An ex-boyfriend and I used to go to breakfast every Sunday in London at a funny old café near Earl's Court. Afterward we'd go into this enormous bookstore, and we'd have to buy the other person a book. It was a really nice thing to do. I think sometimes when you're young, and even when you're older, purchasing a book for yourself or anyone else can be terrifying. I left school when I was 16, and I always felt—actually still do in some ways—intellectually insecure. He was 11 years older, this boyfriend, and this was his way of letting me know that it was perfectly okay to have an opinion, of helping me overcome my own insecurities—which is pretty spectacular. One day he picked up a copy of Thérèse Raquin, and I thought, You've got to be kidding me. But he said, "This is one of the most extraordinary love stories ever written." And that book, which is one of the five that changed my life, has never left me.
By Émile Zola
This story seeps into your insides—the way Zola describes the intensity of the relationship between a woman and the man with whom she has an affair. When you meet Thérèse, she barely speaks. She's so numb and stagnant. I think we've all been in those emotional places at one time or another. That lack of courage, lack of confidence, has always profoundly disturbed me. She is transformed through passion and desperation. She and Laurent love each other so much that everything else fades away. They don't think beyond being together. And, of course, it's the act that makes that possible—drowning her husband—that destroys them.
Made in Italy: Food & Stories
By Giorgio Locatelli
Food is one of the sexiest, most glorious pleasures that can possibly be had. I happen to love preparing it, I love eating it, I love sharing it. I cannot stand cookbooks that don't have pictures. You want to have evidence that this is going to be delicious. I love Giorgio's book because where there's a recipe, there's a picture of it. It's full of his love of food, the various taste sensations he's experienced throughout his life, recipes, and pages of ingredients. I actually know this family, but that aside, this genuinely is one of my favorite books. Giorgio talks you through the stages of making something in a way that's incredibly coherent and easy to follow.
By Richard Yates
Frank and April Wheeler meet in New York. He has bohemian ideas; she is a woman who believed that she was going to be something special among a group of special people. After they move to the suburbs, you see quite clearly the isolation they feel once severed from the city. In the moments when the two are happy, you see how happiness can be reignited in a relationship that's starting to go sour, but they insist on seeing themselves as a kind of golden couple, destined for a more glamorous life. It's really a story about disappointment—and how that can destroy one's soul. [Winslet played in a movie based on the book, co-starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Sam Mendes.]
Boost Your Child's Immune System
By Lucy Burney
My copy is covered in splotches and coffee rings—it literally goes everywhere with me. I found it through my sister, whose son is two months younger than my daughter. He had allergies that manifested in chronic eczema, and Burney helped her figure out what he might be intolerant of. Then my daughter got whooping cough, even though she'd been vaccinated. So I thought, Hang on, I need to know more. I think every parent has a different theory about parenting, and we live in a world where one day pomegranate juice is said to be good for you, and one day it's blueberry juice. We all want to do the right thing for our children, and I have found this book an incredible way to help mine have a healthy life.
By Joseph Olshan
This novel begins with two young boys playing at the edge of a lake, and one drowns. That event influences everything to come for the survivor—his relationships, his fear of love, his failure to trust. I read the book a long time ago, but one thing has stayed with me: the way a trauma in childhood—though the memory is so blurred and disjointed—can affect us deeply without our even realizing it.