National Library Week – Day 1

This Reading Life: Judy Kravis

For each of the seven days of National Library Week 2015 the River-side blog will host responses from a group of seven contributors who were asked to nominate seven ‘formative’ books. The project is curated by Fergal Gaynor. Today’s contributor is writer and publisher Judy Kravis.

Fairytales from the Balkans
  1. Fairy Tales from the Balkans (Collins, 1943)

A Christmas present when I was maybe six, secondhand with soft orange cloth cover — it was OK to give presents that were secondhand, then — and my first reading challenge: a book based on text not on pictures. The stories rapidly formed a substrate of my imagination and my fear, such that a pair of birch trees outside my window today always recalls one story in which golden-haired twins are buried alive by a wicked mother-in-law and two trees spring up to mark the spot.

Diary 1961
  1. Volume 1 of my Diary

An exercise book with thick smooth paper that I bought to honour a biro I’d been given , as well as my timely adolescent reading of The Diary of Anne Frank: this was the start of a very long shelf and represents an addiction unlike any other. First of all a writing book, then rapidly a book I read and reread in order to find the person I was creating and be reassured.

Methods of Integration
  1. G.W. Caunt: An Introduction to Infinitesimal Calculus (Oxford, 1914)

A sturdy book with a dark blue/green cloth cover, part of my father’s small collection of books from his late (interrupted by WW2) and unfinished study of engineering. I never opened it, but the title registered, especially the word ‘infinitesimal’, every time I walked past it on the shelves.

Borges, Jorge Luis. Fictions.
  1. Borges: Fictions (A Jupiter Book, Calder, 1965)

Recommended by a friend when I was about 22, and the first book I read in the same way I ate dessert as a child, slowly, wanting there always to be some left. As indeed there would be for years. Borges confirmed my taste for books I couldn’t entirely understand: circularity, the infinite, words/letters as indecipherable, a language perhaps known only to the gods, as in Homer.

Mallarme. Oeuvres Completes
  1. Mallarmé: Oeuvres Complètes (Nouvelle Revue Française, 1945)

A Pléiade edition I read so exhaustively for my PhD that some of the fine India paper pages loosened. It was a privilege, an intimacy beyond most others, to know so many thin pages so well, to get to the heart of difficulty and stay there. Many years later, I couldn’t open it without wanting to burst into tears, especially if listening to Schubert at the same time.

Rilke. Elegies.
  1. Rilke: The Duino Elegies (The Hogarth Press, 1939)

I read the English then the German, whose relative unfamiliarity and shorter music confirmed that another’s words could correspond to my deepest fears/desires and convert them into a breathless pleasure. ‘Nowhere, beloved, can world exist but within.’

Deakin, Roger.
  1. Roger Deakin: Wildwood (Penguin, 2008)

Nowhere, beloved, can world exist but without: among the apple trees of Kazakhstan and the walnut woods of Uzbekistan. This is the centre of the world as I construe it, corresponding both to the geography of Fairy Tales from the Balkans – whose most splendid princess, the Tzarevna Loveliness Inexhaustible, lived beyond the lands of Thrice Nine in the empire of Thrice Ten, which was surely in the direction of Central Asia – and to much later concerns with ecology and environment.

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