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My Fantasy Bookshelf: Ben Bailey Smith shares the books which influenced his life and career

The Des actor, rapper and children’s author discusses his top reads.

Ben Bailey Smith - My Fantasy Bookshelf

Actor Ben Bailey Smith recently appeared in ITV’s Des and BBC’s The Split, although many will also know him as rapper Doc Brown. Bailey Smith is also an accomplished children’s author and the brother of renowned novelist Zadie Smith.

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Below, the multi-talented star talks through the books which have inspired him most and chooses the top titles to line up on his Fantasy Bookshelf.

Bailey Smith explains what captivated him about Roald Dahl’s BFG, which character he would most like to play on-screen and shares his favourite Toblerone-related audiobook.

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What’s the best reading recommendation you’ve ever been given?

Fox 8 by George Saunders. My sister recommended it for me. It’s a story told in the first person by a fox who can’t really write so it’s littered with constant spelling mistakes and poor grammar. It shouldn’t work and yet it’s one of the most profound things I’ve ever read.

Which children’s book should every kid read?

On the Way Home by Jill Murphy. For me it’s a book about the loneliness of lying and the communal safety of the truth. Every page is iconic.

What was your favourite book as a child?

As a very small child it was The Very Hungry Caterpillar, then Not Now Bernard. Pretty sure it stayed Not Now Bernard until I read the BFG when I was about seven.

That book changed my perspective on what was possible in storytelling. Even now, the vivid imagery of giants walking through London and reaching through windows feels as sharp and shocking as when I first read it.

You have written your own children’s books, including I Am Bear and Bear Moves. Were there any authors who inspired your path into writing?

I’ve actually published four – Get A Move On and Crumbs! for Bloomsbury. For picture books I was inspired by Emily Gravett, Jon Klassen, Oliver Jeffers, David McKee, Ed Vere, Chris Riddell – there’s a bunch more I could add.

I think the humour, abstraction and dark twists those guys had in their various masterpieces really spurred me on.

Ben Bailey Smith in Des
Ben Bailey Smith in ITV’s Des.

Is there an audiobook which has really made you laugh?

I, Partridge read by Steve Coogan is without a shadow of a doubt the funniest. The section on his debilitating Toblerone addiction is one of the most hilarious passages of audio I’ve ever heard.

Which book have you learnt the most from?

Probably Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. Whether or not you agree with his theories, there are so many eye opening historical nuggets in there that kind of force you to question a lot of life’s fundamental philosophies.

What’s your best-loved quote?

“Who, being loved, is poor?” Classic profound simplicity from Oscar Wilde in A Woman of No Importance. That safety in care is, deep down, what we all really need.

If you could star in a screen adaptation as any character, who would it be?

Peter Grant from Rivers of London, by Ben Aaranovitch. Youngish, mixed race copper from London who investigates the occult with a sardonic wit, a very cool car and a dash of debonair flair. It’s like it’s written for me to play.

What’s on the top of your pile to read next?

The Five People You Meet in Heaven. My wife recommended it and I probably need something spiritual to offset the harsh atheism of Sapiens.

Is there a book you’d like to shine a spotlight on?

My sister’s latest book Intimations. It’s a series of essays kind of pondering human existence in 2020, which makes it a must-read for us all! Also, I feel no shame promoting it as all proceeds go to charity.

Des is available on the ITV Hub now and Ben’s next novel for Bloomsbury will be released in June 2021.

Buy Ben Bailey Smith’s Fantasy Bookshelf

Fox 8 by George Saunders

On the Way Home by Jill Murphy

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Eric Carle 

Not Now Bernard by Eric McKee

The BFG by Roald Dahl

I, Patridge by Steve Coogan

Sapians by Yuval Noah Harari

A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

Imitations: Six Essays by Zadie Smith

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