. Books are many things: energy shots, life-jackets, flying carpets, alarm clocks, oxygen masks, weapons, salves. Who needs what and when can’t be predicted till it happens.

The book I’d most like to be remembered for
I don’t care. Sometimes I only remember a single sentence of a book – but that sentence is a lucky charm or a talisman. I hope I am making a difference with my work. If I can encourage someone, make them think, or see things differently, or take a risk, then that is what books have done for me. Pass it on, I say.

• Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days by Jeanette Winterson (Vintage, £10.99). To order a copy for £7.99, go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99.


Jeanette Winterson

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