Sandi Toksvig is a comedian, novelist, actor, broadcaster, activist and, of course, bonafide national treasure. You’ve likely seen her presenting QI or, until the current series, in the famous Bake Off tent alongside Noel Fielding.
Her latest book, Toksvig’s Almanac 2021, is a collection of remarkable women of history, from pirate nuns to astronauts. She is also preparing for a tour of her one-woman show The National Trevor, in Spring next year.
Here, Sandi Toksvig shares some of the books which have inspired her varied career and chooses the top titles to line up on her Fantasy Bookshelf.
She shares the next book on her reading list, how her father’s work inspired her own writing and a career highlight voicing Winnie the Pooh’s Tigger.
What was your favourite book growing up?
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. At last here was a girl in literature who I could identify with. Determined, independent and given to observing the world. It gave me hope that I was not alone.
If you could give one book to every child to read, what would it be?
There are so many but definitely The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch. It is the most wonderful princess and dragon story with complete role reversal. Also, I quite fancy wearing a paper bag.
Who has inspired your own writing?
My father inspired me. He wrote books but also journalism which is how I learned to write to a deadline. He wrote a book called Edited Reality about how hard it is to distil what is happening in the world into bite-sized chunks. He was concerned about the duty of the honest journalist to inform without trying to persuade.
Is there anything you’ve read which has influenced your outlook on your career?
Emily Dickinson’s poem I am Nobody had a huge effect on how I view being in the public eye. It is about the absurdity of fame and has been a guiding light in a celebrity obsessed world.
If you could go back in time and convince the author of a book to change one event in their story, what would it be?
Why oh why couldn’t Dr Zhivago have a happy ending? Spoiler alert but the last sentence tells us that Lara is “forgotten as a nameless number on a list which was later mislaid, in one of the innumerable mixed or women’s concentration camps in the north.” I mean it’s a heck of a big read to end on that horror.
Who would be your dream character to narrate in an audiobook?
I played Tigger once in a Winnie the Pooh audio drama and I’m not sure I will ever do better.
Are there any stories you wish there were more books about?
I would love there to be a wider range of general literature where lesbians are just characters and not serial killers or mad or both.
Which book has taught you the most or made you think about something differently?
Weirdly The Ashley Book of Knots had a huge impact on me. It is an encyclopaedia of knots which took eleven years to write and has thousands of illustrations of what can be done with a piece of rope.
It made me think about the making of all things – food, writing, decisions – first consider what you want to create and then take the time to find the pattern which achieves that. The same piece of rope can result in a multitude of outcomes.
What is the best reading recommendation you’ve ever been given?
Janet and John by Mabel O’Donnell and Rona Munro. The best because these were the books which taught me to read although I never really felt Janet came to the fore as fully rounded a character as John.
What’s next on your reading list?
Paris: The Secret History by Andrew Hussey. It’s one of several books about Parisian history which I am reading for a new project. Mostly I read factual research for one work assignment or another. Sadly I mostly lack the time for fiction.
Sandi’s new book Toksvig’s Almanac 2021 is out now and she will be touring the UK in spring 2021 with The National Trevor tour. For details of the book and tour visit www.sanditoksvig.com
Read Sandi Toksvig’s Fantasy Bookshelf
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
The Edited Reality by Claus Toksvig
Hope is the Thing with Feathers: The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson
Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
The Ashley Book of Knots by Clifford Warren Ashley
Janet and John by Mabel O’Donnell and Rona Munro
Paris: The Secret History by Andrew Hussey