Florence Welch, Book Club Enthusiast, Gets Candid About the Literature That Changed Her Life

“Growing up, I was shy and sensitive,” she says. “Reading gave me a safe space.”

Tom Beard

Funnily enough, it was during a deep dive into Gucci designer Alessandro Michele’s follows on Instagram that I discovered that Florence Welch, the 30-year-old British singer, has her own book club. And four years ago, it was on Twitter that Welch herself discovered that her fans had created a book club in her honor called Between Two Books, which, being an avid reader, she was thrilled to get involved with. “This is definitely my favorite part of the internet,” she said about the club, which has now hosted the likes of Zadie Smith and Donna Tartt.

Welch is constantly posting what she’s reading on Instagram, and has been a self-described bookworm all her life. Here, she gets candid about the literature that changed her life, the poems that made her cry, and how book clubs are a safe space for people like her.

When did you learn about the Between Two Books book club that your fans created? On Twitter! When I was on tour about four years ago, I saw some fans tweeting about maybe starting a book club. I just said it was a great idea and I’d love to help them and be involved somehow. I recommended the first book for them, which was Opposed Positions by Gwendoline Riley, and it took off from there.

How does the book club choose which books to read next? What was the last one everyone read, and what are you reading now? Well it began from me choosing books that I really liked. But actually I started to find it more fun and interesting to get people to recommend books. We’ve had a few guest recommendations so far. The last guest recommendation we had was from Nayyirah Waheed, who is an incredible poet, and she recommended a book called Bone, which is another book of poetry, by Yrsa Daley-Ward. It’s been one of my favorites so far. But it’s not just authors. At the moment we have Adwoa Aboah who founded “Gurls Talk.” She has recommended the current books, which are Tupac Shakur’s book of poetry, The Rose That Grew from Concrete, and Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, which I have been wanting to read for a really long time. I’m always fascinated by what books people like and what they are reading, so this gives me a great excuse to ask people I love and respect what books have really affected them.

Are you involved with the discussions? How do you participate? The girls who run the club have set up a Facebook group where people can participate and chat about the books. I think what’s really nice about Between Two Books and what I treasure is that it’s not about me. It is something set up by fans for fans. I like to take a back seat and allow the book clubbers to discuss things amongst themselves. However, I will participate when I’m asked. If, for example, we are interviewing one of the authors I will ask the questions on the fans’ behalf. For our last book, Yrsa Daley-Ward answered a lot of the book clubbers’ questions including mine, and on behalf of the book club I’ve interviewed Donna Tartt, which was a huge honor, as I am kind of obsessed with her… so that’s how I get involved.

Why do you think book clubs are so important? I think reading is essentially a solitary activity. Growing up, I used reading as a form of escape. I was shy and sensitive, and so reading gave me a safe space. It’s a huge generalization to say that all readers are introverts, I’m sure there’s a lot of extroverted bookworms out there, but for me it’s nice to know people of similar inclinations can actually come together in a social way and talk about something that is inherently solitary. Between Two Books has a really good energy I think. I try not to spend too much of my life online — having a pretty addictive personality, it’s not great for my head — but this is definitely my favorite part of the internet.

Approximately how many books do you think you read every month? I don’t know?! I usually have quite a few on the go at the same time so maybe two to three a month, but I wouldn’t finish them all.

The last book you read, and what you liked about it: The last book I read was Tristimania: A Diary of Manic Depression by Jay Griffiths, and it totally blew me away. The beauty with which she describes what must have been one of the darkest times in her life is utterly enthralling, and the connections she makes throughout, finding meaning and poetry at the outer edges of her sanity… It’s hard to describe it properly to do it justice. My grandmother had manic depression and actually killed herself when I was 14, so it is a subject close to my heart. This book was given to me by one of the Between Two Books girls, so I really treasure it.

What you’re reading right now and what made you want to pick it up? I’m reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara right now because its been recommended to me by so many people, and I’m also reading Geek Love and The Rose That Grew from Concrete, as they are the books my friend Adwoa kindly recommended to the book club.

Literary character(s) you most relate to: It’s hard because essentially when I’m reading a book I’m trying to lose myself rather than find myself, so I don’t know? I get so absorbed in a character, and it’s nice to get to a place where you feel like you don’t exist. But then their revelations become your revelations, and you don’t realize that it was teaching you things all along, and somehow you have been changed. There was a passage at the end of The Ice Age by Kirsten Reed where the character in it talks about having a moment of realization that if she just stepped out into the road and was hit by a bus, she’s essentially just flesh and bones and would disappear:

“I waited on the corner of Bond St., on the Bowery, for a truck to pass. It spluttered out smoke. It looked like the trail of its breath on a cold day. Right then it didn’t seem to matter if I waited for this big animated truck to pass, or walked out in front of it. I do just feel like wondering out into the traffic, there’s no denying that. Sometimes I get so tired of all the stuff cluttering up my brain, it’s relief to feel I could be reduced to so many pounds of raw, jiggling flesh that could just go thud and stop.”

