The book I am currently reading
It is never a book. Now I have freed myself from reading about Paris, so I am finishing up Hermione Lee’s great Tom Stoppard biography and am exhilarated by the amount of ideas it contains. I’m in the last chapters of Anthony Trollope’s Eustace diamonds And I don’t want it to end And I am deeply moved by Durs Grünbein Porcelain, his hymn to the destruction of Dresden, translated by Karen Leeder. I did not know his poetry and I became an evangelist.
The book that changed my life
Cousin Levi’s Wrench. It is his novel about why we do things, what it means to slowly create an object. I felt that someone knew that books were some kind of creation.
The book I wish I had written
I wanted to be a poet. I am not, but I have spent years of my life reading poetry and it is Paul Celan’s work that has proven to be a constant. Much of my work in ceramics is a conversation with Celan. His poems are fractured, compressed and radiant. He wrote in German, so I need his words together with the translation. I loved the Michael Hamburger versions and more recently the Pierre Joris editions, in particular Breathturn into Timestead, an edition of his later poetry compilation.
The book that most influenced my writing
The leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa when we have the information. It is done with such delicacy that one does not notice the changes of register until one discovers that an entire dynasty has collapsed, the certainties are unraveled, the treasures have been turned to dust. He said in his last letter that the dog was the key to his entire novel, and when I reread it I feel that this is true: write in the details, keep the energy restless.
The last book that made me cry
Last week I reread Denise Riley’s book of poems Say something back including “A Part Song”, a long poem about pain, and that was it. It is notable.
The last book that made me laugh
Joan Aiken’s The wolves of Willoughby Chase. It’s on a shelf of children’s books in a hallway, perfect for anxiety reading in the middle of the night. It still works, it’s still fun.
The book that I couldn’t finish
It has to be from Robert Musil The man without qualities, his epic study of Viennese society. It is of “immeasurable importance,” according to the propaganda, which has not helped me get through the last 500 pages.
The book that I am ashamed of not having read
Genji’s Tale by Murasaki Shikibu. Japan has been a part of my life since I was 17, and I nodded my head and murmured so many conversations about it over the past 40 years. So sorry.
The book that I give you as a gift
Three favorites: AS Byatt’s Peacock and vine, his beautiful essay on William Morris and the designer Fortuny; a book about search and place. By Nigel Slater Toasted It is the perfect gift as it will make the recipient cry. And from Max Porter Pain is the thing with feathers because books that collapse genres like this are exhilarating.
My first memory of reading
It may not be the earliest, but I can remember Rosemary Sutcliff’s. The eagle of the ninth with painful clarity. I am sure that the atmosphere of loss and the deep, brooding descriptions of the humid northern landscape prepared me for life.
My consolation read
Forget European literature. If I’m sick, I’ll go back to Nancy Mitford. And if I’m on a plane, it has to be Carl Hiaasen. And if I need to forget everything is Read child. Honestly.
Edmund de Waal’s new book, Letters to Camondo, is published by Chatto & Windus, £ 14.99. To order a copy to go guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism