Sophie Roell On Books


Uri Bram: I’m delighted to be here today with Sophie Roell, co-founder and editor of FiveBooks.com, certainly the best book curation site on the internet. Sophie, thanks for joining  –– could you guess for us how many books you have read at this point?

Sophie Roell: It’s very hard to come up with a number because there are different levels of reading books. So some books I really read properly word for word and some I just skim and everywhere in between. So I’ve certainly read – I’ve certainly skimmed and looked at – I probably look at about seven books a week and I’ve been doing this for about a decade so you do the math.

Uri Bram: I'm doing the math and I make that somewhere around 4,000 books, which is incredible.

Sophie Roell: Yeah, that’s possible. But the other aspect is that often I don’t remember everything that’s in them so it’s not that the knowledge of those 4,000 books will have entered my brain. But yes, I will have looked at them and thought about them at some point in the last few years. And some parts of the books will have stuck with me, maybe one sentence from a book or maybe a whole book. It depends.

Uri Bram: So for those of us who might be lucky to read one book a month, rather than one book a day, has this prodigious reading left you with any high-level advice or tips on how to identify a great book or a book that someone will enjoy?

Sophie Roell: I think books are – I think it’s really hard to identify what book someone will enjoy because it’s so dependent on your personality, what you’ve experienced, what you are looking for, what type of reading you want to do.

So although I run a book recommendation website, when people ask me, “What should I read?” my first answer is I really don’t know because it depends what you know, what you’ve read already.

I remember earlier on in Five Books, I read a book called Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne, and it really left an impression on me. And at the end of it, he writes very beautifully about why evolution is such a beautiful thing, and it’s quite a spiritual moment in the book even though he is a very ardent atheist.

And that book, that book really stuck with me. But part of the reason it stuck with me was because I had never studied biology since high school. I knew very little about how evolution worked. A lot of it was new to me. Whereas, somebody who studied it in school might be like, “So what? Yeah, OK. That’s a nice bit at the end but whatever, I know all that.” So there is that aspect.

And then there is the emotional aspect: for example, I’ve just read a book about being a refugee in the Netherlands, which is very, very funny book which made me laugh out loud. But it makes me laugh out loud because my family is Dutch and I know a lot of Dutch people and I’ve also met quite a few Syrian refugees. What makes it funny is my own experience. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be funny to other people, I think it will, but it’s a lot funnier to me.

So that’s why I often say that your feelings about books are like your feelings towards romantic partners – like, I might think a guy is really cute but that doesn’t mean my friends will. And that’s kind of lucky in the case of a boy. But with books, you wish it was universal but I’m not sure it always is.

Uri Bram: That’s fantastic. I have the same problem: people ask me for book recommendations and I think to myself, like, I read this book five years ago, I’m not even sure if I would enjoy it now, how the hell do I know if you would enjoy it? You have to meet the right book at the right time.

Sophie Roell: Very well said.

Uri Bram: How about you? Do you think you agree with your past self about books? How often do you think if you reread a book you would still think as highly or lowly of it as you did the first time?

Sophie Roell: I mean, my feelings towards books are pretty constant. When I go back and read books again, I feel remarkably similar about them, although I will go back to different things in the books.

For example, I was completely obsessed with War and Peace. I was reading a lot of Tolstoy as an 18-year-old and I read War and Peace, and my third daughter is called Natasha after one of the characters in War and Peace. So I really, really did like War and Peace.

But when I read it as an 18-year-old, I was really into the romance of Natasha falling in love and who is she going to marry, even though I felt at the end that she married the wrong guy, “Oh, no! She fell in love with the wrong guy,” but never mind.

Then I was listening to it as an audiobook when I was preparing to run a half marathon, because I thought I need a good long book. So I was listening to War and Peace while running for the marathon and then I was totally uninterested in the lovebirds, I was just interested in the war and Napoleon and wondering whether he was right about Napoleon and what had Napoleon done and I was completely interested in the historical aspect of it.

So my feeling about the book was very – the emotions were very similar but the bits which I found myself being interested in was very different, because my time and life had changed I suppose.

Uri Bram: That’s fascinating. Since we are on the subject of classics, how much justice do you think there is in which books become well-known and well-regarded?

Sophie Roell: I think we are very influenced by being told that something is a classic, so we go into it knowing it’s a classic and giving it a bit more time than if somebody had said, “Oh, this is some obscure novel. Give it a go.” You go into it with a lot more patience because you know you’re supposed to like it.

