The books that shaped me: Dolly Alderton shares her favourite books

·4-min read
Photo credit: Alexandra Cameron
Photo credit: Alexandra Cameron

Welcome to The books that shaped me - a Good Housekeeping series in which authors talk us through the reads that stand out for them. This week, we're hearing from Dolly Alderton, author of the Sunday Times best-selling memoir Everything I Know About Love, which is now being adapted into a BBC series by Dolly and a team of writers. Dolly's first novel, Ghosts, was published in hardback on 15 October 2020 and is published by Penguin in paperback on 22 July 2021.

In addition to working as an author, Dolly is a renowned journalist and is the co-host and co-creator of the podcast The High Low, alongside Pandora Sykes.

How have books impacted your life?

It may sound cliché, but books have made me feel much less alone. I think the function of stories is to entertain, enlighten and move the reader, but most importantly we find connections and reassurance in the stories that we love through shared experiences. Books have given me a language for emotions I feel but sometimes have difficulty articulating.

The childhood book that's stayed with you...

The book that had the biggest impact on me as a teenager was The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I believe that the function of books for children and young people is to help teach empathy and to give a glimpse of lives that happened at different times and in different contexts to our own. The Color Purple has difficult themes of pain, suffering and discrimination — which are far removed from young people like myself who have come from backgrounds of love, comfort and privilege — yet it’s so important for us to understand all these different lives and experiences that people have had. Despite its hard themes, it's also about sisterhood, intense female admiration, and the emotional relationships between women, which fascinated me.

Your favourite book of all time...

Any Human Heart by William Boyd. It’s a beautifully written book as well as a compelling story with a flawed but loveable lead character and narrator, whose entire lifetime you live through. The novel does a full exploration of one human; you watch him have all these relationships and experiences and you watch how this man is shaped and carved by different people that come in and out of his life. It’s an odyssey of a book and it has influenced me heavily as I felt so close to the protagonist. I read it in Italy and I felt like the lead character was there next to me.

The book you wish you'd written...

I wish I had written Normal People, although only Sally Rooney could have! I was blown away by it. I thought that the characters were nuanced, well-formed, three-dimensional and complicated. The central relationship was so compelling with its push and the pull romantic narrative. It's such a testament to Sally as a writer that this love story has been told a million ways but she found a new way of doing it, depicting a shared understanding of souls and minds. I read it twice I loved it so much, it’s an accomplished piece of literature and inspiring for anyone.

The book you wish everyone would read...

I think everyone should read The Wild Other by Clover Stroud. It is a story about female wildness and what a true longing for freedom looks like as a woman. Clover has led an extraordinary life, deciding in younger years to live in a different way to what was excepted of her. For anyone who wants to live a nomadic life, this is a woman who actually did it, who was fully committed to a sense of freedom. Men have written about this topic so much, it’s so well-trodden, but women don’t necessarily have the safety, freedom or confidence to do so. But in Clover’s memoir, she does, and it's just amazing.

The book that got you through a hard time...

Little Weirds by Jenny Slate. This is a collection of short essays that are poetic and, at times, side-splittingly funny. Dealing with the mythical and the spiritual, Jenny explores heartbreak and how you continue to love once you know how hard love can be. It's all about being a woman in your 30s and is hugely comforting and very funny.

The book that uplifts you...

It has to be Delight by JB Priestly. It was written post-WW2 to lift national spirit in such trying times. Priestly lists everything that gives him delight: be that planning travel, a family dinner, new tobacco or getting the giggles. Giving anywhere between a few paragraphs to a short essay per source of delight, it's a beautifully compiled list of why it's brilliant to be human, here and alive right now.

Dolly Alderton's Ghosts is now available to buy in paperback, published by Penguin.

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