Book Brahmin: Jacqueline Yallop

Jacqueline Yallop is the author of Kissing Alice, shortlisted for the McKitterick Prize. Obedience (Penguin, January 31, 2012) is her U.S. debut. Formerly curator of the John Ruskin Museum in Sheffield, England, she now lives in the South of France, where she plays tennis, travels when she can, and keeps pigs.

On your nightstand now:

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill; a freebie book of short stories given away by the Guardian newspaper; Antal Szerb's Journey by Moonlight, which I'm very much looking forward to starting, and a French-English dictionary which, sadly, seems to be always needed.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I loved reading when I was a child--one of the first books I remember clearly is Children of the New Forest by Captain Marryat, read in nightly installments by my parents when I was very young. Later came Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series, and lots of time pretending to be sailing on open waters instead of trudging along urban pavements. I loved Dickens, too, and was allowed to stay in bed on Saturday mornings so I could make some headway with the long stories. The day I read Wuthering Heights for the first time, when I was around 13, is absolutely etched in my memory.

Your top five authors:

This is really tricky: I think it would depend on mood and circumstance. And they'd be rather an odd bunch: not an obvious dinner party list! But George Eliot would certainly be in there, Haruki Murakami, Marilynne Robinson, Henry James. And I think I might give last place to P.G. Wodehouse: I do enjoy a bit of Jeeves and Wooster.

Book you've faked reading:

I've never faked reading anything, I'm afraid. I don't mind owning up to ignorance!

Book you're an evangelist for:

Unto This Last by John Ruskin. I suppose more of an essay really, first published in a series of articles in 1860. But I think it's reasonable to consider it a short book. Not easy but very rewarding: it's had a profound influence on many readers, including Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Ruskin's argument is that we should build our society on the basis of social justice and respect for the individual. His eloquent attack on capitalist economics and industrialization still seems extremely relevant.

Book you've bought for the cover:

As a lingering remnant from my days as a museum curator, I still have a weakness for lovely art and photography books. Recently I've treated myself to the catalogue to last summer's exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900, which is one of those beautiful books you surreptitiously stroke when no-one is watching.

Book that changed your life:

Apart from the Highway Code (now probably entirely electronic anyway), which gave me the amazing freedom to drive and begin to explore the world, I would say: Bleak House, a discussion of which helped me win a place at Oxford to study literature; Wordsworth's Prelude, which encouraged me to first leave home for the English Lake District; and Graham Robb's Discovery of France, which has helped me better understand the country in which I'm now lucky enough to live.

Favorite line from a book:

From Dylan Thomas's Under Milkwood, so perhaps this is cheating as it's a radio play rather than a book--but still, I've got a Penguin Modern Classics paperback, which must count: "It is Spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters'-and- rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea."

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. It's never the same once you know whodunnit.

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