That said, I think these novels which have stood the test of time, there’s something very special in them that gets people to turn to them again and again. And I think that’s true of Jane Austen and I think it’s true of Tolstoy. It’s true of a range of writers. So people sometimes ridicule Jane Austen but there is something there that speaks to us across the centuries that she had managed to capture.

There may be other books out there like that that have been forgotten, and that you wouldn’t necessarily come across, that may exist out there—I don’t know about that, how many potential classics were out there that somehow haven’t come down to me.

But I do tend to – if I really like a book by an author, I tend to read all their works and I do find that typically the more famous books do tend to be the ones that are a bit better. And then you keep going because you like the author, but then they do start tailing off.

For example with Jane Austen, I read people saying, “Oh, you should read Sanditon, it’s her last book that she started although she never finished it.” There’s almost nothing there; there’s no point reading Sanditon except that you like Jane Austen and want to read a bit more of her. But I do think that better works are the ones which tend to be remembered in general.

I’ll try to think if there’s any exception to that. Do you think there’s any exception to that?, where you just think, “oh, he is famous for this or she is famous for that, but actually, I really love this?” I’m not sure.

Uri Bram: Instinctively, I feel that I have the same experience you are describing – I’ll read something by some author and falls in love with it and go look at their entire library and nothing else they’ve written to me comes anywhere close. It’s the disappointment of realizing that just because someone wrote one book you love doesn’t mean you’re going to even mildly like anything else they did, which has been a hard lesson I’ve learned several times.

You know Eka Kurniawan, the Indonesian magical realist writer? Beauty Is a Wound is one of my favorite books ever, and then everything else he wrote I eagerly anticipated. I was there on day one when the new book was released, and then I just thought "yeah this is fine. It’s OK. I don’t know.”

Kazuo Ishiguro is interesting because I think everything he's written is very high quality, but his only book that I really truly love is The Remains of the Day. And that's another of my all-time favourite books, but everything else of his I just think, “OK, you’re very talented, well done, but this is no Remains of the Day."

Sophie Roell: Have you read Klara and the Sun?

Uri Bram: No, I haven’t!

Sophie Roell: I haven’t read it yet but a lot of people recommend it as a really good one to read on artificial intelligence ,so I have got it in my sights as something I’m going to read at some point in the coming year I suppose.

Uri Bram: How do you decide what’s next when you have an infinite list of books that could be read? How do you pick your next read?

Sophie Roell: It’s pretty random. Publishers send me a lot of books that are coming out, and then I’m also looking at what’s coming out myself whether it’s on Amazon or going to bookshops. And then I just pick one that takes my fancy so it’s a little bit random. I mean right now, this historian Orlando Figes, he wrote a book The Story of Russia which is the whole history of Russia in 300 pages. And so, I think partly because of the Ukraine war and just feeling this need to understand more about Russia at the moment, I’ll be instantly attracted to that.

So that was sort of my summer reading, I took it away on holiday and was looking forward to reading it. I didn’t really enjoy reading it but I’m propelled towards it even more because I’m just feeling it’s important to understand Russian history, because without understanding the Russian history we can’t understand what Putin is doing, he just seems like a crazy guy, whereas if you read it in the context of the Russian history you see, oh, OK, he’s just in a long line of people who want to be seen as the savior of Russia and facing off against Europe, it starts to make more sense.

So that’s how I choose, a combination of stuff I’m interested in and stuff that's current. And I will be interested in more international stuff because I’m based in the UK, I studied history here, I’ve learned a lot about British history and it’s part of my formal education, so I’m much more interested in things that are not to do with British history. I do not want to read another book about Henry VIII, we've spent enough of our time on that wife killer. But things like Russian or Chinese history, that’s the kind of thing I get attracted to.

And then escapism is a whole different thing, because I think there is one level on which you’re reading to learn stuff and then another where you're reading to take your mind off stuff and not to think. And for that, I normally like reading mysteries -- I really like mysterys so I’ll always be reading one of those.

You recommended a book yesterday, Body Language by A.K. Turner, so I bought that and read that. Instead of watching TV one night, I’ll just read that. That’s my kind of relaxation.

So again, with regards to book, it’s like, what are you trying to achieve with your reading? I meet some people who would say “I would never read a novel;” I met one of our neighbors here who said he would never read a novel because it’s just made up, so why would he waste his time reading it? Life is too short. He wants to read facts.

And then there are other people, like members of my book club, who think “No, we don’t want to read non-fiction. This is supposed to be fun.” It's just completely opposite attitudes to an entire kind of genre of books.

