The Juliette Interviews: Sonya Walger
When summer rolls around, if you are lucky enough to have a beach holiday scheduled, what is the most important thing you need (other than sunscreen)? a book recommendation of course! So who better to go to for that recommendation than the multi-hyphenate (actress, writer, producer, mom, incredible cook, entertainer, etc.) than my friend and client Sonya Walger who also happens to have her own podcast called: Bookish (which I highly recommend).
I’m going to take this opportunity to not only ask her about her podcast but also pick her brain about her favorite places to eat in LA and what’s on her wish list for travel destinations and basically anything I feel like because this woman knows everything and this is my blog, goddamnit!!!!
JH: Sonya, what are book recommendations for the summer?
SW: My reading list is deeply eclectic – I’m always teetering between new bestsellers and strange forgotten books from the 70’s but here are some ones I’ve loved lately:
Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell – I read non-stop through the pandemic, and this was, without exception, the greatest book I read last year. I can’t think of the last book that made me cry, but this did. I don’t want to tell you what it’s about, just read it. It’s a work of art. I think it will be a classic.
A Girl Returned – Donatella di Pietrantonio – gorgeous little novel set in Abruzzo about an adopted girl who aged 13 is inexplicably given back to her family of origin. It’s beautiful, somehow light and yet deeply evocative, and immediately compelling.
In the Cut – Susanna Moore – sexiest, darkest book I’ve read in a long time. Forget the movie (I never saw it), this is a time capsule of 80’s New York and the dark corners of obsession and desire, both male and female. I devoured it.
Kara and the Sun – Kazuo Ishiguro – I love all his books but this is one of his finest. Written from the point of view of an A.I. who is learning what it is to be human, to grieve, to long for something out of reach. Masterful storytelling in his trademark flattened prose that is always so oddly moving.
The Pumpkin Eater – Penelope Mortimer – I have a penchant for women writing about wrestling with domesticity, creative identity and the impunity with which men move through the world. If that’s your jam then this forgotten classic is for you. Magic, English, deserves to be read.
Memorial Drive by Natasha Tretheway – poet Laureate writes about her violent childhood – not a beach read but oh so good, you won’t put it down or forget it in a hurry.
JH: Top five books and why?
SW: Too hard. Like asking for favourite child. Some books I return to often are Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, anything by James Salter, Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott, Ottolenghi cookbooks, and anything written by Mary Oliver. The best book about LA is Slow Days, Fast Company by Eve Babitz (if the title alone doesn’t grab you then I don’t know what will).
JH: Favorite guest so far?
SW: Hmmm. Very hard question. Among them are Robin Coste Lewis – poet Laureate, LA- based single mama and a fountain of wisdom, wit and stories; Cass Sunstein – a beloved friend, law professor, former Obama advisor whose quiet academic intellect just kills me; Jared Harris, another great friend and raconteur, full of wonderful anecdotes about his childhood and irrepressible dad, Richard. This season I can’t wait for you to hear Carol Dysinger, winner of last year’s Academy Award for best documentary – she’s raw and wild and heartfelt. I just interviewed Chris Anderson, head of TED, whose books may have already changed my life and I haven’t even finished reading them yet. Garrett Reisman talks about what book he took with him to the International Space Station, and Bill Macy hasn’t given me his list yet but I’m waiting…
JH: Who would be your dream guest on your podcast and why?
SW: It’s so hard to know because honestly everyone brings something different. When the podcast really works, when it sings, is when my guest really answers the question in its fullest sense – what are the five books that have shaped you? That changed you in some fundamental way. When a guest shows up in all their vulnerability and shares who they are, who they were when they read it, and who they became as a consequence of reading it, that’s when it’s a wonderful conversation. Because I can talk books all day, and that can be fun, but it’s so juicy, and fruitful, and generous when a guest shares how their inner world shifted, for better or worse, as a result. But I’d take either Obama, I’d take Elizabeth Gilbert, Hilary Mantel, Maya Angelou, Amanda Gorman, Kamala Harris, George Lucas, and Oprah. Now that would be a lineup.
