Photo by Myrna Suarez

One of the most distinctive directors of his generation, Mike Leigh has spent a lifetime making movies mostly about working class Britons that range from howls of indignation like Naked, for which he won Best Director at Cannes in 1993, to whimsical comedies like Happy Go-Lucky which helped to launch the career of its Golden Globe-winning star Sally Hawkins. Leigh’s collaborative approach, building scripts from improvisation, has resulted in a body of work that is uncommonly rich in complex, nuanced roles for women, including Imelda Staunton in Vera Drake, Lesley Manville in Another Year, and Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste as a mother-daughter duo in Secrets and Lies, which won the 1996 Palme d’Or. With Peterloo, his 21st movie (excluding his many television dramas), Leigh illuminates a notorious 1819 massacre of protestors by police in Manchester, England, that paved the way for sweeping electoral reform. Vulture’s Nate Jones described it asone of the best things Leigh has ever made.”

Below, are Mike Leigh’s favorite books, available to purchase individually or as a set.


The Jungle

Upton Sinclair
This had a profound effect on me in my early twenties. A grim but sympathetic portrait of the tough lives of poor immigrant workers in the Chicago meat-packing industry, it was one of the key works that inspired me to make films about ordinary people’s lives.
Add to cart

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel Garcia Marquez
They call this masterpiece ‘magical realism’, but I hate the label. Real it is, human and passionate and endlessly moving and compelling. It’s about family, relationships, fate, time. And ghosts. And solitude. Marvelous.
Add to cart

White Teeth

Zadie Smith
For me, this is a most important work. Zadie Smith brilliantly evokes contemporary Britain with astonishing accuracy, and unique wit and charm. A book to savor.
Add to cart

Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable

Samuel Beckett
A massive influence. He sums up existence. He reinvents writing itself. He makes me howl with pain and scream with laughter.
Add to cart

4 3 2 1

Paul Auster
For me, Auster’s masterpiece, and worth our waiting for. The dazzling scope of his inventiveness is breathtaking. Healthily nostalgic for us who are contemporary with his multiple central character. A compulsive read; I found it hard to put down, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I found the negative response to the book in some quarters quite astonishing, but as the frequent recipient of diametrically opposite reviews myself, I ought to know better!
Add to cart

Journey to the End of the Night

Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Hard to choose between this and his ‘Death on The Installment Plan’. But Céline’s quasi-autobiography wins. Despite the nihilistic cynicism of which he is often justifiably accused, underneath it all, his characters bristle with life and hope. 
Add to cart

The Third Policeman

Flann O’Brien
My favorite of Flann O’Brien’s novels, although I love At-Swim-Two-Birds. Profound, haunting, mystical and utterly hilarious. The bizarre narrative is accompanied by an eccentric parallel saga about something obscure called The De Selby Codex, a red herring that gradually grows in quantity until it all but obscures the main story.
Add to cart

To the Kwai and Back: War Drawings 1939–1945

Ronald Searle
Searle has inspired and influenced me since I was six years old. He was one of the greatest illustrators and cartoonists of the 20th Century. A Japanese prisoner-of-war in his early 20s, he managed, often with great difficulty, to make drawings and, remarkably, to keep them. Horrifying, often moving, sometimes funny, this collection is a total joy, on so many levels. 
Add to cart

Martin Chuzzlewit

Charles Dickens
Another influence. What characters and characterizations! How perceptively Dickens portrays our complex imperfections! And, incidentally, what a splendid picture of 19th century America! 
Add to cart

The Bab Ballads

As the maker of Topsy-Turvy, I’m an unapologetic fan of W.S.Gilbert. ‘Bab’ was his childhood pet-name and his adult pen-name. His delightful verses and drawings are a total gas, and no bathroom library should be without a copy.

Out of stock

Currently unavailable