Ten Books That Changed Me with Kathy Lette
I’ve been excited for weeks (ok, maybe a month or two) at the prospect of chatting with one of my idols, Kathy Lette, about the ten books that changed her. And, as you’d expect her list is nothing short of brilliantly hilariously perfect! Over to Kathy to tell you more…
KL: What do women really want in bed? Breakfast. Oh, and a good book. I like nothing more than slipping between the covers of something scintillating.
I only write because it’s cheaper than therapy. Authors peel off to their emotional underwear – and it’s a psychological strip tease which reveals all. But to be honest, and I hope it doesn’t sound as though I’ve contracted elephantiasis of the ego, the first book that ever really changed me, was my own.
Puberty Blues, Kathy Lette:
I penned my first novel Puberty Blues aged 17. It started out as literary revenge against the surfie boys of Cronulla Beach who disproved the theory of evolution – they were evolving into apes. The book became a cult classic, proving that ‘poetic justice’ is the only true justice in the world – you can always impale enemies on the end of your pen. And I say that having been married to a lawyer for nearly three decades!
Vanity Fair, Thackeray:
As I left school at sixteen (the only examination I’ve ever passed is my cervical smear test) I’m an autodidact. It means self-taught, so clearly it’s a word I taught myself! With no formal teaching, I discovered classical literature quite late, but it quickly became an addiction. The second book which changed my life was – Vanity Fair by Thackeray. With tongue-in-chic and lashing of chutzpah, Becky Sharpe was the Madonna of her day, flaunting tradition and challenging hypocritical sexual mores. Okay, she had a few minor faults; – snobbery and sexual kleptomania (Becky climbed the social ladder – lad by lad); husband-hunting (she wasn’t interested in Mr. Right, but Lord, Sir, Marquis Right at the very least)…But we’re talking 1810. With no vote, no union, no fixed wage, no welfare, no contraception …what options were available to women? Apart from governessing or domestic service, it was prostitution or marriage. (Often a tautology in those days.) Thackeray’s savage social satire on the class and sex wars is still tantalizingly topical today and made me want to become an investigative satirist – and to behave badly like Becky.
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen:
The words ‘Jane Austen’ struck horror into my teenage heart. I was convinced she’d be one of those snooty Pommy writers who had hooked herself up intravenously to a Thesaurus and could only be enjoyed by highbrows who’d been at Oxford so long, they had Ivy growing up the backs of their legs. When I finally read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, aged about 18, I realised that I was the proud owner of the World Indoor Record for Self Delusion. Austen’s acerbic style is more controlled than a pair of Opra Winfrey’s panty hose. On the surface, Jane’s prose is so beguiling; her sentences so beautifully crafted, that the reader is lulled into a false sense of literary security. But a couple of chapters in, you realise that Austen’s message is radically feminist. In Edwardian England women were seen as breeding cows and wedlock was little more than a padlock. Marrying for love was a luxury few women could afford. But Lizzie Bennett refuses to compromise. This passionate and ironic heroine instilled in me that a woman can stand on her own two boots and not wait to be rescued by some Knight in Shining Armani. It was Jane Austen who made me want to become a writer. Beneath her humorous veneer, Austen is a barbed commentator on the battle between the sexes, comedically knee-capping the pompous and pretentious.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Anita Loos:
And speaking of inspirational satires….Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos is a clever satire about the cream of society…and how it curdles. Determined to acquire High Life Visas, Loos’ protagonist, Lorreli mountaineers up from the lower social slopes by performing the gymnastic yet subtle feat of holding a man at arm’s length – without ever losing her grip on him. Lorreli gets power from pretending not to have any. By impersonating an airhead she becomes an heiresses. Clearly, it takes a lot of intelligence to look that stupid. But what makes Loos’ characters so radical is the fact they are not fallen women. Fall? Good God no. They leap, no bungee-jump into debauchery. Their domesticity is limited to the sowing of wild oats; Lorreli sows enough wild oats to feed the third world. Not for them the happy family hearth and home cooking (that place where a husband thinks his wife is.) They only bucket Lorreli ever see is the one with the champagne in it. Loos’ characters have their cake and eat it – and never put on any weight either. Loos is most savage about the self righteous, the smug, the sanctimonious, the pious – all those who pretend to be respectable while policing other people’s morals. Loos inspired me to satirise people who go for Gold in the Hypocrisy Olympics and how to put the fun into feminism.
David Copperfield, Dickens:
Dickens’ David Copperfield taught me how a novel can be a powerful instrument for social change. His heart–wrenching tales of social injustice , poverty and child labour influenced parliament to change laws, proving that novels can be pleasurable but also profound.
Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre:
Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I am a walking Brontosaurus – a two legged anthology on those scintillating 19th century English sister authors. Nobody writes more passionately about love and lust and loss. (My heart still breaks for Heathcliff, no matter how often I read this book.) These novels taught me that poignancy is also important in the author’s creative armory.
The Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer:
Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. Growing up in the Aussie suburbs, women were merely human handbags, to be draped decoratively over a man’s arm. Reading Greer made me realize that the female of the species is more than a life support system to a pair of breasts. And that women are each other’s human wonder bras – uplifting, supportive and making each other look bigger and better.
Madame Bovary, Flaubert:
Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. This salutary tale of marital double standards could be renamed “The Mourning after the Knot Before”. The message of the novel is that love prepares a woman for marriage, the way needlepoint prepares you for round the world solo yachting.
Heartburn, Nora Ephron:
Heartburn by Nora Ephron. Another caustic marital tale told in Ephron’s pithy, witty style about the revenge a woman takes when she realizes her husband thinks monogamy is something you make dining room tables out of. The message it taught me? That love may be blind, but marriage is a true eye-opener.
All Comic Novels:
To my mind, good literature lifts the spirits while engaging the mind. I agree with Dr. Johnson who observed that “the true end of literature is to enable the reader better to enjoy life or better to endure it.” In these terrifying post-Trump times of Brexiteering and under-dog bullying, we need a laugh more than ever. Other books guaranteed to make you guffaw out loud are Cold Comfort Farm, Catch 22, Scoop , The Loved One, Unreliable Memoirs, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie . If laughter really is the best medicine, these tomes should be prescribed by Medicare as literary penicillin. I’d call it Prose-ac – except it’s the opposite of tranquilising. Humorous books are transforming.
I also highly recommend you read books by the Cliterati –Margaret Atwood, Alice Munroe, Anne Tyler, Helen Garner, Kate Grenville and, of course, all the legendary literary lionesses from George Elliot to Edith Wharton.
And finally – the Kama Sutra – Advanced…. Just to remind your partner that ‘mutual orgasm’ is not an insurance company.
But that said, I still maintain that reading is the most fun a girl can have in bed. So as I said earlier, please slip between my covers – satisfaction guaranteed. My latest novel, Best Laid Plans is published by Bantam.
Best Laid Plans
TO DO LIST
1) Buy hummus
2) Pay Pilates teacher
3) Find prostitute for son…
When it comes to sex, even the best laid plans come unstuck – in the stickiest way possible
As a crossword-addicted English teacher, Lucy never expected to be arrested for kerb-crawling. But her autistic twenty-year-old son Merlin is desperate to lose his virginity, and a prostitute seems like the only option . . . only Lucy picks up an undercover policewoman instead.
Let off with a suspended sentence, Lucy resigns herself to the fact that her son will never have sex, let alone find love… until the morning she miraculously discovers Merlin in bed with a girl.
But is tough, tattooed Kayleigh just taking Merlin for a ride? If so, why? And what has brought Lucy’s snake of an ex-husband wriggling back into their lives?
As all her best laid plans for Merlin’s happiness chaotically unravel, will Lucy ever be able to cut her son’s psychological umbilical cord and start to live her own life? And will the funny, quirky and marvellously magical Merlin ever find real love?
With plenty of comic twists and emotional turns, Kathy Lette’s riotous yet heartrending novel tackles the taboo subject of sex for the ‘differently abled’ – and shows us that when it comes to sex, we all have special needs …
REVIEW QUOTES FOR BEST LAID PLANS:
“Kathy Lette can turn from raunchy farce to the most tender emotion in a trice: this unputdownable book wrenches the heart and the laugh muscles with stunning panache.” Stephen Fry
‘Deliciously rude and darkly funny, but with compassion and humanity at its heart. Read with relish.’ Nicole Kidman
“For the good of your immortal soul, and all your other vital organs, read this funny, touching tale of The Autist as a Young Man.” Billy Connolly
“As her fans will expect and newcomers discover, this tale is perspicacious, pithy and witty. A tale of mother love which will twang your heart strings before you making you laugh out loud.” Sandi Toksvig
“With her usual mixture of huge heart and humour she rips the stigma out of autism- putting the artistic into autistic.” Ruby Wax
‘An important and poignant subject – a mother’s search for the perfect girlfriend for her grown-up son with autism – that is also a hilarious and entertaining page- turner, written with Lette’s inimitable irreverence, brio and wit.’ Jill Dawson