The judge on ''The Great British Baking Show,'' whose new book is ''Bliss on Toast,'' says : ''To be brutal, most chefs write terrible memoirs. My food hero..........wrote piles of books, mostly unreadable.

.- What books are on your nightstand?

I've recently been forced to cull a few because I could see over the pile and there was no room for the mandatory mug of tea. So I've finally aborted my attempts to read ''Ulysses'' [ I bought a crib for it and I found  preferred the crib], and abandoned half a dozen self-published books by friends hoping for an endorsement [sigh!] and one or two books I'd started but somehow run out of steam on.

My husband accuses me of slavishly buying any book that is well reviewed and any book anyone at all recommends. So now we are down to half a dozen.

I liked '' Where the Crawdads Sing '' by Delia Owens - a charming story of a wild girl child growing up alone in the U.S. Southern marshes. Then there's ''The Inevitable,'' a really beautiful written book about a difficult subject : assisted dying.

I campaign for the right to get help to die if you are terminally ill and living a horrible life. '' The Inevitable, '' by the journalist Katie Englehart, follows the experience of dying people in jurisdictions where assisted dying is legal.

It's a complex and fascinating subject and Englehart writes with intelligence and compassion.

.- Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

I'm not sure you'd classify ''Gone With the Wind,'' by Margaret Mitchell.as a classic novel, but I read it recently and found it just wonderful.  

Of course, it's dated and attitudes to slavery have rightly changed, but it's still an amazing love story, with a heroine who is far from anodyne. On the contrary, she is vain, foolish, spoiled and selfish.

But she's intensely real and you cannot but root for her. And the pictures of the plantation owners' pampered life before the Civil War, and the devastation after it, are wonderfully vivid.

.- Can a great book be badly written? What other criteria can overcome bad prose?

Well, I think the obvious example of rather cliched writing selling like hot cakes is ''Fifty Shades of Grey.''

Frankly the story and the sex carry you along and you somehow don't mind that this hardly literature. But I confess I only read the first one.

.- Which writers  -novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets  -working today do you admire most?

I love the long narratives poem of Alice Oswald, particularly ''Dart,'' which traces the progress of a very English river from its source to the naval town of Dartmouth and invokes historical characters, real and imaginary, that knew or know the river : Fishermen and boatbuilders,ferrymen, lovers, salmon and sheep.

I much admire Ian McEwan, Sebastian Faulks and William Boyd. Incidentally, all those male writers wrote wonderful love stories, but you don't see them relegated to the ''romantic fiction'' shelves in the bookstore basement and described as ''women's stories,'' chic lit or escapism.

Oh no, they are ''a forensic expose of the dysfunctional family dynamic'' or a ''deep dive into the psychological trauma of love and loss.''Novels by Joanna Trollope, Jojo Moyes and Margaret Atwood are every bit as good.

As for journalists, I like lighthearted columnists who are brave enough in this woke world to say what they think, even if I heartily disagree with them.

In British newspapers that means Rod Liddle, Jeremey Paxman, Rachel Johnson, Mary Wakefield.

.- Who are your favorite food writers? Your favorite memoir by a chef?

My favorite memoir by a chef is Nigel Slater's ''Toast,'' which is charming, touching and so obviously heartfelt and true. Slater is more a cook and writer than a chef, but to be brutal, most chefs write terrible memoirs.

My food hero in history was a Victorian chef, Alexis Soyer, who had an extraordinary life as a top London chef.

He was a reformer [he established soup kitchens in Ireland in the potato famine and went to the Crimeean War to feed the troops in the field hospitals nutritious food.]

He was an inventor, designing a raft of kirchen kit [a field stove to feed soldiers at the front; a hot-air-driven rotisserie in the kitchen fireplace; a portable flame lamp; a gas grill that could cook an ox and lots more].

He gave birth to all sorts of fashionable recipes, entertained fashionable ladies in his Head Chef's office in the Reform Club and was generally a tremendous show-off and man about town. He wrote piles of books, mostly unreadable.

.- What moves you most in a book?

A relatable, believable, engaging protagonist. I have to be on the side of the book's subject, even if he or she is miles away from my life. For example, the lead character in '' A Little Life,'' by Hanya Yanagihara, is a gay, tortured young man cruelly abused as a child. I'm an old heteroosexual woman who had a happy childhood, but I felt I was that young man.

.- What's the best book you've ever received as a gift?

My first husband [ he died 20 years ago] gave me a specially-bound-for-me little booklet of '' La Bateau Ivre,'' a long poem by Arthur Rimbaud. I was studying Rimbaud and Boudelaire in Paris at the time, and I was 100 percent in love with Rimbaud. So, it was a good move. I still have it by my bedside.

The World Students Society thanks The New York Times.


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