The Five Books That Changed Liya Kebede’s Life

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And now, after two decades in the industry, Kebede is now ready to channel her love of reading into a fully-fledged project: the aptly titled Liyabrairie. (If you’re curious, you can find it on Instagram at @liya_brairie.) She describes it as less a book club, and more a community for like-minded book obsessives to gather and discuss their favorite reads, prompted by posts on books Kebede and her friends have fallen in love with. “I thought that this was a nice way to start creating a community where people can come and talk about book recommendations and bookshop recommendations and great cappuccino recommendations,” says Kebede. “It’s somewhere for people to discuss the kind of books that have changed their lives—a food for the soul kind of place.”

Here, Kebede offers five of the books that have defined her journey as a reader, from the blockbuster thriller novels that have captivated her on far-flung fashion shoots, to the philosophy deep dives that have shaped the person she is today.

Demian by Hermann Hesse

“There’s something about reading Hermann Hesse that feels like you’re traveling through your own life—that’s the only way I can explain it. Damien is so visceral and so powerful, and as I was reading the book, it actually helped me solve problems in my personal life. It’s a coming-of-age story, but it’s also very existential. He’s always addressing the big picture and considering these problems of good and evil. You might learn a lot about yourself and find answers, but you might also find more questions after reading it. It’s a wonderful, wonderful book.”

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

“I went nuts with these books; I was so obsessed. I think I first found it in an airport, as I used to do a lot of buying books in the airport while waiting for the plane back in the day. Airport bookshops can have really good book selections! I remember picking up the first Millennium book and I just could not put it down. I gave it to my brother and we got obsessed together. I thought Lisbeth [Salander] was the most incredible character and human, I was so drawn to her, and I thought, ‘Wow, if they ever make a movie, I want to play her!’ [laughs] He’s such a great writer, but I also loved learning more about Scandinavian culture, even just through the names of the characters and the towns and the roads. I felt so transported to the middle of nowhere and into that deep, deep cold. It’s an incredible thriller, and still one of my favorite books to this day.”

At The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell

“I bought this book at Shakespeare and Company, actually, which feels like the right place to read it. They’ve now opened a cafe next door—it’s not exactly integrated in the bookshop, but they have it on the other side. That’s close enough for me! I loved this book, because so many of us have this dream about Paris in the 1960s, and hanging out with Sartre and de Beauvoir, and the writer makes you feel like a little fly on the wall in those cafes as all those discussions were going on. I love philosophy and the dream is always to be sitting among a group of people like that, asking the weighty questions about love and life and death, good and bad, all the big themes. It made me want to write myself, and to explore that movement even deeper. It felt like finding allies across time and in other countries. Every time you read a good book, you’re almost finding a friend, really.”

IQ84 by Haruki Murakami

“I don’t even know how to explain this book, to be honest. But what I loved was to be transported to another time and another culture, and Murakami is the master of that. He creates these characters that are so fascinating and so special, and you have no idea where they are going to take you. It starts somewhere and you think you know where it’s going, but then it heads off into these crazy, surrealist tangents. This was the first book of Murakami’s I read, and it blew me away. I love how real his characters are, they’re not heroes in the traditional sense, they’re just normal people who have something strange happen to them. He has a way of making the ordinary extraordinary, and I think that’s all I can really say.”

The Miernik Dossier by Charles McCarry

The Miernik Dossier by Charles McCarry

“I love Charles McCarry because he’s such an incredible espionage writer. I’ve only read a few of his books, but he knows how to write a really, really good spy novel. I also love John Le Carré also, but they’re a bit slower and more cerebral. This one has a lot more pace. But even though things happen quicker, it’s still really intelligent, with these wonderful characters. I’ve always been interested in the fantasy of being a spy. I’ve always loved James Bond. There’s something so mysterious and exciting about spies, I guess in that sense of discovery—the discovery of truth.”

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