Skip to main content
On Reading

On Reading

By On Reading
On Reading is made up of three rather nosy friends who are curious about how, what and, most importantly, why readers read. The simplest way to find the answers to our questions was to ask – so we started knocking on people’s doors, and got them to tell us about their library.

Although reading is an act that most of us can perform, and many of us derive immense pleasure from doing so, our reasons for reading are as varied as our personalities.

It gives us great pleasure to share with you our encounters with the readers who so generously gave us their time.
Where to listen
Apple Podcasts Logo

Apple Podcasts

Google Podcasts Logo

Google Podcasts

Overcast Logo


Pocket Casts Logo

Pocket Casts

RadioPublic Logo


Spotify Logo


Currently playing episode

Candy Gourlay

On Reading

Roxanna Panufnik
Our guest this month is composer extraordinaire Roxanna Panufnik, one of Britain’s best loved composers. She studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music and, since then, has written a wide range of pieces – opera, ballet, music theatre, choral works, orchestral and chamber compositions, and music for film and television – which have been performed all over the world. She is renowned for her choral and multi-faith works (such as Love Abide; or Dance of Life: Tallinn Mass for the Tallinn Philharmonic) and for her love of music from around the world. She has had work commissioned for Garsington opera (Silver Birch, 2017), the Proms (Three Paths to Piece, an overture for the World Orchestra for Peace, premiered in Jerusalem and at the Proms), the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Poland (Faithful Journey – a Mass for Poland), the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and many more. Her Four World Seasons, for violinist Tasmin Little, launched the BBC’s Music Nation weekend, celebrating the Olympics. Her work is also full of humour, and she has brilliantly put to music the words of poets and authors such as Wendy Cope and Vikram Seth (Beastly Tales – The Crocodile and the Monkey, The Hare and the Tortoise). May 2021 saw the release of her new album with the Sacconi Quartet, Heartfelt, a striking compendium of touching pieces, such as the letters of a First World War soldier, folk songs (slightly macabre, pickled toes and all) and poems, and the heartbeat of Bristol Zoo’s European brown bear Albie set to music. We urge you to watch this short film about the making of Heartfelt, which reveals how to take a bear’s heartbeat, put it to music – and see the bear himself enjoying the result! Roxanna is now working on her next opera, Dalia, with a libretto by Jessica Duchen for the Garsington 2022 season, and Ever Us, for the Rundfunk Chor Berlin, will be performed at the Berlin Philarmonie 2022. On this podcast, Roxana talks about The Music Programme by Paul Micou, The Lightless Sky – My Journey to Safety as a Child Refugee by Gulwali Passarlay with Nadene Ghouri and Dancing Bears – True Stories about Longing for the Old Days by Witold Szabłowski, translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. She also mentions the Qu’ran, the Bible and the Torah. You can also find all those titles in Roxanna’s list on our page.
June 04, 2021
Lisa Williamson
Lisa Williamson spent most of her childhood drawing, daydreaming and making up stories in her head (but never getting round to writing them down). After university, Lisa adopted a stage name and spent several happy years occasionally getting paid to pretend to be other people. Between acting roles she worked as an office temp and started making up stories all over again, only this time she had a go at writing them down. She talks about her love of American YA, her wish to be anything but ordinary and her love of Adrian Mole – despite his failings. On this podcast, Lisa mentions The Enchanted Wood and The Naughtiest Girl in the School by Enid Blyton, Starring Sally J Freedman as Herself by Judy Blume, The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe, Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend, One Day by David Nichols, Stoner by John Williams, Milly Molly Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley, Babysitter’s Club by Ann M. Martin and Raina Telgemeier, Sweet Valley High by Katy Rex and Andres Genolet and Paula Danziger. You can also find all those titles in Lisa’s list on our page.
May 07, 2021
Claudia Winkleman
Journalist Claudia Winkleman is one of the nation’s best loved broadcasters, co-host of Strictly Come Dancing and now Celebrity Best Home Cook for BBC1; easing us into the weekend with her Saturday morning Radio Two show, Claudia is family, and part of our homes. Here you’ll discover the book that turned her from reluctant reader into bookworm, find out why teenage Claudia tucked a tea towel into her jeans and learn how she gets her children reading. She tells us how she wrote Quite, an eclectic collection of witty essays on love, life and eyeliner, but also art, bridge, squirrels and much more, and about how she lends a comforting ear to clinical psychologist Tanya Byron’s guests on the How Did We Get Here? podcast (on Apple podcasts or Spotify). On this podcast, Claudia mentions Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, George’s Marvellous Medicine, James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr Fox, The Famous Five, The Gruffalo, Harry Potter, Asterisk, Hidden Valley Road, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Choice. She also mentions the fabulous Jackie Collins. You can also find all those titles in Claudia’s list on our page.
