Nigella Lawson: 'I reread David Copperfield for a bolstering reminder of greatness'

The author and cook on a life-changing book by Marilynne Robinson, the snobbery surrounding commercial success, and the food writer she hugely admires

The book I am currently reading
I’m suffering from crippling reader’s block. I had months of it during the earliest months of the first long lockdown, then recovered, but now, since about a week ago, find myself back in another bout. I don’t know what’s worse about it: the despair or the overwhelming sense of alienation. But I have three books on my bedside table that I hope will pull me out of it: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson; Oh Happy Day by Carmen Callil; and My Mother Gets Married by Moa Martinson.

The book that changed my life
There are certain books that have had a piercing effect on me at various stages in my life: as an adolescent, Tonio Kröger by Thomas Mann; as a young woman, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson; more recently, All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews.

The book I wish I’d written
A writer’s voice is so intensely personal, I can’t quite enter into the spirit of this. But certainly, had I read Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen before starting How to Eat, I’m not sure I’d have bothered.

The book I think is most underrated
There’s such idiotic snobbery about commercial success. If Elizabeth Gilbert had written The Signature of All Things before Eat, Pray, Love, I’d like to think it would have been recognised for the work of literary brilliance it is. It’s not that it doesn’t have its champions, but it is a remarkable, beautiful novel that too few soi-disant serious readers have even thought to pick up.

The book that changed my mind
I read the second edition of Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity a few years ago and found it clarifying and illuminating.

The last book that made me cry or laugh
I have to put these two questions together and answer wholeheartedly with one book: Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb. I’ve read it twice now, and listened to the audiobook three times; every time, I’ve laughed out loud at the voice of the grandmother (whose imagined posthumous memoir this is) and felt my heart crushed in my ribcage by the generations of suffering of mothers and daughters.

The book I couldn’t finish
I’m afraid – see my answer to the first question – this is a recurrent problem. I never mind not finishing a book when I feel it’s not worth my time, but when I can’t immerse myself in a book I can feel is good, I grow very despondent. Most recently, I’d put Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk in that latter category. But as Arnie said: I’ll be back.

The book I’m most ashamed not to have read
I’m not sure it’s shame I feel at all the lacunae in my reading life, more a sense of hopeful excitement at what lies ahead. What I do feel ashamed about are the many great books I know I have read and yet have scant memory of. Thank God for the joys of rereading.

My earliest reading memory
I don’t know how old I was when I – emphatically urban – read The Country Child by Alison Uttley. Probably six or seven, and I think it was my first real understanding of the transporting power of reading.

My comfort read
I’m not sure I’d say I reach for comfort in Dickens’s David Copperfield, but I reread it regularly for a bolstering reminder of greatness, to be made to laugh and reminded that, however many times I read it, it always bowls me over afresh.

The book I give as a gift
I’ve lost count of how often I’ve given friends Anne Enright’s Actress, a pitch-perfect piece of writing.

• Cook, Eat, Repeat by Nigella Lawson is published by Chatto & Windus (£26). To order a copy go to Delivery charges may apply.


Nigella Lawson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Kitchen revolution: how Nigella Lawson changed food writing
Funny, literary and irreverent, How to Eat reinvented the cookbook. Twenty years on, Bee Wilson explores how Nigella Lawson’s evocative, appetite-driven food writing influenced a generation

Bee Wilson

06, Oct, 2018 @8:00 AM

Nigella Lawson: Who'd be a goddess?

She cooks like an angel, looks like an angel, but suffered halo slip when she gained a second husband so soon after losing her first. Nigella Lawson talks to Sally Vincent about love, death, the perils of glamour, and why teatimes were torture when she was a little girl.

Sally Vincent

16, Oct, 2004 @12:01 AM

Article image
Reverend Richard Coles: ‘A collapsing ancien régime is like Disneyland to me’
The vicar, journalist and former pop star on Lampedusa’s Leopard, the trials of a trilogy – and why Raymond Blanc makes him laugh

Richard Coles

04, Jun, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Nigella Lawson: ‘I didn't think I’d be a mended person, but I am’
She’s embraced a solo lockdown, and is back with a new book (and TV show) of pure comfort food. Has Nigella Lawson found happiness at last?

Hadley Freeman

10, Oct, 2020 @7:00 AM

Article image
The 20 best Nigella Lawson recipes: part 3
More of Observer Food Monthly’s favourite recipes by one of Britain’s great cookery writers – from a stately roast rib of beef to quick mirin-glazed salmon

Nigella Lawson

29, Mar, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
Peanut butter chocolate cake and vegan gingerbread: five new sweet recipes from Nigella Lawson
From the birthday ‘cake of dreams’ to giant cookies for lone-dwellers, five delicious treats, exclusively extracted from Lawson’s new book, Cook, Eat, Repeat

Nigella Lawson

10, Oct, 2020 @7:00 AM

Article image
The 20 best Nigella Lawson recipes: part 2
A comforting steak and kidney pudding and an easy fish pie – more of our favourite Nigella dishes

Nigella Lawson

28, Mar, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
Why I became a cookbook writer | Nigella Lawson

As new editions of her acclaimed cookery books are published, Nigella Lawson looks back at how it all began

Nigella Lawson

15, Mar, 2014 @5:00 PM

Article image
Nigellissima by Nigella Lawson - review

Will Nigella's 'instant Italian inspiration' be another instant hit? It might, as long as no one's expecting too much about actual Italian cookery, says Matthew Fort

Matthew Fort

21, Sep, 2012 @12:17 PM

Article image
The 20 best Nigella Lawson recipes: part 4
An indulgent selection of puddings and cakes – from lemon pavlova to a boozy British trifle

Nigella Lawson

30, Mar, 2017 @7:00 AM