My Life In Books – Monica Heisey
My Life In Books – Monica Heisey

My Life In Books – Monica Heisey

Monica Heisey is a writer and comedian from Toronto. She has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Vogue, Elle, Glamour and New York magazine and has written for some of the best comedies out there, including SL favourites ‘Schitt’s Creek’ and ‘Workin’ Moms’. She currently lives in London and this month published her first novel, ‘Really Good, Actually’. We sat down with her to find out more about her reading habits, favourite authors and top book recommendations…
By Heather Steele

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What Are You Reading Right Now?

I’ve just been sent a proof of Big Swiss by Jen Beagin, which comes out in May, and I’m so excited to get started. It’s a comic novel about a sex therapist’s transcriptionist who falls in love with a client while listening to her sessions. I’ve heard such good things – and it’s already going to be an HBO show starring Jodie Comer.

What Book From Childhood Will Always Stay With You?

My favourite book as a child was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. It’s got it all: secret identities, shipwrecks, revolution, revenge, prison breaks, lost love… he really threw everything at it.

What books made You Want To Write?

When I was younger, I was obsessed with P.G. Wodehouse and Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde – all these genteel social satirists. I just couldn’t believe how funny they were. I found an old notebook recently from my tween years and there are such clumsy and clunky attempts at satire in there; those guys really made an impression.

When And Where Do You Read?

My favourite place to read is a corner of a pub with a fireplace, or at the counter of a wine bar, alone for a whole Sunday afternoon. I also do a lot of my best reading in transit – I love to read on planes, trains and buses. 

Where Do You Buy Books?

I pretty much wander into bookstores whenever I have a spare five minutes. I live in East London and there are so many amazing used bookstores in my neighbourhood – shoutout to Church St Bookshop and Burley Fisher, in particular. 

Do You Belong To A Book Club? 

I’ve tried to get a few book clubs going in my time, but my friends and I are never committed enough. We’re not good at sticking to the timeline!

I’m obsessed with something Sheila Heti’s narrator says in How Should A Person Be? – ‘You have to know where the funny is. IF YOU KNOW WHERE THE FUNNY IS, THEN YOU KNOW EVERYTHING’

How Do You Choose What To Read?

I mostly get recommendations from friends, other writers and people I think are cool. I love to read The Millions’ ‘My Year in Reading’ feature and steal the reading lists of writers I admire.  

Do You Have A Favourite Author?

I’m obsessed with something Sheila Heti’s narrator says in How Should A Person Be?: “You have to know where the funny is. If you know where the funny is, then you know everything.” All my favourite authors know where the funny is, whether or not their work is particularly comic overall –Sheila, for sure, but also Elif Batuman, Kiley Reid, Heidi Julavits, Kate Zambreno, Zadie Smith, Lorrie Moore, Patricia Lockwood, Mieko Kawakami, as well as older authors like Jane Austen, George Eliot, Charles Dickens and P.G. Wodehouse. 

What's Been Your Favourite Read Of 2023 So Far?

I picked up Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin after my boyfriend really enjoyed it, and it turned out I was the last person on earth who hadn’t read it. It was such an interesting exploration of different approaches to the creative process, of collaborative friendship, and of love. I was a little worried that because I know nothing about gaming, I might have trouble getting into it, but of course that was a ridiculous worry and not how reading fiction works. It was the last book that made me cry, too.

What One Novel Will Always Stay With You?

It’s not a novel but I loved Heidi Julavits’s The Folded Clock so much. It’s a chronicle of her daily life as a 40-something woman, wife, mother and writer. I reread it every year. 

Favourite Biography?

I don’t know if it’s my favourite, but a friend recently thrust Jessica Simpson’s autobiography Open Book into my hands at a party and it was an extremely wild ride. 

Do You Read Poetry?

I do! Particularly during the early and final stages of romantic relationships, I am very receptive to poetry. I love Sharon Olds, Elizabeth Bishop and Anne Carson. Louise Glück let us use a gorgeous poem from Meadowlands as the epigraph to my novel, and I’m so grateful. I think she’s a genius.

What Book Would You Give As A Gift?

I have a small stack of copies of Little Weirds by the comedian Jenny Slate that I have on hand all the time because it’s the perfect book to receive unexpectedly, and I have never met a woman who didn’t love it. 

MY FAVOURITE PLACE TO READ IS A CORNER OF A PUB with a fireplace, or at the counter of a wine bar, alone for a whole Sunday afternoon.

Any Recommendations For Laugh Out Loud Books?

Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison. 

What’s Your Favourite Film Or Tv Adaptation Of A Book?

Like many, Emma Thompson’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility is one of my favourite movies of all time.  

Are There Any Books that Have Helped You Through Difficult Times?

I love Motherhood by Sheila Heti. I read a proof of it when I was going through my divorce, and it was so comforting on the loneliness of making a socially unpopular choice. Now that I’m in my mid-30s it feels even more relevant. 

Favourite Literary Character?

I had a big crush on Henry Tilney from Northhanger Abbey as a teenager.

What One Book Should Everybody Read In Their Lifetime?

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. It’s so beautiful and intense and sad and funny and charming and huge and small. It really draws you in and overwhelms you with the sense of how much really happens in a given moment. I feel the same way about To The Lighthouse, but To The Lighthouse is so intense and disorienting you can’t really read it on the bus. Mrs Dalloway can come along in a purse or on a beach holiday or whatever and blow your mind in a gentle way. 

Finally, Tell Us About Your New Book…

It’s a comic novel called Really Good, Actually about a young woman called Maggie getting unexpectedly divorced at a young age and handling it worse than anyone in history.  Writing a TV show is so collaborative from the very beginning, whereas a novel – until you find an editor willing to work with you on it – is quite a solitary creation. I have a renewed appreciation for the writing room as a generative process – particularly for comedy, you really can’t beat it. At first it was intimidating to be sat alone at my computer with nobody to run my dumb little ideas by, but eventually I really enjoyed how much creative control I had. It was exciting not to be limited by all the practicalities that change TV scripts – that’s everything from budget to actors’ schedule and even the weather. 

Really Good, Actually by Monica Heisey is available to buy here.

Inspired? Read Monica’s picks here…

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