April 01, 2021
Dana Mills
Dana Mills is a political theorist, lecturer, activist, dancer and author whose books include a biography of Rosa Luxemburg, a thesis on dance and politics and a new study on dance and activism. A voracious reader, Dana doesn’t trust people who don’t read books! In this podcast, recorded during the January lockdown of 2021, on Holocaust Memorial Day, Dana spoke to Will about the importance of reading books from cultures other than your own, on the unlikely opportunities for reading, on the need to fight for our libraries and on the joys of post-it notes. On this podcast, Dana mentions the following books: The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, A Tale of Love and Darknessby Amos Oz, La Storia by Elsa Morante, The Castle by Franz Kafka, the letters of Gershom Scholem, In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust and The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Dana also mentions Rosa Luxemburg, Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Friedrich Nietzsche and Bonnie Honnig. Get the books at (and support independent bookshops) here.
March 05, 2021
Linda Sargent
Linda Sargent grew up in Kent, went to the University of Sussex (fashionably late) to study Economic History – at least, that was the official line, but as usual spent a lot of time reading fiction. She has worked in education and the arts since the 1970s, and since 2002 has worked as a publisher’s reader for David Fickling Books and as a freelance reminiscence and disability advisor. She has published short stories and articles and her first novel, Paper Wings, appeared in 2010; she is also the author of Words and Wings, a training guide to creative reminiscence work, available as a free download from her website. In this podcast, Linda recalls a countryside childhood with books, and talks about how reading sustains and comforts her and helps transcend the everyday. On this podcast, Linda mentions the following books: Old Lob by Elsie Hall Grassam, The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown, An Experiment in Education by Sybil Marshall, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Diary of Anne Frank, Wilfred McDonald Gordon Partridge by Mem Fox, Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham and The Diviners by Margaret Lawrence. Linda also mentions Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Secret Seven series, Cynthia Voigt and Rosemary Sutcliff. Get the books at (and support independent bookshops) here.
March 05, 2021
Rosie Goldsmith
Rosie Goldsmith is an award-winning journalist specialising in arts and foreign affairs. In twenty years at the BBC, she travelled the world, presented several flagship programmes, such as Crossing Continents and Front Row, and interviewed some of our leading cultural and literary figures, from Margaret Atwood to Edmund de Waal and Antony Gormley. Rosie is a linguist and has lived in Europe, Africa and the USA. Today she combines journalism with chairing and curating arts and literary events and festivals for leading cultural organisations. Known as a champion of international literature, translation and language learning, she promotes them whenever she can. She is Founder and Director of the European Literature Network, editor of The Riveter magazine and was Chair of the Judges of the EBRD Literature Prize from 2018–2020. Rosie works with major cultural projects and institutions, such as Future Library Norway and the Victoria and Albert Museum London. In this podcast, recorded during the January lockdown, Rosie tells Clémentine about the joy of reading, her professional literary discoveries and how authors have much more power than they often realise. Get the books at (and support independent bookshops) here.
February 05, 2021
Miriam Halahmy
Miriam was a teacher for 25 years, and, having worked with refugees and asylum seekers in schools, her writing engages with historical and contemporary issues that affect children across time – most notably the plight of refugees. Her young-adult novel, Hidden, was a Sunday Times Children’s Book of the Week, was nominated for the Carnegie Medal and has been adapted for the stage. Her children’s books The Emergency Zoo, Rip to the Rescue and Saving Hanno, which was released last week, are all set during the Second World War, and consider the impact of evacuation, the pains of life during periods of upheaval and the plight of refugees during the war. In this podcast, recorded during the January lockdown of 2021, Miriam spoke to Will about the books which have shaped her life and writing, the performance aspect of reading, the importance of revisiting difficult books and the joys of discovering new cultures and cuisines through fiction. Get the books at (and support independent bookshops) here.
