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.
Candice (rhymes with niece) Carty-Williams’s first novel—the bestselling British Book Awards 2020 Book of the Year Queenie – began as 8,000 words written on her first night at a retreat run by Jojo Moyes. Her second, People Person (Gallery/Scout Press) out next month, sprang from 10,000 words she wrote another night after a conversation with her sister. She’s also written a YA novel, Empress & Aniya.
Books were a refuge and eventual vocation for the South London-raised and -based author: she wanted to be a librarian, launched the The Guardian and 4th Estate BAME Short Story Prize for underrepresented writers at 4th Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins, was a marketing executive at Vintage, and wrote a literary column for Guardian Books. She’s adapting Queenie, about a journalist navigating her 20s, for Channel 4 as well as writing BBC/Netflix drama Champion about a rapper’s fame and family, for which she’s also the showrunner.
She’s a Cancer with a Pisces moon and Scorpio rising (she gives her characters star signs, uses Co-Star, and won’t date a Gemini); has worked with Christian Louboutin in partnership with Idris and Sabrina Elba (Walk a Mile in My Shoes capsule collection), Prada (she wrote its holiday advertorial) and Canopy Planet (sustainable clothing campaign); her tattoos include “romantic,” a fox, a rose on her chest, “baby love” across her fingers, a castle on her thigh, waves across her entire right shoulder, and SOUTH on her forearm to represent South London; partnered with Brixton Brewery for People Pale, an alcohol-free pale ale named for her new book; and Queenie has been a prop on Insecure and You Don’t Know Me.
Loves: Stranger Things “more than life itself”, music, especially grime, UK rap, and Amy Winehouse, saltfish fritters and cashew nuts. Dislikes: writing in the daytime, public bathrooms, hotels. Check out her book recs below.
The book that:
…helped me through a loss:
Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter.
…kept me up way too late:
Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom.
…made me weep uncontrollably:
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.
…I recommend over and over again:
Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson.
…shaped my worldview:
Citizen by Claudia Rankine.
…made me rethink a long-held belief:
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby. The belief was that I should meet up with all of my online friends one day, even though I really didn’t want to.
…I swear I’ll finish one day:
Roots by Alex Haley.
…I read in one sitting, it was that good:
Luster by Raven Leilani.
…currently sits on my nightstand:
All About Love by bell hooks. It’s like my Bible, I read it over and over again.
…I’d pass on to a kid:
The Upper World by Femi Fadugba.
…I’d gift to a new graduate:
The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon.
…made me laugh out loud:
Popisho by Leone Ross.
…I’d like turned into a Netflix show:
The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah.
…I first bought:
Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding.
…I last bought:
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw.
…has the best title:
Heartburn by Nora Ephron.
…has the greatest ending:
1984 by George Orwell.
…broke my heart:
The poetry collection Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith.
…has a sex scene that will make you blush:
Queenie, written by 25-year old-me, has many (and makes 32-year-old-me blush now).
…features a character I love to hate:
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis.
…helped me become a better writer:
On Connection by Kae Tempest.
…grew on me:
Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy.
…is a master class on dialogue:
Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn.
…describes a house I’d want to live in:
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.
…should be on every college syllabus:
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.
…I read on a momentous trip:
I listened to Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi on my first solo trip to New York. It was an audiobook, which I think counts, and I tuned in all the way from London Heathrow to JFK Airport. A better travel companion than any person could have been.
…I’ve re-read the most:
This Is Grime by Hattie Collins. Another bible of mine.
…I consider literary comfort food:
The poetry collection Bless the Daughter Raised By A Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire.
…I would have blurbed if asked:
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.
…I never returned to the library:
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.
…sealed a friendship:
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde.
…inspired me to donate to a cause:
Cut Short: Youth Violence, Loss and Hope in the City, a book about London knife crime by Ciaran Thapar.
…makes me feel seen:
Ordinary People by Diana Evans.
…everyone should read:
An American Marriageby Tayari Jones.
…I could only have discovered at BLK MKT Vintage on Marcus Garvey Blvd. in Brooklyn:
A very special first edition of for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange.
…fills me with hope:
Ironically, Hope and Glory by Jendella Benson.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.
…I’d want signed by the author:
Any Toni Morrison book.
…I asked for one Christmas as a kid:
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman.
…holds the recipe to a favorite dish:
Curry chicken (Jamaican style) from West Winds: Recipes, history and tales from Jamaica by Riaz Philips.
Bonus question: If I could live in any library or bookstore in the world, it would be:
Eso Won Books in Leimert Park, Los Angeles. (Editor’s note: The independent bookstore is closing at the end of 2022.)
Riza Cruz is an editor and writer based in New York.