|photo: Roderick Field
Sophie Hannah is the author of five collections of poetry and eight psychological thrillers. Her latest to be released in the U.S. is Kind of Cruel (Putnam, August 6, 2013). She lives in Cambridge, England, with her husband and children.
On your nightstand now:
A huge tottering pile that makes me nervous every time I look at it! When am I going to find time to read all those books? Last night I started to read Agatha Christie's first Hercule Poirot novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. I'm five pages in, and it's already brilliant. Christie's style is elegant and irresistible. She's just the best storyteller. Once I've finished that, I'm going to read Follow Me Down, a psychological thriller by Tanya Byrne, a hugely talented young English writer.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Enid Blyton's Secret Seven mysteries--very famous in England--about a group of seven children who form a detective agency and solve mysteries before the police ever do. I have loved mystery stories from a very young age. In fact, it was my love of Enid Blyton books that led me on to Agatha Christie... and then on to Ruth Rendell, Tana French and many more.
Your top five authors:
Tana French, Nicci French, Agatha Christie, Iris Murdoch, Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Book you've faked reading:
Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I was supposed to read it for my degree course but it was a) enormous and b) about a whale. I seriously doubted I would prefer it to Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener, my favorite novella ever, which is a) short and b) about a weird guy. I'm sure Moby Dick is brilliant--and indeed, I have made it the favorite novel of my detective protagonist, Simon Waterhouse, who features in all my books--but every time I picked it up and thought, "I must read this," a little voice in my head whispered, "But it's massive. And about a whale." I realize this is my fault and not Moby Dick's.
Book you're an evangelist for:
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I used to be a vengeful, bitchy person before I read it--full of repressed anger. Now I am hardly ever vengeful, still quite bitchy, and only ever really angry when the latest season of Dexter isn't yet available to order. Which is great news!! No, seriously: the important thing is that although living in the enlightened way that Tolle prescribes is almost impossible if you're an ordinary, flawed human being, the book is a great work of philosophy. It clearly demonstrates that, frequently, it's our own psyches and egos that create our unhappiness rather than other people's behavior. Tolle believes we can be much happier by telling ourselves different stories about events in our lives. I think he's right.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Hanging Hill by Mo Hayder. I saw the U.K. cover and it was so beautiful, I thought, "I must own that book." I love Mo's work anyway, though. She's a genuinely original crime writer and her first novel, Birdman, is one of the finest crime novels ever written.
Book that changed your life:
I'm going to pick two: Controlling People by Patricia Evans (how to avoid and deal with them, not how to control other people!) and Facing Codependence by Pia Mellody. Both are American self-help/personal growth books--a genre I adore. When I stop reading personal growth books, I start to personally shrink IMMEDIATELY! My only hope of staying even vaguely sane is to have a self-help book on the go at all times. Evans and Mellody, in their fantastic books, demonstrate that the damaging people one encounters in one's day to day life can be survived and dealt with in a positive and healthy way, as well as the damaging parts of one's own inherited pain. (Sorry, I know this doesn't sound very jolly! But we're all survivors of psychological damage to some extent, even if it was only one slightly less than ardent ex-boyfriend who dumped us for being not as pretty as Madonna, so we might as well read about it and become experts!)
Favorite line from a book:
"I find this frenzy insufficient reason/ For conversation when we meet again." Edna St. Vincent Millay, from the sonnet that begins, "I being born a woman and distressed...." Basically the poem is Edna saying to a chap, "I want to have sex with you, but it's a purely physical urge and as soon as you've scratched my itch (as it were!), I will have no further interest in you." I'm not sure if this is impressively feminist or a bit mean, but I recognized the sentiment as being one that has passed through my mind from time to time. I feel that way about most of Edna's sentiments, which is why I love her!
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson--the most amazing psychological thriller, soon to be a film starring Nicole Kidman. I'd love to read that again, not knowing the (quite brilliant) twist.
Book you bought for the title alone:
An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears. Other favorite titles include Time Will Darken It (William Maxwell), Like This for Ever (S.J. Bolton), A Quiet Belief in Angels (R.J. Ellory) and To Serve Them All My Days (R.F. Delderfield). I love long, unusual rhythmic titles.