I don’t think I’ve ever related to something so much in my life! Although I don’t know if I should be worried about that?! But I found it very shocking and sort of wonderful to read something that I thought was an entirely private thought.

Where are you most comfortable reading? At home, I guess! Now that I’m not touring, I get to spend more time there, which is nice.

Books your parents read to you as a child: Orlando (The Marmalade Cat) by Kathleen Hale and Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I became really fixated on the Bible when I was about nine and I tried to get my dad to read it to me from cover to cover, but as a liberal man working in advertising, he was not very impressed! I think I got over it quite quickly when I realized how many “begats” there were.

Books that sparked your love of reading at a young age: Philip Pullman’s “Northern Lights” trilogy were the first books I remember being completely devoted to and waiting with baited breath for the next book to come out! I think it’s the first time I remember truly falling in love with characters in a book, like having a full-on relationship with them.

First thing you read in the morning: I would like to say that it’s something spiritual, about acceptance and handing it over, to keep myself on the straight and narrow, but usually it’s my emails.

Favorite bookstore(s): Shakespeare & Co. in Paris is really amazing. I get so lost in Paris, and that’s the one place I know how to find!

Do you ever listen to books on tape? If so, what are some of your favorites? I don’t really do it anymore, but when I was little, I used to listen to Alan Bennett reading Beatrix Potter. That was meant to send me to sleep, but I vividly remember the click of the tape, and getting up to turn it over. I never really slept, I would just listen to Alan Bennett for hours, so I really associate his voice with comfort and childhood, but then I think everybody in the world does!

Books that changed your life: That’s a really hard question! There have been books that have had a profound effect on me at the time, and I remember thinking, “This is having a really profound effect on me!” So I guess that would be Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. I don’t know if it was life-changing, but most recently, a book that I loved so much, and really changed my idea of “What is a book? What is poetry? What is biography?” was The Sickbag Song by Nick Cave. It seemed to be a flowing piece of prose that was not one thing or another. It was mixed with fantasy, poetry and biography. I really loved it, and it made me think about perhaps writing some poetry of my own.

Any memorable lines from books that you can recite on the spot? When I was trying to be a pseudo-rebellious teenager, I remember I memorized the whole of that Philip Larkin poem “This Be The Verse” with the opening line “They fuck you up, your mum and dad!”

Do you prefer a certain genre? And why? Right now, I’m reading a lot of poetry. There seems to be a lot of really exciting poets out there like Mira Gonzalez, Ysra Daley-Ward, Nayyirah Waheed, Rupi Kaur, Robert Montgomery. I’ve been really getting into their work. Jay Griffiths talks in Tristimania about poetry being a kind of shamanism. I really feel that in their work, they are channeling and revealing truths.

Any favorite poems? I recently stumbled back across the Siegfreid Sassoon poem “Everyone Sang” and I cried when I was reading it. In fact, it makes me cry still, it is transcendentally beautiful, about people singing in the trenches of World War I.

“Everyone suddenly burst out singing, and I was filled with such delight As prisoned birds must find in freedom Winging wildly across the white Orchards and dark-green fields; on and on and out of sight. Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted; And beauty came like the setting sun My heart was shaken with tears, and horror Drifted away…O’ but everyone Was a bird, and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.”

The Ted Hughes book of poetry, Birthday Letters, which he wrote for Sylvia Plath, is an incredible collection. Community from Yrsa Daley-Ward’s book Bone really spoke to me. I think that’s what’s good about poetry. Sometimes it seems to tell you something about yourself that you didn’t really know until you saw it written down by someone else.

And the last book that made you cry? There are books that I can remember having a visceral reaction to in the past and I suppose those are the ones that have had a profound affect on me as well. They include Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Road, and Their Eyes Were Watching God. I remember reading them on separate occasions and hysterically sobbing into them.

Would you ever like to write your own book? I don’t know, because when I write songs I have a very specific voice and that voice goes with song. But actually I don’t know what I would sound like written down on paper. I don’t know who that person is. The song person has quite grand ideas, and prophesizes, and knows what’s going on, but I think my own voice is a lot more unsure, so it would be finding a way to express that. And because it’s me, I am obviously unsure! Singing feels safe, but day-to-day me is not as self-assured as the songs themselves.