Andi Oliver is perhaps best known for being a chef and broadcaster, but did you know she's also an avid reader? Andi's love for books makes her the perfect host for Sky Arts Book Club Live, a new series in which she and author Elizabeth Day invite four members of an existing book club to chat about new releases and favourite classics. In each episode, the authors of the books being discussed are brought in to answer questions and share their stories. Along the way, there are plenty of reading recommendations, and even some snacks. We caught up with Andi to talk about the show, her love of books and her must-read titles of 2020.
GH: Congratulations on the series! Why do you think it’s such a must-watch for people who love books?
Andi: “I just think it’s a really human, interactive book show. I've always read voraciously since I was a kid and for me, there’s no snobbery around books. Often times, when people are talking about books, they take on a kind of rarefied tone and it becomes a bit impenetrable. I don't really know why that happens, but it does. I think people make things a bit dense when they don’t need to be.
“The thing about our show is that it’s very human. We have a different book club on each week, so the books are seen through a different prism every single time. Everybody there is just genuinely very excited about books – me, Elizabeth and Simon [Savidge, a literary influencer who appears on the show] are like three avid book club members. The book club [in attendance], obviously love books. You get a really broad overview of the books we pick each week, including the cookbooks.”
Do you think at this time, books are more important than ever in giving us inspiration and comfort?
“I think of books as like a life raft. They save us from mundanity, they draw us to a poetic, multi-faceted world. We all need that. We all need to listen to our empathy and step towards kindness and I think books help you to remember that you’re an empathic, human animal and that we need to come together. I think there’s no better time to be reminded of that, than this.
“I also think it’s a good time to remind people of the simple things that can bring a little light into your life. A book is such a seemingly small thing but it’s a door into infinite universes. At a time when it’s hard for us to connect with people in the physical, real world, because there are so many restrictions – books connect us to each other in an age-old way that I will never be tired of. I think it’s a brilliant time to be doing something like a book show.”
It must be amazing being able to put your questions to the authors when they come on the show?
“It’s so lovely having the authors there because when you’re reading the book, all these questions come to you and it’s so great to actually to find out. So much with art, people make up the answers, don’t they? Pointing at a painting and telling you what a painter was thinking, and I just think: ‘How do you know?’ So it’s really great to have the authors there and have [them answer] all the little questions that flick through your mind when you’re reading a book.
“So far we’ve had Nick Hornby, Abi Daré, Hashi Mohamed, and William Boyd – that’s a really broad spectrum in just two shows. They’ve all been really generous with their time, their passion and their insight."
What have your own reading habits been like this year?
“I’ve found myself reading more – well, I did at the beginning but now I’ve got crazy busy again... I’ve been doing pop up restaurants and all sorts of stuff. I didn’t get that much time in lockdown, but when we came out of it, I started [reading] again.
“I’ve been filming back to back on two different shows. What I’ve found is, when I’ve been really busy, I’ve started listening to audiobooks. Because then, when I have a break on set, or I’m having my makeup done, I can listen to a book. When I’m doing 53 other things I can still get my reading in.
“I need my reading – my reading is my balm, it helps me with my mental health and keeps me on a level that I need to be connected to. So, I’ve been doing a lot more audiobooks and I’ve loved it, actually.”
What are your must-read books of 2020?
“I listened to Abi Daré’s The Girl With the Louding Voice. It’s read by a brilliant actress called Adjoa Andoh, who’s really talented. It's one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever listened to in my life. She brought it to life. Every minute I could, I was putting it back on and listening to a few paragraphs, it was incredible.
“In lockdown, I read Where The Crawdads Sing. It was one of those books, you know when you’re walking down the road, reading, because you just can’t put it down? They become like your friends, the characters, don’t they? And sometimes when you get to the end, you just want to start all over again because otherwise how are you going to see your friends? I found the book brilliant, I loved, loved, loved it.
“There’s so much incredible literature around at the moment. I’m planning a holiday later in the year, I’m literally packing a box and I’m going to send all the books ahead of me, so all I’m going to do on the holiday is lay on the beach and read. I can’t wait.”
Who would be in your dream book club?
“I would have my best friend, Neneh Cherry. She and I have shared books and our love of books and our love of writing together for 40 years now. I can’t believe that, but it’s been 40 years. We were 17 and 18 when we met. Books have always been one of the things we absolutely love.
“I would have to have Maya Angelou there for sure. She is the backbone of so many books that I love and have given me such joy in my life. Toni Morrison would have to be there. Philip Pullman would have to be there, because I love Philip Pullman.
“Then, my mum. She used to take me to the library every week when I was a kid. She was the one who instilled a love of books in me. She loved to write. I think that’s quite a good book club.”
What’s the book you’ll be gifting to loved ones this Christmas?
“I’m obsessed with The Girl With the Louding Voice. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in such a long time. It works on so many levels. I think Abi Daré is one of the most exciting new voices in literature that I’ve read in a very long time. It’s witty, it’s challenging, it’s exciting. There’s a thriller running through it.
“I’m definitely going to be giving that to a couple of people, one of which is my aunt who lives in Antigua. She loves to read. Whenever I go to Antigua, I take her the books I’m most excited about, so I’m going to be taking her The Girl With the Louding Voice.
Sky Arts Book Club Live airs Sundays at 7pm on Sky Arts, available for everyone to watch on Freeview Channel 11, and is simulcast live on the @SkyTV Facebook page.
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