October 2007: Easy Living

My Life In Books

When Dame Diana Rigg downsized, swapping her home for a flat in London and a house in France, she sent most of her books - "apart from theatre and poetry" - over the Channel.

"For months they lay in boxes, but when I started to unpack them, it was like reliving my life. It was the best experience," she enthuses. "I rediscovered myself through my reading. I learnt that I am completely eclectic and infinitely curious." A taste for the eclectic extends to her choice of roles - she currently stars in All About My Mother at The Old Vic. "Which is," she says drily, "quite a contrast to my last role. From Mother Superior [in The Painted Veil] to a lesbian whose best friend is a transsexual. I'm lucky at my age to be doing an experimental piece. Usually I'm offered some awful old classic.",/p>

Just So Stories
by Rudyard Kipling

When I was a little girl, my dad read me the Just So Stories. I would curl up on his lap and the rumble in his chest as he spoke was the most delicious thing. We lived in India, so the stories had a particular resonance. My grandfather also adored Kipling. My grandparents lived in a terraced house with a parlour you only went into on Sundays, but it was in this room where the books were kept - it was like the high altar; it's one of the abiding joys of my life. I returned to the Just So Stories when I read them to my own daughter [the actress Rachael Stirling] - one of the delights of having children is passing things on; saying, "You're going to love this".

Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Brontė

Jane Eyre was the book that led me to discover literature. As a novel it has universal appeal across the generations - my daughter loved it as much as I did when I introduced it to her via a talking book. It particularly appeals to adolescent girls. It's the relationship between Jane and Mr Rochester: oh my God, it's so romantic! He's deeply attractive, such Byronic appeal. I read it when I was very young - 12 or 13. I was a bookish child; books were my launch pad to a world elsewhere. Every Saturday, my dad and I used to go to Leeds Library and I was allowed to take three books out, and the afternoon was glorious with all the promise that lay between the covers of those three books.

Eminent Victorians
by Lytton Strachey

My parents belonged to a book society, which used to send books out to them in India. When we returned to England, my parents brought them home, so I grew up surrounded by books - and Eminent Victorians was as work I read at an early age. Strachey was one of the first biographers to pull the curtain aside and not treat his subjects as perfect. He was the "warts and all" biographer: one of the first to enter the realms of truth about his subject. Truth is something I always look for in literature.

Fly Fishing
by JR Hartley

I'm too greedy to choose just one favourite book - I'd want a bookshop on my desert island - but for sheer comfort, I read J.R. Hartley's Fly Fishing. I love fishing and it's a charming book, so sweet and funny about the joys of fly fishing. If I was on a desert island, it would transport me to deepest, most rural England and put me by a trout stream, and there I couldn't be happier.

Wild Decembers
by Clemence Dane

I attended a Moravian [a Christian denomination] school in Yorkshire that was really, really strict, and we did a play called Wild Decembers - it's so old fashioned it simply wouldn't work now, but in those days it did and it sparked my desire to act. It's the story of the Brontės and I've always been fascinated by them - where did their genius come from? To research the play, I went to Haworth with my dad and we went around the parsonage where the Brontės grew up. I went again years later, when I was on tour playing Medea in Bradford, and it's so touristy now I was grateful to have seen it the first time round.

Ted Hughes: Collected Poems
I starred in Ted Hughes's adaptation of Phédra and it was a really happy time. I went fishing with him: we didn't catch anything, but it was wonderful. He was totally and utterly charismatic, not only was he sexy, he was absolutely everything: an oak of a man, such an intellect and incredibly charming. He was also from Yorkshire, which helps because I come from Yorkshire. I love his poetry, particularly his nature poetry, because it's completely truthful and of the earth.

The Art Of Eating
by MFK Fisher

There are certain things I love in life: the sheer joy of living and living well, eating beautifully and drinking wine. So I am endlessly buying cookbooks and I love The Art Of Eating, which is the author reflecting upon her life through the food she's eaten. To me, that makes absolute sense.

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