You can learn a great deal about somebody from the books they read. It requires a real commitment of time to read regularly, so discovering how people spend that time is often the key to understanding them. That is why I wanted to do a series of interviews that focused, not on a person's latest project or political views, but simply on the literary company they keep.
The result is Books of My Life. This six-part podcast series, which launches on Wednesday, October 30, features conversations with a variety of people about the books that have moved, amused or even changed them. Literature can be truly transformative – every guest was able to pinpoint certain books that defined a part of their life.
The Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington told me how the writings of Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius guided her through some of the toughest years of her youth. Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh revealed what he was reading during his struggles with heroin addiction. Opera singer Bryn Terfel talked about the books he found solace in after moving from the Welsh countryside to London as a young man.
There have been surprising revelations – Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin has never read Agatha Christie's work – and poignant moments along the way, as well as plenty of laughter, never more so than when speaking to Alexander McCall Smith, author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series of novels, who spoke candidly about almost everything, including one of his greatest embarrassments.
This series will introduce you to a different side of these famous figures, as they invite you inside the libraries of their lives. Which book always makes them cry? What is currently on their bedside table? Which novel do they wish they read as a child? Who have they pretended to read? And which books could they not do without? (Classicist and television presenter Mary Beard's answer to that final question still surprises me).
The books the guests have chosen will serve as recommendations, too, so that you will discover authors you may not otherwise have come across or return to those you had forgotten.
Life is hectic these days and many of us are never far from a screen. This podcast series might even encourage you to put your phone away for an hour or so each day and pick up a book instead. As these interviews will illustrate, the rewards are endless – and often life-changing.
We want this podcast series to be the start of a conversation between book lovers from across the world, so email us with the books that have changed your life: firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope you enjoy listening to Books of My Life as much as we have enjoyed making it. You can subscribe to the series on your favourite podcasting app.