A Curated Autumn Reading List, From Classics To Self-Help

Welcome to It’s Lit – a series of discussions about books. Join us every month to find out who’s reading what.
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Hannah Philp spent several years working in finance before founding Her Stories in 2017. Organised by women for women, "Her Stories is an annual art auction and appeal to raise money for disadvantaged women in the UK," says Philp, an ambassador for the gender equality campaign 50:50 Parliament and a board member of the Young Women's Trust.
Ahead of Her Stories' 2018 auction benefitting Britain’s refugee and migrant women, we visited Philp – who describes herself as "a romantic when it comes to books" – at her east London home for this month's It’s Lit. Read on to discover how she shops for books on Amazon guilt-free, what makes a good holiday read and the titles that made her cry and feel more confident.
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Who taught you to read?
I don't remember being taught to read but my earliest memories of reading include hiding books under my pillow so I could read after my parents had put me to bed; in the summer when there was still enough light. My sister Emily, who is 18 months younger than me, is a huge bookworm and used to devour a book a day as a child. We shared a room so I think we were complicit in our secret reading.
What were your favourite books as a child?
I loved Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl – a true child of the 1980s and early '90s. However, one of the most treasured books I ever received was a gift from my dad's birth mother, who I’ve never met but who he briefly reconnected with when I was 16. She sent me a copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, with a short note on the inside cover from her. It's an allegorical book that was a big cult hit in the 1970s. I reread that book over and over for signs of meaning and messages from her. It was quite an influence on the impressionable teenage me!
What are you reading right now?
Like a lot of people, I'm always reading three or four books at once. Right now, it is Delivering Happiness, a business memoir by Tony Hsieh which was a gift from my friend Sonny, who is successful in business and shares a lot of advice with me. I am also finishing Do Breathe by Michael Townsend Williams, again a gift – my friend Amy recommended the advice in the book for people who are trying to juggle different priorities, like me. Lastly, I've been dipping into The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, which is a brilliant book exploring the origins of confidence and helps to explain so many gender gaps. It's humbling, fresh and encouraging. Kay and Shipman basically show that success is as much about confidence as it is about merit, and give some tips on how to master greater confidence.
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Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
What’s your thought on self-help books? Would you refer to them as that?
I'm a sceptic of polemics that claim to have all the answers to solve your life but I love reading books with specific wisdoms that the author has studied or experienced and is sharing in an accessible way. For Kay and Shipman, that's the role of confidence in gender inequality and how we can build confidence in ourselves.
When and where do you read?
I try to read in bed at night and first thing in the morning to inspire my day. But the reality is I do most of my reading on holiday. My favourite place to read is anywhere in the sun and outside.
Do you own a Kindle?
No and I doubt I ever will. I'm a romantic when it comes to books and love collecting physical copies and tearing up a new book on holiday. But I also probably don't read quickly enough to justify a Kindle. I'm intimidated by all the books I am yet to read on my own shelf.
What makes a good holiday read?
A holiday read is definitely fiction, something that builds an alternative universe and takes you there; something romantic. Deborah Levy, Elena Ferrante and Tolstoy are all good holiday reads.
Where do you buy your books? Do you have a favourite bookshop?
I buy too many books on Amazon purely for ease – if I’m recommended something, I can order it right away on my phone. I recently discovered Amazon Smile, which donates to charity (in my case Solace Women's Aid) from the Amazon Foundation whenever you make a purchase, which makes shopping there a bit less guilt-inducing. Otherwise, Persephone Books on Lamb's Conduit Street publishes and sells beautifully bound books by neglected authors (mostly women) and I always tend to shop there for books to gift. Otherwise, I like collecting books from art exhibitions I visit and sometimes as mementos from travels abroad.
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Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Is there a book you’ve read more than once?
Too many! I'm guilty of reliving the pleasure of my favourite books and films too often. Poetry books are the best for that as they are meant to be reread. Sometimes, I will be reading something and only realise halfway through that I've already read it.
How do you choose what to read next?
At the moment, I am mostly reading non-fiction in order to face the next big challenges in life and career but with fiction, they are usually recommendations from friends and family, according to how I'm feeling and what I'm looking for at that moment in time.
Are there any magazines you’re faithful to?
I subscribed to The New Yorker and The Economist for a long time, without ever reading a single issue cover to cover! I keep all the back issues in my bathroom now and read them in the bath. My mum, who is an artist, buys me brilliant arts and culture magazines and I love the amazing poetry magazine, Hotdog, which supported Her Stories last year and is a collaborator in 2018.
Have you ever belonged to a book club?
No but I've been tempted to start one…
What would be your first read if you did?
It would have to be something feminist. Perhaps a Rebecca Solnit essay, such as The Mother of All Questions, which is about reductive and restrictive expectations of women in society. Whether it was being reviewed by a sympathetic audience of women who related to the content or those who challenged it, there would be interesting discussion. That essay was really mind-blowing for me and moved me to tears when I first read it – I'd be interested to hear what others think.
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Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
How do you organise your bookshelves?
Pretty much aesthetically; mostly by colour but I do keep separate piles of books to read more immediately: books about business, books about feminism and books about politics.
Last book you gave as a gift?
I gave my goddaughter, Grey, the lovely Rosa Parks by Lisbeth Kaiser for her first birthday last week.
Last book that made you cry?
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy. On a recent visit to my parents, my head was spinning with the pressure of new plans and I asked them to recommend a book to me that would be a distraction. They recommended this and I swallowed it up in two days, wishing it would never end. It's the sort of book I would have loved to give the 23-year-old me.
Which three books would you recommend to a stranger?
Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn offers a well researched and optimistic view on our opportunity to end sex trafficking, exploitation and slavery of women and girls. A funny, easy and useful read. I once bought 10 copies and gave them to all my closest girlfriends for Christmas. Half of a Yellow Sun is probably the most powerful book I've ever read and I recently got to see the author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in conversation with Reni Eddo-Lodge during the Women of the World festival at the Southbank Centre, which was a fan girl moment for me and the entire audience. Stoner by John Williams is the story of the 'ordinary' life of one man, and a reminder that the most important things in life are small, fleeting and easily missed and that there is dignity in all life. In an age of hype and growing inequality, these are things worth remembering.
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Hannah’s Reading List
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh
Do Breathe by Michael Townsend Williams
The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman
The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit
Rosa Parks by Lisbeth Kaiser
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Stoner by John Williams
The next Her Stories auction and dinner takes place on 13th November at the Dover Street Arts Club, London.
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