Uri Bram: Yes! I have so many questions – I want to ask you more about fiction, I want to ask you about mysteries, and also about long views of history, but I’m going to take it up from the top and I’ll come to those other ones later.

So, I’m not the first person to say this but I feel like most of society is overly consumed with breaking news and we keep reading the smallest details of what’s happening right now. As you said, a lot of global politics makes a lot of more sense if you read it like long history instead. Can you talk more about that, about the place of books in understanding the world?

Sophie Roell: Yeah. So here again, it’s a difficult thing because a proper history history book is almost too niche to reveal much about the current world – if you’re writing a proper history, there’s not very much you can say because there’s not that much information.

And so, one of the struggles we have at Five Books when covering history is that books which are actually fun to read do kind of make these generalizations. Like this book that I was just talking about, The Story of Russia, because it’s very quick, it’s not going to be super accurate and there’s going to be a lot of interpretation, which makes it more relevant to the present and it helps you to understand the present more, but in a sense it becomes less accurate about the past because you’re constantly distorting it to shed light on the present.

I read a book at some point saying, “What’s the point of history?” It was by this philosopher in the States, I think he is at Duke, who was just saying history is completely pointless: we read history to learn about the past, but then it actually doesn’t reveal anything about the past. And he gives the example of the French and the Maginot Line, and how they were constantly preparing for the Germans to invade from the East, and even though they learned the history anew again and again, each time they messed it up and the Germans still invaded, no problem.

So his point was that everybody says, “Oh, you have to understand the history to understand the present.” And he says, “Actually, it’s not true. Learning the history tells nothing about the present because it’s just going to happen slightly differently or the lesson might be the wrong one.”

Another one would be, “OK, Neville Chamberlain was wrong to appease Hitler, so next time we shouldn’t appease,” but then that goes completely wrong. So what conclusion do you sort of draw from the history? In that sense, history itself is very difficult because it’s a constant reflection on the past.

I know I’m not really answering your question but I just think the insights history gives us are important but have to be approached with a lot of caution about what they are actually telling us, and an understanding that part of what we are doing when we read it or when we are writing it is projecting our own values on to the past.

But I think what’s really important to be aware of like in the case of Russia and things that are happening in the present is that people – it may not be the actual history that has happened, it may be a distortion of the history like all history is a distortion I guess is what I’m saying, but we have to be aware of individual country’s distortion to defend where they are coming from. So we have to – and that’s what this book is about really. It’s like Russia’s distortion of the past we have to be aware of. China’s distortion of the past we have to be aware of. America’s distortion of the past we have to be aware of. And in Britain, our own distortion of the past we have to aware of because those national narratives are things that people really believe and feed into the nationalism.

And that’s history traditionally was taught to learn the national narrative and to form a nation because there is really no such thing as a nation. It’s all an imagined community, as Benedict Anderson would say. And history is a part of that, so we all have these national narratives. And those national narratives are manipulated by leaders in China and Russia.

History is not a simple thing. I mean I do have some advice about reading history: I just think sometimes people say to me like, “Oh, I don’t want to read this history book because it’s so long.” And I think that in approaching history books, you really can go into them and just sort of skip a lot because it’s a lot about the arguments that are being made and you don’t have to read every single word.

So you can read a thousand page history book quite quickly because you are just saying to yourself, “I want to find out what this book is arguing or what it’s saying.” It’s not like reading a novel where you have to read every word to kind of get into the story and enjoy it. History books are about sort of extracting information and finding out what the argument is. And so a thousand page history book you can read in a couple of days because you’re not reading every word.

Uri Bram: Fantastic. In a strange way, maybe this is a segue to go back to fiction. So what would you say to hypothetical interlocutor who says, “There’s no point in reading fiction, why do I want to read it? It’s all made-up.” Do you have a defense for fiction?

Sophie Roell: Well, I’m slightly on his side unfortunately. So in the fiction vs non-fiction debate I just enjoy non-fiction more because with novels, I’m often trying to guess what actually happened to the author: did this happen to them? Rather than letting myself be carried by the story, I’m thinking about which bits are accurate, which bits are made-up, which bits are autobiographical.

So do I have a defence for fiction? I would say again that I don’t read much contemporary fiction – I read mysteries because I enjoy mysteries as escapist and it’s a little puzzle, it’s a little kind of silly, you’re trying to guess what happens at the end.  

