TOAST Magazine

Jo Rodgers | A Life in Books


As part of our Enrichment of Other book sharing campaign we asked Jo Rodgers—writer for Vogue, and former literary agent and editor—to tell us about five books she's been enriched by at different stages in her life...

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

The first serious book I ever tried to read. I checked it out of the school library and would carry it around everywhere, waiting for opportunities to mention to people that I was reading it. I still have that copy somewhere. So that makes it also the first book I ever stole. (And the last, should anyone in the membership office of the London Library be out there). Something stuck though; I ended up studying those glorious Victorian doorstop novels at university. And I can recite that opening paragraph about Fog from memory (for parties).

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

I read this in the summer before my final year of university, when I was living on toast and jam in New York and interning at a publishing house. I remember sitting at my desk at work, trying to write flap copy for a political biography, and not being able to focus because the book was in my purse. I went and finished it in the bathroom. (What you should take away from these first two entries is that I am trustworthy and have a good work ethic).

Possession by AS Byatt

Everything by AS Byatt. She is such a fluid writer that when I read her books, I imagine her at a desk surrounded by flying pages, fingers trying to keep up with her tremendous mind. Possession edges into the top spot because the premise—a couple of contemporary scholars uncover a possible love affair between two long-buried Victorian poets—is so unapologetically rich. The plot is rife with jealous academics, English landscapes, and intrigues of all sorts. I’ve read it twice, once when I was a student and again last year, and I loved it even more the second time through.

The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St Aubyn

My friend Alice Lutyens recommended St Aubyn to me while we were working together at the literary agency Curtis Brown. A few pages into Never Mind (St Aubyn’s first novel), which I started without any ceremony over a lunch hour, sandwich in one hand, I was dumbstruck by the grip and humor of the writing. St Aubyn deals with class and families more convincingly than anyone else, but the quality that stands out most in his work is its comedy. I press his books onto friends constantly.

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

Is there a writer who is better in a crisis than Nancy Mitford? I’ve read all of her novels, but The Pursuit of Love is my favourite for its brutish depiction of the home life of the Radlett family, who have many failings but are never dull. It is the book I reach for when the hot water boiler breaks in January, or after I’ve left a good piece of jewelry in a taxi. People often get into trouble in The Pursuit of Love, but Mitford is an evangelist for mettle and charm, and its heartening to read about a world in which everyone keeps their nerve.

Words by Jo Rodgers. Imagery by Jo Rodgers and John Sandoe Books (Jo's local bookshop and where she finds most of her literature...).

This season TOAST is running a book sharing campaign, in store and online. Join in the conversation here.

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