JH: What started your love of reading? Was it a particular book?
SW: Being the only child of a single mother who was a nursery school teacher. I learned to read at two and a half and never looked back. Mum says she would leave me in the car (it was the 70’s) and come back to find me reading the Renault 5 handbook just for something to read. Books were my siblings, my refuge, my reliable source of comfort in a fairly unpredictable world.
JH: You have young children, how are you getting them into reading books in the world of technology?
SW: Well, we read to them, all the time. My husband for years made up stories for them at bedtime – a long-running saga called Zed and Beautiful Green that held both kids rapt for many years. We read to them every night and at weekends we have family reading time where everyone has to lie around with a book on the sofa. Our house is brimming with them and it’s the one thing my kids know I will never stint on. I’m draconian about screen time and ferocious about not filling the house with plastic and new toys, but books I buy like I buy groceries. I think if you model it, it’s more likely to happen, and this is something they certainly see Mama do all the time.
JH: As well as knowing what to read, you are also brilliant at knowing where to travel and where to eat in LA. What are your top 5 restaurants in LA right now?
SW: This is a really tough question. Since the pandemic, I have barely eaten out at all. Not out of fear – we’re all vaccinated – but the last year made me such a homebody and I’m really not in a rush to go back to the freneticism of Before Times. So my favourite places mostly require little driving and minimal effort. I love Rustic Canyon, Cassia, Felix, and Gjusta on the Westside. I love the whole fish with fresh herbs at the Malibu Soho House. I love anything Nancy Silverton cooks – our favourite date night used to be sitting at the bar at Mozza watching her work. Chi Spacca is sensational for a meat festival, and I can’t wait to try her new one, The Barish inside the Roosevelt. I’ve had Gigi’s Hollywood on my list for a while to try – it seems impossible to get a reservation which must be a good sign – and the secret restaurant I’ve always loved is Dudley Market in Venice – it’s just such a neighborhood gem. Crudo e Nudo is new and stunningly good seafood on Main Street – and they’ll cater a party for you which is frankly the best idea ever having just spent 18 straight months making everything from scratch because NOBODY DELIVERS FOOD WHERE I LIVE
JH: Sonya, you are the type of person who knows everything about the things that matter. You always have a great hotel recommendation for me so I would love to know what the next five places you would like to visit if had an unlimited budget?
Soniat House Hotel is an exquisitely restored boutique hotel in French Quarter in New Orleans and I’d go back just to stay another night there.
I want to go to Le Sirenuse on Positano, I want to go anywhere on St. Barths, I want to go to Gili Lankanfushi in the Maldives, and Amanzoe and Amandena in Greece and Amanjena in Morocco, or any Aman anywhere. We just got back from the Four Seasons Costa Palmas in Cabo and it was blissful. Miles of deserted white sand and the kids (mine are 6 and 8) in heaven with six pools to choose from and a floating trampoline in the gentle warm ocean. We want to try the Punta Mita Four Seasons next as I hear it’s just wonderful for families.
JH: Latest food obsession?
SW: Diana Henry’s cookbook; Leanne Citron’s IG and website – I can tell she’s got a cookbook brewing; getting all my meat from A Cut Above in Santa Monica (they make the best fresh gazpacho and these tubs of cubed pancetta for really next level carbonara-making); Gjusta bread and dips from Canyon Gourmet and Endless Color pizza and salads (both in Topanga). Calabasas Farmers Market really is the best one for when Hollywood is too far; Silverwood Socialite makes the most stunning charcuterie and cheeseboards that she’ll deliver to your door; the Proper Hotel has the best lobby on the Westside and is my favorite place for girlfriend dinner or solo laptop time
JH: Latest gadget obsession?
SW: My Dyson.
JH: Favorite stores in LA?