PORTRAIT BY Gemma Day Photography / ILLUSTRATION BY YOUSRA ATTIA
Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com’s books column, in which authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re on the hunt for a book to console you, move you profoundly, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers in our series, who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Perhaps one of their favorite titles will become one of yours, too.
Ruth Ware’s psychological crime novels tend to top international bestseller lists, make awards short- and -longlists, and seduce Hollywood, and her streak isn’t letting up with her latest, The It Girl (Gallery/Scout Press). After writing five young adult fantasy novels (under her real name Ruth Warburton), she switched names and genres in 2015. Since then, her books have been optioned for film and television by the likes of New Line Cinema with Reese Witherspoon producing (In a Dark, Dark Wood), Netflix (The Woman In Cabin 10, currently in development), and Working Title with Max Minghella and Jamie Bell writing the screenplay (The Turn of the Key).
The Sussex-based author (she grew up near Brighton) graduated from Manchester University; once taught English in Paris and worked as a waitress, bookseller, and book publicist at Random House; has two teenage sons with her virologist husband, and two cats; was a Jeopardy! clue or answer at least three times; and would like to see the aurora borealis one day. Likes: trees and forests (especially Scottish ones), touring stately homes, skiing, autumn, hidden doors, Tove Jansson, modernist buildings, Small Batch Coffee Goldstone decaf; hot water bottles, Wordle, cake. Dislikes: running. Fascinated with: boarding schools. Hit the books below.
The book that…
…made me weep uncontrollably:
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I almost never cry—at books, at life, anything. But something about the ending of that book hit me right in the feels.
…I recommend over and over again:
Probably Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes. It’s history, biography, art history, and personal reflection all bound up into one. I’ve gifted it to so many people.
…I swear I’ll finish one day:
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I must have started that book about four times and never got beyond about 20 per cent , but I WILL conquer it. One day.
…I read in one sitting, it was that good:
Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer. It helps that it’s deliciously short, but it’s also darkly funny and surprisingly poignant.
…I’d gift to a new graduate:
The Beach by Alex Garland. It’s like a cautionary tale for what not to do on your gap year travels.
…I’d like turned into a Netflix show:
Abir Mukherjee’s Wyndham and Banerjee series. I’m a sucker for armchair travels and this would be the perfect destination for me – India in the aftermath of the First World War, all wrapped up in a series of delicious mysteries.
…I last bought:
Anna Mazzola’s The Clockwork Girl. I actually bought it for a friend as I’d already read it.
…has the best opening line:
Probably Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” – I mean how evocative is that? I long to write an opening line that hypnotic. It’s also given me a lifelong devotion to writing “dreamt” (rather than dreamed).
…has a sex scene that will make you blush:
I don’t know if it will make you blush, but Seven Days in June by Tia Williams is a heady combination of book love and between-the-sheets love.
…I’ve re-read the most:
Probably Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate. I can’t be sure because, I mean, who’s counting? But I must have read it at least half a dozen times and I don’t plan to stop. Unless you count picture books, in which case The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson wins hands down. I can still recite that in my sleep. “A mouse took a stroll…”
…I consider literary comfort food:
Anything by Agatha Christie. I turn to classic crime when things get tough. When I found myself reaching for Sleeping Murder at the beginning of the pandemic, that’s when I knew the news was starting to get to me.
…that holds the recipe to a favorite dish:
Probably Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem. The lamb shawarma recipe is time-consuming and (of course) requires about 30 ingredients, but it’s so worth it at the end. I’m salivating just thinking about it.
Bonus question: If I could live in any library or bookstore in the world, it would be…
The Bodleian in Oxford. Partly because it’s a deposit library and since 1662 has been entitled to receive a copy of every single book published in the UK, which would mean I would never be short of reading material of any kind – and partly because I think it’s genuinely a place you could live in. There are so many nooks and crannies that I’m sure I could find a place to curl up with my sleeping bag out of sight of the librarians, and I think the scholars would respect my nap time as long as I didn’t snore too loudly. The only issue is that food is not allowed in the library, so I would have to dine out a lot. I think I could put up with that.
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