I came late to books.  Although my parents read to me every day, I was eight before I was able to read by myself.  A few days after my eighth birthday I went with the rest of my class to our local branch library, which was a short walk from the school buildings.  That library, which still exists, was the most beautiful space I had ever been in.  Clean, warm in winter, in summer airy, well-lit, and filled with books.  Newly enrolled, I was entitled to borrow one non-fiction book. I chose a title randomly and a fortnight later returned it unread.  But then I was issued with one of the coveted beige fiction tickets and I began my life as a reader of novels and histories.  I read Roger Lancelyn Green’s Tales of the Greek Heroes, the Viking novels of Henry Treece, and, closer to the life I lived, E. W. Hildick’s Jim Starling books.

But when it came time for me to move from the children’s section to the adult’s, I became lost, not knowing what to read until a friendly lady librarian (the corn really was green) and, later, an Irish English teacher, prodded me towards Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Baldwin and Saul Bellow.  It was only at university that I began to read what was then contemporary British and Irish fiction: Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Brian Moore, Rose Macaulay, Rosamond Lehman.

As a prose writer now myself I am taught and retaught by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Penelope Fitzgerald, Bernard Malamud and L. P. Hartley, Sylvia Townsend Warner and J. G. Farrell.  And Dickens, always Dickens.

Poetry, with me, is something of an afterthought, though a treasured one.  Wordsworth’s “The Solitary Reaper” still tears my heart, as does “Resolution and Independence”.  Auden is a poet and essayist I turn to increasingly.  “The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock” feels as much a smack across the face as when I first read it some fifty years ago.  The work of Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, and Elizabeth Bishop I visit and revisit; Stevie Smith I read for sheer pleasure. Robert Fagles’s translation of the Iliad sits on my nightstand.  Emily Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey sits in my Kindle. It feels as if a circle is nearing completion.