I often reflect on why something which is about a brutal murder is such a popular genre. I have no idea why but there has to be a murder – sometimes in books they say somebody’s money has gone missing or that it’s just a puzzle without a murder and somehow it’s not as satisfying as when someone gets killed. I do not understand that. Maybe it’s some leftover from when we enjoyed watching people get killed at the coloseum, we still have that kind of inherent bloodthirstiness.

But personally, I find that very relaxing escapism. The book doesn’t often stay in my mind.

The other kind of fiction I really enjoy is books written in the past because I just love getting a sense of daily lives of people in the past, what they did, how they did it – what their underwear looked like, what they did just get through the day or have a glass of water, did they have to pump it out the ground – I just find it fascinating how people lived in the past, every aspect of that. This is my real love of history: it’s not about the long-term trends, it's about the texture of their lives, and sometimes that kind of history is easier to find in fiction.

For example, this morning I was reading with my Chinese book club this book called the Jin Ping Mei, which was set in the Song Dynasty but was written in the Ming Dynasty and it’s basically life in this courtyard house in a city in China. And basically they are just going about their day. It’s a man who has now become an official with six wives, there’s tons of sex, basically all they do is eat and have sex and wander about the courtyard and these little intrigues.

And there’s just not much going on, but I just love hearing about what they get up to on a day-to-day basis and what makes up their lives, how they buy food. And then there are punishments, like if someone does something wrong, one of the wives will threaten one of the maids with “well, if you don’t bring that more quickly, I’ll put the finger squeezers on you.” Finger squeezers keep appearing as a threat and punishment or an actual punishment, and I’m just trying to imagine what these look like and how they’re done.

So that’s my real love of fiction. And the other thing is that I really love to travel, so in a sense I think what I’m enjoying is the travel aspect. It’s travel into the past, into this strange world.

And similarly, the only contemporary fiction I read is authors in translations, so I will be interested to read a contemporary author in Japan or China – I just don’t want to read Anglo-Saxon contemporary literature. I avoid that because it doesn’t take me anywhere.

Uri Bram: I love that. And I feel that, about the indirect things you learn from a good piece of fiction. Someone who is writing a non-fiction book wouldn’t necessarily remember to put in all these details that are actually the most interesting, this sort of day-to-day texture of life. And there’s something incredible about that, and just learning how different other people’s lives could be in different times and places.

I had this experience reading Dream of the Red Chamber because… I mean spoiler for several hundred year old but people just keep dying for no reason. A major character will just take ill one day and then be dead. And I guess for most of human history this is what life was like, you caught an illness and there was no way to treat it and you'd be gone, and that was it. And there was something about the way that it just wasn’t noteworthy to the author, this was just how things were, that really affected me much more deeply than if someone who tried to write something touching about mortality.

Sophie Roell: Yes, absolutely. And actually, my main memory of the Wolf Hall Trilogy about Thomas Cromwell is just this scene one day where his wife dies and his daughter dies and then his other daughter dies. Suddenly, from having a wife and three children, he has (I think) just one left. And that’s the scene that sticks with me from that entire trilogy, not the ups and downs of Anne Boleyn or what’s going on with Thomas Cromwell but just... yeah, as you say, just this thing that was normal life back then. Which really puts in perspective when everybody at the moment is saying, “Oh, life is going to hell in a handbasket, how terrible things are now.” I mean, there could be a new killer bomb tomorrow but, as things are, I just feel that compared to the past things are pretty good.

Uri Bram: Agreed, agreed.

Let's talk now about your site, Five Books. You interview experts on a really staggering array of topics, and they recommend five books each on the area of their expertise. Can you tell us a little more about that?

Sophie Roell: So, the idea behind it was that I always enjoy books more when somebody explains what they’re about. Because I think you can read books on several levels, and actually if someone explains it you can often get it at a deeper level. I always noticed at school and university that I found explanations from people who knew more than me really helpful.

So that is one part of why we do these interviews about books. People recommend the books, but then they also explain what’s important about them, what’s significant. And I just think that’s a really important part of a process, of really enjoying a book.

At the same time, I love learning about stuff. Given a choice, I would have stayed at graduate school – a graduate student forever. I didn’t want to do a PhD, that involved too much solitary hard work, but just going to classes, learning about things, I absolutely love.

So in some sense, Five Books was supposed to replicate that experience on the internet of studying. I studied history at Oxford, and the format was very much that you go in and the topic this week is Elizabeth I, your tutor gives you a sets of questions like "why did Elizabeth I introduced the Act of Supremacy?," or equally the Act of Uniformity, and then he gave you five books on Elizabeth to read, or six or seven.

