TAHMIMA ANAM’S LATEST novel The Startup Wife is a blisteringly funny satire about love, ambition, feminist geekdom and standing up for what you believe in. Deep-seated complexities of sexism and racism in Silicon Valley and beyond, and the frenzied uncontrollability of social media are laid bare as a charismatic husband gets all the credit for a revolutionary app developed with his wife that was intended to deliver spiritual awakening, empathy and self-determination to a grateful world. She tells us about the books she keeps in somewhat random order.

Tell us about the bookshelves in your home.

I have a wall of bookshelves in my office, a wall of bookshelves in the living room, piles of books on my bedside table, and there are also several shelves of books belonging to my children, books scattered in the hallway, books in transit from upstairs to downstairs, and pretty much everywhere you look there is a book that probably belongs on a shelf but that we are too lazy to return. My books are not organised by anything other than size; I enjoy seeing the straight line across the tops of them.

Which books are your most recent bookshelf additions?

I recently picked up a hardback of Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women at my local Oxfam, only to find that I already have two copies on my shelf at home. I love the dark stories told with exuberant joy.

Do you judge people by their bookshelves?

I would be lying if I said no.

Which is your most treasured book?

When I was in university, I discovered Rabindranath Tagore. He is a writer and poet revered to the point of obsession in Bengali culture, so of course I had always known him, especially because my parents forced me to take singing lessons every Saturday of my childhood, no matter how much I complained. But at uni I discovered his fiction, and specifically his novella, The Broken Nest, which features one of the most nuanced and heartbreaking portraits of a woman born into a time that could not but crush her spirit of independence. I still have the flimsy blue paperback published by the University of Michigan Press.

Lending people books – or borrowing theirs – causes deep anxiety. What if they don’t return my book? What if I forget to return theirs? So much tension.”

Courtesy Tahmima Anam

What do your bookshelves say about you?

That I am deeply disorganised, and that I love novels by women.

What’s the oldest book on your shelf?

Valmiki’s Ramayana, written somewhere around 500 BC.

Do you rearrange your bookshelves often – and where do your replaced books go?

Mostly, I’m a hoarder. I still have all the academic books I bought secondhand while doing my PhD in Anthropology. Once in a while I will do a violent clear-out, and I’ll take some books home to Bangladesh, give some to Oxfam, and I’ll pass my favourites on to my neighbor Ros, who is a voracious reader.

Do you have any books from your childhood on your shelf?

I lived in four countries, nine apartments, and attended seven different schools before I graduated and went to university. Childhood objects did not survive, but my memories of going to the New York Public library with my parents every weekend – those I will cherish forever.

Book lender, book giver or book borrower?

Giver, for sure! Lending people books – or borrowing theirs – causes deep anxiety. What if they don’t return my book? What if I forget to return theirs? So much tension. I once lent someone my copy of Love in the Time of Cholera, and they never gave it back and I still miss it.

Whose bookshelves are you most curious about?

I would very much like to know what books Toni Morrison had on her shelf before writing Beloved.

Introduced and compiled by Farhana Gani


Sky Arts Book Club

Tahmima Anam’s first novel, A Golden Age, won the Commonwealth Writers Prize and has been translated into 27 languages. It was followed by The Good Muslim and The Bones of Grace. She is the recipient of an O. Henry Award and has been named one of Granta’s best young British novelists. She was a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times and was recently elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, she attended Mount Holyoke College and Harvard University and now lives in London. The Startup Wife is published in hardback, paperback, eBook and audio download by Canongate.
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WATCH TAHMIMA ANAM with Andi OliverElizabeth Day and Raven Smith on Sky Arts Book Club (Wednesday 21 September 2022) on catch-up at Sky Arts, Now and Freeview.
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