February 05, 2021
Simon Mason
Simon Mason was born in Sheffield in 1962. He was educated at local schools and studied English at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. He is the author of three novels of black comedy for adults, The Great English Nude, which won a Betty Trask Award in 1990, Death of a Fantasist and Lives of the Dog-Stranglers, as well as a volume of non-fiction, The Rough Guide to Classic Novels. The Quigleys, his first book for children, was published in 2002, and was highly commended in the Branford Boase Award of 2003. His young-adult novel Moon Pie was shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. More recently, Simon has launched and edited the Pushkin Press True Adventures series, one of which, Bandit’s Daughter, he wrote himself. In this podcast, recorded before lockdown in Simon’s house amongst his books, Bella hears how much reading is involved in editing a guide to classic novels, about the magical descriptions in Proust, the power of poetry and the joy of books as beautiful physical objects. Simon also mentioned the authors Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Muriel Spark and Elizabeth Taylor. Get the books at (and support independent bookshops) here.
January 08, 2021
Jenny Downham
Jenny Downham trained as an actor and worked in alternative theatre before starting to write.  Her debut novel, Before I Die, sold in 35 languages, won several national and international awards and was made into a movie starring Dakota Fanning.  Her second novel, You Against Me, won the Waterstones Teen Fiction Prize, and her third novel, Unbecoming, won the Stonewall Honor Award from the American Library Association.  Her fourth novel, Furious Thing, was published in October 2019 and was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards and the YA Book Prize. It has also been nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal, 2021. On this podcast, Jenny mentions the following books: Come Follow Me: Poems for the Very Young, Tales of Long ago retold by Enid Blyton, The Rainbow by DH Lawrence, Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov, The Little Friend by Donna Tartt, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor. Get the books at (and support independent bookshops) here.
December 04, 2020
Priya Basil
Priya Basil was born in London, raised in Kenya and now lives in Berlin.  As well as being a journalist and essayist (The Guardian, Die Zeit, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Lettre Internationale), a novelist and a curator for literary events and festivals, Priya is also a political activist. She is one of the initiators of the movement against mass surveillance, campaigns for a European Holiday, and is part of the Wir Machen Das, welcoming refugees arriving in Berlin. She also is co-founder of Authors for Peace and of the literary-political journal, Rhinozeros. Her latest book, the witty, rich and thought provoking essay, Be My Guest: Reflections on Food, Community and the Meaning of Generosity, is published in the UK by Canongate. ‘Priya Basil explores the meaning and limits of hospitality today, and in doing so she invites us to consider that how much we have in common may depend on what we are willing to share.’ In this podcast, Priya tells us of the importance of reaching for the unknown in literature, as well as food, in a bid to better understand and participate in the world. She shares her explorations of The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt, Human Acts by Han Kang and Do Not Say We have Nothing by Madeleine Thien. Hear how a subscription to The New Yorker keeps her mind opened, and why Ottolenghi’s approach to cuisine is a lesson in encompassing differences. Priya also mentions The Vegetarian, by Han Kang. Get the books at (and support independent bookshops) here.
December 04, 2020
Dan Freedman
Dan Freedman is best known for his hugely popular series of Jamie Johnson football novels. The books have been adapted for TV by the BBC, and the drama series has become the most downloaded children's show on the BBC iPlayer. The BAFTA and EMMY nominated show has been broadcast all over the world, and Dan's global book sales have surpassed 850,000. Before becoming an author, Dan was managing editor for The English Football Association. He has interviewed the likes of Messi and Ronaldo and has been to two World Cups as part of the official England Team group. He was also part of the official delegations to meet the Queen, the Prime Minister and Nelson Mandela. When not writing, Dan gives inspirational talks at schools and sports clubs. His mission is to make reading and writing cool and he works closely alongside the Premier League. He has now made more than 2000 school visits, and it was those experiences that inspired him to write his latest novel – the award-winning teen thriller, Unstoppable. Get the books at (and support independent bookshops) here.
November 05, 2020
Margaret Wallace-Jones