And then for the rest of the week you are in the library with those seven books, reading them and then answering the question about Elizabeth I or Alfred the Great. "Was Alfred great?" You answer that question after reading five or six books on Alfred the Great, and that was it. And then you read out the essay to the tutor, and he might say, “Well, you’ve missed out this point" or "have you thought about that point?”

But basically, the entire Oxford history learning experience was being on your own in the library. I tried going to a few lectures but they were completely irrelevant to the topics we were set. There was nothing about Alfred or whether he was great, it was just whatever someone happened to be lecturing on.

So it was very much a degree you did by yourself. And so, when I was starting Five Books I thought, “Well there is nothing to stop me just asking people for their reading list, and learning about it by reading it on my own, with the added bonus of interviewing them." So actually finding out a bit what the books were about, and then making that available for everyone. That’s why we’ve never gone down the subscription model, because I want Five Books to be free for everyone.

So somebody in India who one day decides, “Oh, I might be interested in neuroscience," they can read an interview we’ve done with the neuroscientists. They can read a bit about the books. They could potentially buy the books, but even from the interview, which often has 5,000 or 6,000 words, you have quite a good sense of what a neuroscientist thinks, what they work on, what they’re interested in.

And so in some sense, Five Books is an educational project, which is why early on we focussed very much on non-fiction — neuroscience, history, philosophy, these are the kind of subjects that can be learned this way.

Uri Bram: I really agree with that, I think your interviews are a phenomenal way to learn a new topic. Five Books interviews are the first place I go when there’s some subject that I’m suddenly interested in, and like you said, there’s something about a high level overview before you dig into the details on something that makes it much easier to place some structure to the new information.

It upsets me that most books don’t give you the high level overview upfront, so I think we’re really lucky that we have Five Books to give us that: "here’s the context you need to know at a high level in order for any of these books to make any sense." And then you can pick one or more books to read to get the details.

My friend Kalid, who is a programmer and writer, says that there are two ways to load an image on a computer. One way is to do it in full resolution from the beginning, and go down line by line, and then for most of the time it’s loading the user is just seeing a bunch of dots, they have no idea what the picture is going to be and very little context for what it means. (This all becomes less relevant with modern computers where everything loads faster than you can process it, but still).

The other way is to go from a blurry image and increase the resolution on every part of the image over multiple passes And Kalid says that the second way is a much better way to do educational content: you give people a fuzzy picture and then you keep going back over and improving the clarity.

And that has always stuck with me, and that has always felt very Five Books to me. Your are giving us the general sense of the a particular topic – these experts really do just summarize and capture the key points that are most important about the topic as a whole. And they just make the books they recommend way, way more valuable, they help me actually get the value out of the books.

Sophie Roell: One thing to also say about how we do it is that although we might edit out uhms and ahs and "excuse me, I just need to get a coffee"s – and sure, I will shorten sentences and put in full stops – but generally, even though they're written transcripts, they’re very, very close to the actual conversation that takes place. Because I sometimes feel that on the internet and in newspapers, everything is very edited, maybe somebody’s name is on the article but then editors have completely changed it.

And sometimes for Five Books our interviewees are a bit shocked, because it’s like, “Oh my God! It’s just a conversation.” And it’s like, yeah, it is just a conversation. It’s what you said.

But I think for me, it makes the books speak to me more because when people write about books in general, they write in the third person in a weird way. They use all these weird words, whereas in conversation, they say just, “I absolutely love this book!” And that’s actually what you want to know.

And so, I just feel – I just wanted it to be quite authentic as well. I’m a big believer in hearing people’s words directly, which is also why I like reading books from the past. I just like hearing people’s voices in books and then in the interviews. People are speaking to me directly. So it’s not very edited, which makes my job easier as well. That’s a coincidence. [Laughter]

Uri Bram: Yeah, this is one of the big mysteries to me about learning, because it seems absolutely true that when people write very dry, structured things, I struggle to learn anything from them. I struggle to learn from Wikipedia, even though that’s clearly a phenomenal resource, and whenever people write something that says "here’s a bullet point summary of everything you need to know on [some particular topic]," I struggle to read it and can’t remember it.

Theoretically that should be the efficient and effective way to learn! But in practice, an actual human with a personality telling me things is how I really imbibe new information. I don’t really know why but it just seems to be true. Someone telling a rambling, tangential-filled personal story about why something is good is just much, much more compelling.

