When six women gather around a table to eat cake and talk books you can guarantee that it will be an enthusiastic gathering. We called the event: The Books that Built Me, and everyone was asked to bring along a book or two that was formative in their childhood, teens or just generally.  The occasion was a tea party, sponsored by Wedgwood, held at my house, and photographed for Red magazine. (I have a piece in November Red on the link between books, tea and women.)

Red magazine invitation

The guests were: Sarah Curran, founder of My, Jenny Lewis portrait photographer,  Maggie Alderson, London-born Australian author, magazine editor and fashion journalist, Philippa Wright, Marketing director at wine merchants Goedhuis & Co., and Tara Spring, Celebrity Producer for network television.

Some people brought two books (I think Tara & Philippa stuck most closely to choosing books that were formative to them as children), others bought a sack full because they couldn’t decide. And we all kept thinking of more books we should have brought. So I volunteered to keep a list, and publish it on here so everyone could buy more books.


I think we all agreed that bringing books we loved to talk about, as opposed to having a set read was WAY more fun and interesting, so I wholly recommend book clubs that are show and tell in basis, rather than prescriptive.

Philippa’s books:

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
The Pursuit of Love
by Nancy Mitford


Jenny’s books:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
We Need To Talk About Kevin  by Lionel Shriver
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Book of Dave: A Revelation of the Recent Past and the Distant Future by Will Self

Sarah’s books:

French Children Don’t Throw Food by Pamela Druckerman
The Answer Is Simple…: Love Yourself, Live Your Spirit! by Sonia Choquette

Maggie’s books:

Howards End by E.M. Forster
On the Road
by Jack Kerouac
Down With Skool!: A guide to school life for tiny pupils and their parents by Geoffrey Willans
The Flambards books by KM Peyton
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehmann
Sex Tips for Girls
by Cynthia Heimel
The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis

Sasha’s books:

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Persephone Classics) by Winifred Watson
The Card by Arnold Bennett
A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley
Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams: Short Stories, Prose, and Diary… by Sylvia Plath
Ian Fleming’s James Bond books 
Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers

Tara’s Books:

What Katy Did  & What Katy Did at School by Susan Coolidge


And then there were all the books we kept remembering between us that we wanted to add to our list, for lots of different reasons. We all were disappointed that we didn’t discover I Capture the Castle until our 20s or 30s, so I urge anyone with a teenage daughter to force them to read it tout suite.  (And if you love ICTC, then do try The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice, which Tara & I both love.)

Then there are books that made us laugh: The Fly Girls, for example, is a bonkers novel written in the early 60s about the antics of air stewardesses. What none of our choices were were showy-off-y, pretentious or point-proving. Just lots of excellent reads and a bucket full of nostalgia.

The Fly Girls by Bernard Glemser
The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice
I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith
A Long Way From Verona by Jane Gardam
Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido
The Damerosehay trilogy by Elizabeth Goudge
Coffee, Tea, or Me?: The Uninhibited Memoirs of Two Airline Stewardesses by Trudy Baker
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
The Madwoman’s Underclothes – Essays and Occasional Writings by Germaine Greer
Coronet Among the Weeds by Charlotte Bingham
Lorna Hill’s Sadlers Wells series

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What a lovely excuse for afternoon tea! Thank you for the list of books – some I’ve read and some I will read – I always appreciate suggestions for my daughters as well. I haven’t read I capture the castle but will do so now and encourage my girls too, they’re currently reading all the Swallows & Amazons books. I smiled when you said Maggie Alderson was there, I love her writing! Beautiful photos too.


My books:
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Sloppy Firsts (and rest of series) by Megan McCafferty
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Ugh, too many to count. It is interesting to see the wide variety of books and how American based my novels are (even growing up in Canada).


“Return of the Native” and “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”, both by Thomas Hardy, “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’Dell, which still makes me cry, the original Nancy Drew Mysteries and let’s not forget “Jane Eyre” in 6th grade.


A couple of months ago, you tweeted that you’d just finished rereading Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet novels. I too had read them many years ago and your comment prompted me to return to forgotten pleasure. I am just finishing reading them all again – on kindle this time! Thank you.


Oh thank you for this post! I love books and there are a few among the ones you have presented which I would now really like to read! 🙂


Such a lovely idea! Thank you for the list of books, Im always on the look out for something new to read so I’ll keep this list close by.


Thanks for this, I just wanted some new books for my Kindle!


It sounds like such a wonderful event and you’re right, it sounds so much more interesting to just share books that you love, finding out about authors that you’ve never heard of. I’ve already jotted down a few titles from the above to look into myself.


What a wonderful post, thank you!
I didn’t discover I Capture The Castle until my 30., for no other reason than it not being available in my native tongue (an utter disgrace!), but since then I am evangelical about promoting it, even going as far as giving it to strangers for free (last year it was one of 20 titles for World Book Night, and I volunteered to be a giver). I helped some of my Polish friends discover it and they are also perplexed as to why it has never been published in Poland, as they all loved it.


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