Image by Caitlin Rajan

For the students of Cambridge, reading recreationally seems a distant dream; indeed, reading anything other than my course texts has seemed unimaginable for a long time now. Yet, with each lockdown I have found myself reminiscing more and more over my past self: someone who was able to get through books in no time. I found myself aching to boost my superiority complex with a good book once more. But how to make myself an avid reader again? Well, one strange solution was to Google ‘Celebrity’s favourite books’ and dive straight in. Not only did it allow me to speculate a little more on the inner workings of my favourite celebrities, but it also made me want to read again, and a whole lot too. As such, my mission has been to devour as many celebrity recommendations as I can, and to deduce what I can about everybody’s favourite celebrities.

“I found myself aching to boost my superiority complex with a good book once more.”

Harry Styles

Everyone’s favourite boy-band-member-gone-rockstar, Harry Styles claimed in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine that he was never much of a reader but has started to get more into it as of late.

He notes Murakami’s Norwegian Wood as a favourite title. The story, set in 1960s Tokyo, is told by protagonist Toru Wantanabe who recalls his youth as a college student and his dealings with love, loss and growing up. I loved Norwegian Wood much more than I thought I would. While the misogynistic undertones were hard to miss (I don’t know if they can even be called ‘undertones’ when the protagonist cannot stop commenting on the body of every woman in sight) the subject matter pertaining to mental health, what it means to love someone, and existence itself were incredibly moving. In a concise and rather easy read, Murakami creates a dreamy atmosphere, filled with musical and literary references, a beautiful writing style and witty characters. Overall, the book was one of the most enjoyable reads from all of the celebrity recommendations I pursued.

Adding to the theme of slightly dreamy and unusual reads, I went on to read Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar which Styles cited as a gift from a friend which he enjoyed and subsequently referenced in his infamous track. This was... interesting to say the least. A short postmodern novel, In Watermelon Sugar is set in the strange town of iDeath where the sun shines a different colour every day and everything is made from watermelon sugar. Yes, it is as weird as it sounds. It was an easy, short read which was funny in many ways, mainly in the ironic sense of the word..

“Given how both books were rather sad and rather existentialist, I would be inclined to check whether Harry Styles is actually doing okay”

So what do these books tell me about Harry Styles? Given how both books were rather sad and rather existentialist, I would be inclined to check whether Harry Styles is actually doing okay. Yet, both books felt incredibly introspective which could only suggest that he might be someone happy to spend a lot of time with his own thoughts. And these thoughts, judging by the themes of these books, can vary from anything from the personal, to the all-encompassing. Styles certainly has good taste, even if it is rather sad.

Anya Taylor-Joy

When she’s not moving chess pieces around on ceilings, cool-girl blueprint, Anya Taylor-Joy, also happens to be an avid reader. Courtesy of her Instagram highlights in which she logs all of her favourite books, I was able to select a book or two to give me a sense of what she likes to read.

The first book that caught my eye was Mary Gaitskill’s This is Pleasure. This short novel, originally published in The New Yorker and still available here, focuses on the MeToo movement from the perspective of someone accused of sexual harassment and a female friend of the accused. This piece places emphasis on how easily crimes against women can be dismissed in a culture that is so accustomed to coercion and overstepping boundaries. At the same time, it offers the perspective of two people with outdated thoughts and how they come to terms with a way of thinking that’s increasingly leaving them behind. I found this book was the one that stuck with me the longest after reading it because it genuinely unsettled me, startled me even. There’s no real comforting conclusion, nor is there a sense of ‘justice’ – rather, Gaitskill just leaves you with a lot to think about.

Following this, I moved on to Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems: And a Song of Despair. I wanted to go my whole life without reading Pablo Neruda (his memoir especially…) but here I am. And, I hate to say it, but these were some really good poems. Neruda, as a poet, demonstrates his strengths in these poems by looking at the broader question of what it means, and what it is like, to truly love someone. The classic, ‘Tonight I Can Write’ was easily a favourite and gives a good sense of what all of Neruda’s poems are like; introspective, heart-breaking, and wildly realistic.

What does this tell me about Taylor-Joy? Both books question the wider picture of things, whether that is what a movement looks like from the inside out, or what love really is to an individual, which suggests to me that she’s fond of looking at things from every kind of perspective. She radiates major ‘smartest-person-in-the-room’ vibes and I’m almost certain she is. Overall, Taylor-Joy’s picks were definitely most up my alley in how poignant and provocative they were.

Tom Hiddleston

Without Tom Hiddleston’s recommendations this article could have probably been finished two weeks sooner but alas, the Cambridge alumnus and part-time Marvel villain/hero/dead guy likes only lengthy, extremely dense books and so I had to subject myself to mild torture in pursuit of his favourite books.

Hiddleston, according to a piece in Bustle, claimed Tolstoy’s great Russian classic Anna Karenina is one of his favourite books of all time and named Boyd’s Any Human Heart as a close second. In an effort to find some source of motivation to get through Anna Karenina, I bought myself a physical copy which, at a whopping 963 pages, was more discouraging than anything else. A book almost 1000 pages long naturally contains every theme under the sun and I couldn’t possibly begin to summarise it if I tried. The first few days of reading were a struggle; it was slow to begin, a real task to get into and reminded me why I have so far staunchly avoided Russian classics, but somewhere along the way I found myself really starting to love it... Every character is unique, every conflict is gripping and, most of all, everything you feel while reading it stays with you for a long time after. As annoyingly pretentious as it sounds, there’s a reason why Anna Karenina is a classic and I can only commend Hiddleston for actually reading this completely unprovoked.


Mountain View

The Fitzwilliam Museum's The Human Touch Exhibition

After reading Anna Karenina, Boyd’s Any Human Heart had a lot to live up to. This novel is essentially a compilation of the journals of fictional writer, Logan Mountstuart. Perhaps the best part of this novel is how the fictional Mountstuart comes to interact with real writers of the likes of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway and even artists like Picasso and Paul Klee. The real charm of this book is the protagonist himself and how real Boyd makes a fictional writer feel. Again, this wasn’t the kind of book I expected to like but the way the whole life of an ordinary man is captured and contained in one novel was truly amazing and I can’t deny that it was a very good read.

What do I think these reads say about Tom Hiddleston? Both books are incredibly emotional and make the reader feel things viscerally, which suggests that Tom Hiddleston does not shy away from big emotions. He probably loves a deep moment, would likely be willing to talk to you about both of these books for hours, and seems like one of the only people who says he loves Anna Karenina because he actually does love it, not just because he wants to show off that he’s read it. Is it annoying that he has no apparent flaws? Yes. Do both of these favourite books make him more likeable? Certainly.

As such, my journey through celebrity reads came to an end. What did I learn? Well firstly, that it’s easy to read quickly when you have an article to write – Anna Karenina would remain half-dead otherwise. Also, one should never underestimate the brains and sensitivity of celebrities. All of the recommendations I read not only made sense coming from the celebrity that recommended them, but were also thoroughly enjoyable. My greatest success in doing this? I defeated my reading slump. I have read more over the past week or two than I have in a long time and I loved it. With more celebrity recommendations to get through, I don’t imagine the journey will end here, and I’m sure there’s infinitely more great reads just waiting to be picked up.