We take five minutes with author and broadcaster Pandora Sykes to celebrate the ritual of reading. For Pandora, reading is a thread that weaves through everyday life at home, it is her primary hobby and her life long love. Pandora describes the corners of her home where she often reads and tells us all about her comfort shelf: her way of organising books by how she wants to feel when she reads them, a way of taking care.
Where is your favourite spot to read at home? What makes it such a good reading corner?
I have quite a few! The window seat in my sitting room, as I can watch people going by, which I love. I am always spring cleaning my book shelves as I don’t have enough space for books and so about once a month I put a book box outside my house and I love to watch who takes what. Sometimes I’ll throw them an encouraging thumbs up. I also love reading in my bed, in the bath and in my daughter’s bed too - even when she isn’t there. I find the restricted parameters of her single bed oddly comforting.
What time of day is sacred reading time for you?
The evenings. If I don’t have social plans, or have to work, then I’m horizontal as soon as my kids are down and reading. I also often read in the middle of the night, when I can’t sleep, and that’s always feels like precious reading time, as it’s so deadly quiet outside.
How do you display books at home?
Do things have an order or process to them? Mainly in my study, but we’ve also built a few bookshelves outside bedrooms and above the stairs to accommodate the overflow. I organise them pretty anally, it brings me great joy. I have specific fiction and non-fiction shelves and then within those shelves, I colour co-ordinate them. And then I have shelves for books that I haven’t read. Upstairs I have an entire bookshelf of comfort books - easy to read, which I’ve read ten times before - for when I have insomnia. Apparently it’s a sign of psychopathy to colour-code your books…
The elusive question - how do you decide what book to read next?
It really depends on what I’ve just read, as to what I’m craving next. I normally have a book of non-fiction and a book of fiction on the go at the same time as they hit different spots, and a lot of what I read is for work - because I’m interviewing the author on stage or for a podcast, or a piece of journalism. Sometimes I crave an ‘airport read’ that is set in a little market town and just goes in one ear out the other; sometimes I want a really meaty bit of science.
What is the reason for putting reading at the centre of your life?
It’s never been any other way. It was never an active choice, just a key part of my personality: in all my childhood photos I am curled up reading a book and my mother would always find me asleep with my book over my nose. Some people cook delicious dinners every night, or go to the gym. Me, I read.
The book you’d most like to pass on to everyone you know:
The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read by Philippa Perry.
The book you’ll be tucking into in September:
Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng.
A poem that has made you feel less alone:
Hope Is The Thing With Feathers by Emily Dickinson.
Dog ear pages or bookmarks:
Dog ear and scribble in margins.
The most hopeful book you’ve read:
Sorrow & Bliss by Meg Mason. For a book to have hope, it has to plunge the depths of hopelessness first.
The book you feel most understood by:
One Day by David Nicholls. Because I’ve read it so many times it feels like part of me.
What is currently on your nightstand?
Busy Being Free by Emma Forrest and Too Much of Life: The Complete Chronicles of Clarice Lispector.
Favourite bookshop in the world:
actually buy most of my books second hand from World of Books. But I also love Daunts in Marylebone (or any book shop, tbh.)
A scent that makes you think of home:
Anything with fig in it.
If you could spend a day reading in any house in the world, where would you go?
Any house with my mother in it.