We grill our favourite people on the books that changed their life…
As part of our new Shelf Life interview series, we’re speaking to some of our favourite names to find out which books they treasure – the ones that have shaped them into the people they are today. Here, Leona Lewis – whose 2013 single One More Sleep is currently enjoying its biggest year since its release – tells us about the five books that mean the most to her. For the full interview, head over to Instagram.
“My mum is an Ayurvedic practitioner and Ayurveda is one of the oldest forms of self-healing and wellbeing – both emotional and physical. It’s thousands of years old and my mum studied it for years and actually bought me this book for Christmas. It goes through what Ayurveda is, how to use it practically in your day-to-day life and talks about natural remedies for anything from a common cold to a bite or scratch. A lot of it you can even find in your kitchen – different herbs or things you can use to heal yourself. It’s a really interesting book – almost like an encyclopaedia of natural remedies. You can look up what your ailment is – whether it’s menstrual cramps or dry skin – and it has all these remedies. I really got interested in Ayurvedic medicine when I became ill – I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition which affected my thyroid. Western medication wasn’t working for me so I tried the Ayurvedic route. It really worked for me and I dedicated myself to learning about it and going even deeper. I was lucky because my mum already was on that path, so she opened me up further to it and I started healing my body.”
“This one is great and would make a great present. It talks about Ayurveda and what it is, along with your mind and body type – which they call a constitution. Because it’s a very old system, it puts things into a modern description so you can really understand and delve into it. It has so many recipes for your mind and body type to balance yourself. I used this so much when I first got diagnosed – I cooked all of the recipes that were balancing for me and my body, it was great. There’s a 20-minute curry in there that I really love because I’m not one of those people who likes to spend five hours in the kitchen. They’re easy but really tasty – and it’s fun to be in the kitchen and to learn about how different spices affect your body. The recipes in here are mainly plant-based and vegetarian. I’m vegan – it was probably about five years ago when I started cutting out dairy which was really hard because I loved cheese. The reason why I don’t eat dairy is to try and be more sustainable in my diet, so I started slowly and now I don’t feel a need for it.”
“I think I must have read this when I was 17 – it was in my Mum’s book collection. My mum loves autobiographical true stories and I couldn’t put it down. It was so harrowing. It’s about two young girls who were sold into illegal marriages. They were from Birmingham and they were sold and taken to Yemen – it was proven to be illegal because Zana did not want to be married. It tells the journey of what they went through as western girls, growing up in Birmingham and going to a rural village where they were put into manual labour, giving birth to children on the floor. I’d never heard of a story like this before and didn’t know this went on – it just broke my heart. It introduced me to the idea of modern day slavery and the fact women went through this. I was amazed by Zana’s perseverance of spirit and the idea of fighting for her freedom and wanting to save her sister. I read it so quickly and it really stuck with me – it was one of the first books that popped into my head when I was thinking about this interview. Modern day slavery is still going on and illegal child marriages are still happening – it’s still very prevalent and it’s an issue that needs to be highlighted and addressed.”
“This is one of my favourite books. My friend actually told me about it years ago. I had a phase where I wouldn’t read – I would only listen to things as audiobooks because I couldn’t focus. I’d have this on and would listen to it and it really struck a chord with me. When I picked it up again probably three months ago during the craziness of the pandemic, I was like, ‘I’m going to read this again’. It’s such an amazing book, it’s a real life book. This isn’t something you read once; you take your time reading it and you go back to it. I have so many highlighted sections, so may earmarks. Basically, every page is marked with something and it’s like a treasure trove full of how to deal with so many things in your life, from any anxieties you have, to fears, self-doubt and judgements. It’s about how you go beyond yourself to find yourself. I would recommend this to everyone and anyone – you can literally pick up any chapter and you’ll find a golden nugget of information. I really love reading this in the morning, even just a page – it starts my day off really well.”
“I read this in school – I got introduced to it when I was about ten. I wanted to choose a book from my childhood because I feel like they really shaped me in terms of opening up my imagination. I was very imaginative – I would put on plays for my parents and would dress up and make them watch me. I would also write a lot of short stories about how our kitchen table would turn into say, a camel, and I would ride it into the ‘desert’ (which was my garden). When I read this book, I was like, ‘Oh my god, my mind is blown’. I remember getting lost in it and loving all the characters. I also loved the fact that the heroine was a young girl. I think we were around the same age and I loved that she was the one going into the wardrobe and discovering this world and convincing her brothers. Because I had brothers as well, I saw a lot of myself in the character. She’s the leader, she’s in charge and that’s what I loved – she is so brave and adventurous. It really opened up my imagination and I feel that books when you’re at that age are so great because they open up this whole other side of your brain and your creativity – and now I use that in my life.”