Margaret Wallace-Jones grew up in Cheshire, in a village with a well stocked library (there even were copies of Spare Rib magazine in the back room).  She studied English literature at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College before moving to London. She worked at many various jobs (she was very bad at them all) before starting on her bookselling career (and made a success of it). In 2015 she co-founded – with Tony West – the children’s bookshop The Alligator’s Mouth in Richmond, South West London.  This is where I caught up with Margaret on a cool October night for an interview amidst books. Bliss!  Margaret shares with us how she fell in love with reading thanks to C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, how her love of poetry anthologies was born with Other Men’s Flowers, her first steps into feminism with Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale and Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and how she can identify with Stephen King’s description of childhood places, such as Derry’s bracken in It.  On this podcast Margaret also mentions the following books: Nosy Crow’s two beautiful poetry anthologies curated by Fiona Waters, I Am the Seed that Grew the Tree, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon and Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright! illustrated by Britta Teckentrup, as well as Margaret Atwood’s first novel The Edible Woman and Stephen King’s The Dead Zone… She mentions Keats and Coleridge and the poems 'Journey of the Magi' by T.S. Eliot and 'Romance' by Robert Louis Stevenson, and last but not least the backroom collection of Spare Rib magazines! Get the books from (and help to support independent bookshops) here.
November 05, 2020
Candy Gourlay
Candy Gourlay was born in the Philippines, grew up under a dictatorship and met her husband during a revolution. Growing up, she wondered why books only featured pink-skinned children who lived in worlds that didn’t resemble her tropical home in Manila. It took her years to learn that Filipino stories, too, belong in the pages of books. Her latest book is a comic biography (with illustrator Tom Knight) of the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who happens to be credited with “discovering” the Philippines. Her novel Bone Talk was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal and the Costa Prize in 2019 – it is set in the moment when headhunting tribes in the Philippines come face to face with American invaders. Her picture book, Is It a Mermaid?, lushly illustrated by Francesca Chessa, was nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal. Her novels have also been listed for the Waterstones, Blue Peter and Guardian Children’s Book Prize. She lives in London with her family, where she wages war on the snails in her garden. Get the books from (and help to support independent bookshops) here.
September 29, 2020
Tor Freeman
Tor was born and educated in London, lived for a while in California and graduated from Kingston University with a BA in Illustration. She has been working as a freelance illustrator, author and comic maker ever since. Her work has been hailed by readers and critics alike as “bursting with imagination and good-natured humour” (Andy Oliver). In 2012 she was awarded a Sendak Fellowship. In November 2017 she won the Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story prize. Fat Ten Sausages won Best Laugh Out Loud Picture Book in the 2020 LOLLIES Awards. Get the books from (and help to support independent bookshops) here.
September 29, 2020
Dana Sediq
I met Dana Sediq on a trip to Lesbos in January 2019. Dana Sediq, from Iranian Kurdistan, arrived in Lesbos in early 2017 to seek political asylum. Soon after, he started to volunteer at the One Happy Family centre (OHF, which burnt down in Spring 2020.) There, he helped to set up the sports centre and to run the library van. He is a Taekwondo master, and is in his late twenties. “I was living in the Moria camp. I started coming to OHF, and got involved with teaching Taekwondo. As I love reading, they also asked me to take over the van. Back home, I read a lot of Kurdish romances and historical novels.” His journey in becoming a reader wasn’t an easy one: “I only attended school for two years, so I learnt how to read with a friend of my father. He could be quite harsh – I remember the slaps on the head I’d get if I had been an inattentive student.” At OHF he started learning English. In this podcast, Dana tells us about what it means to read as a refugee, and talks about his first steps into the world of English books, with Dr Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat and Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox Since this interview, Dana has moved to Athens, where he has set up a sports centre for those in need – refugees, asylum seekers and Greeks alike. He is still awaiting a decision on his asylum application. It is not looking good. Clémentine Note: I was travelling to Lesbos with the Three Peas, a charity set up to support refugees and asylum seekers in Greece and elsewhere. Get the books from (and help to support independent bookshops) here.
September 29, 2020