Lauded for her lyrical prose and unconventional narrative structures, Jeanette Winterson has carved a unique niche in contemporary literature. Born in Manchester, England, in 1959, her life and work have been defined by a relentless exploration of queer love, identity, and sexuality.

Winterson burst onto the literary scene with her Whitbread Award-winning 1985 debut, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, a semi-autobiographical work that draws heavily on her religious upbringing and lesbian awakening. Other notable works include 1989’s Sexing the Cherry, 1992’s Written on the Body, 2011’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? and 2019’s Frankissstein, a speculative fiction novel based on Mary Shelley’s classic.

Speaking with NY-based bookstore One Grand on the literature of her life, Winterson considered the sensuality of sharing one’s bookshelf:

“A bookshelf isn’t an index — one of the many reasons why e-reading is so unsexy. Imagine a seduction; your bookshelves or their bookshelves are part of the foreplay, like music, food, talk. Our eyes run over bookshelves, not alphabetically or sequentially, because we’re looking to find old friends, memories from the past, and new pleasures. That’s the glory of a bookshelf. No one ever said, ‘Come up and see my Kindle Index.’

Bookshelves aren’t put together by algorithms either. Our own minds colliding with the minds of others is more exciting. This tiny shelf of mine isn’t in order, isn’t orderly, and definitely isn’t definitive. It’s one of many walks I could take you on, when we meet.”

From Adrienne Rich to Italo Calvino, dive into 10 of Winterson’s favorite reads below, and check out the recommendations of other iconic authors here.

Jeanette Winterson’s Reading List

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (also rec’d by Colson Whitehead & Susan Orlean)

“After the sudden death of her father, Helen Macdonald managed her grief by taming a goshawk. The wild un-language of grief finds expression here. And there’s more; our relationship with creatures not us. How we read the past without re-writing it. How we learn to love – and why we might not want to do that. Painful, remarkable, redemptive, this book hovers over my heart and suddenly drops on it. Caught.” -JW

Orlando by Virginia Woolf (also rec’d by Barbara Kingsolver, Gabriel García Márquez & Tilda Swinton)

“It begins, ‘He, for their could be no doubt about his sex…’ and then we spend the rest of this gorgeous rollicking novel entirely in doubt about his sex. A love-letter to language, a time traveling duel with duality.” -JW

This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M. Homes

“I love her writing. This short novel is classic Homes; the American Dream on prescription sleeping pills. The curious power of love where you least expect it.” -JW

Collected Poems by Adrienne Rich

“Just one of the best poets of the twentieth century, or any century. Her refusal to separate politics and poetry kept her urgent, edgy, angry, relevant. A diver at the wreck.” -JW

Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés (also rec’d by Brie Larson, Emma Watson & Glennon Doyle)

“I know this is Joseph Campbell for Girls, but when you remember that the Star Wars Trilogy started the popular version of Campbell’s hero’s journey, and that women other than Princess Leia speak for 63 SECONDS of the films’ 386 MINUTES, then, boy oh boy, do we need this great, smart, empowering womanopedia of myth and what to do with it.” -JW

The World According To Garp by John Irving (also rec’d by Peter Hook)

“As funny as it was when it was written, and more tragic, and more true. One of my favorite laugh/cry novels, and one I talk about with friends and teach to my students.” -JW

To Be A Machine by Mark O’Connell

“Troubling and humorous, this is one of my current give-it-to-everyone books – I buy six copies at a time. Did you know our future belongs to a few asocial geeks for whom being human has always been a problem? Now they can solve it!” -JW

Utopia For Realists: How We Can Build The Ideal World by Rutger Bregman

“This is a Read Now book. Nothing dystopian about this one: a young (he’s 29), practical set of ideas for how the next generation can do better.” -JW

Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets by Don Paterson

“Two for the price of one. The sonnets — discussed and annotated by one of my favorite fab poets, Don Paterson. This isn’t academic yawn stuff — it’s exciting to read and it does your brain good.” -JW

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

“This book made such an impact on me as a young woman. It’s flash-fiction before anyone had named it, but running together in a strange and glorious narrative about Venice, a Venice that is a proxy for your soul.” -JW

(via One Grand Books; photo by Anna Gordon)

Looking for an Amazon alternative? Support local, independent booksellers by shopping Jeanette Winterson’s reading list – and hundreds of other celebrity book recommendations – through Radical Reads’ Bookshop page.

Categories: Activists Writers