Sophie Roell: I also get very inspired by people’s enthusiasm about things I’m not remotely interested in, but if they are talking about it with just huge kind of enthusiasm, it’s hard not to be affected by that excitement. And it’s very inspiring to see it and say, “OK, I might never feel that way about fashion or whatever it is but I just love people just loving their subject.”

Like the other day when I was interviewing somebody about the Day of the Dead and she was just so excited about the Day of the Dead but I went away just totally ready to celebrate like the Day of the Dead. [Laughter]

Uri Bram: Do you have any favorite obscure niche topics where someone was just very passionate about something so specific that you had never thought about it before?

Sophie Roell: Yes. So basically, when I meet people around the place and if they start talking about something with enormous enthusiasm then I might ask them to do a Five Books interview. And one that I really enjoyed was a guy called Jonathan Self whose brother is a famous novelist called Will Self. And he is very passionate about dog food. So he recommended books on dog food.

In the case of that interview, I would say there’s a bit of a tension here because the interview was great and it was very funny and he is very funny. And while he’s completely convincing about what kind of dog food you should be having, I wasn’t entirely sure about the books. That would be one interview where you read the interview but I would not necessarily take the plunge and buy any of the books. So that’s a little bit of a tension that things that are most fun to talk about are maybe not necessarily ideally suited to the format of Five Books, although there were in fact five books out there.

Uri Bram: Ahaha I was just wondering that! Or whether he would have to throw in a book about dogs in general, a couple of novels that feature a dog. [Laughter] What a world we live in.

Is there a reason why Five Books and not for example, seven, or three, or one hundred and four?

Sophie Roell: I mean, it emerged sort of naturally – to begin with, we just asked people for their recommendations, and I wasn’t even sure to begin with it would be just books.

The first interview I ever did was straight after the financial crisis and I was very interested in understanding what we’ve learned from the Great Depression about how to respond to a financial crisis, because that was very much in the news and Obama was being compared to FDR and I was trying to understand whether that history had any lessons for the present. Because at the time, various Republicans were saying that FDR had done a really bad job, and actually what we’d done back then was completely wrong.

So I asked this slightly right of center economist at Harvard, Robert Barro, to do an interview on the lessons of the Great Depression, and just asked for his "suggested readings." So I didn’t specify books, and he suggested a combination of books and articles. And still at times I’ve gone a little bit back to that, especially in subjects where possibly the books aren’t the best way to learn about a topic – for example in economics, the latest work tends to be articles rather than books.

So we started out being very open, but then I think the naturally people tended to recommend between four and six books, and somehow Five Books became the thing we came down to.

Uri Bram: It’s a catchy number. It’s a catchy name.

Sophie Roell: Yeah. And lots of publications do "five books" columns -- the Wall Street Journal, the Economist recently started. But most of them don’t do the interviews, and for me the interviews are kind of the essential element. And I have done the occasional email interview but mainly it's spoken conversations like this, it's someone talking, and again that’s just sort of differentiated a bit from other sites which have Q&As which could be done just by email. I just really want to hear the person talk.

Uri Bram: And it really comes through – there’s nothing like a good Five Books interview, everyone says so.

Sophie, it’s such a delight to chat. Probably by this point, people should already know but... where can people find you and your work online?

Sophie Roell: So it’s FiveBooks.com – you can sign up for newsletter and then that comes out twice a week and it will just alert you to the latest interviews that we publish. And I just want to be clear that sometimes I think people feel pressured, like, “I can’t keep up with all these readings," but you’re not supposed to be reading all those books! The whole idea is that if you happen to be interested in historical novels or if you happen to be interested in economics, that if there’s an interview on that, you will be alerted to know it’s on the site.

Nobody can be interested in all the stuff we cover. You’re not supposed to be. We are trying to cover everything – not that we do, but we aspire to. And then you can pick out the bits that interest you. So it’s not a site that you’re supposed to go to every day. It’s a site that you kind of dip into when you are kind of looking for books or wanting to know what has come out in a particular genre or type of book that you like.

Then there’s a huge archive where you can just look through and see whether an author that you’re interested in or a subject you’re interested in whether we’ve got it covered. And if we haven’t, just write and I will do my best. It would not happen quickly because there’s only a few of us doing it. But if you write to me at Sophie@FiveBooks.com and say, “I really think we need an interview on this,” I will try and make it happen. But I can’t give any promises.

Uri Bram: Amazing. Thank you so much.


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