Dr Jessica Gardner

Dr Jessica Gardner, University Librarian, shares the books that have shaped her life.

The Tempest by William Shakespeare

This is my favourite Shakespeare play. His poetry runs through our language so deeply that sometimes we don’t realise how often we quote him. This has all the features of great poetry, great stories and great philosophies – speaking to the magic of place, this “brave new world”, the possibilities of an island nation. The 2012 London Olympics was an incredible summer to be British. Hearing Caliban’s words echo through the opening ceremony was breathtaking.

Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl

This is a laugh-out-loud book, and reminds me of learning to read, and of being read to, as a child. That moment of becoming immersed in the world’s stories. But it’s a fabulous read whatever age you are. Of course, it is a book all about food as well, and as someone who is always ravenous, who loves feasts and celebrations, I can really relate to it. Now I work in a giant story house, but really I’ve always been there, thanks to books like Mr Fox.

Waterland by Graham Swift

This masterpiece of storytelling spans more than 240 years, encompassing what is hidden, what is taboo, and shot through with a devastating sense of love and loss. It also gives a wonderful sense of the landscape of East Anglia. I lived in the Fens until I was five, and there must have been something remaining in me from those years that resurfaced with this novel. Now, returning to Cambridge, I’m off to reread it again.

Waterlog by Roger Deakin

This non-fiction account of swimming across the British Isles was first published in 1999, but I didn’t read it until last year when a friend gave it to me, as I was in the process of moving to Cambridge. Imagine my delight when the pages fell open to Deakin swimming past Grantchester, followed by this: “Next morning I had a late breakfast in one of my favourite places in the world, the University Library in Cambridge. Whatever you think of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s heavy-duty design for the outside of the building, it is surely impossible not to be enthralled once you step inside and begin to wander about its labyrinths like Charlie in the chocolate factory.” I’ve got my postcard in there for all time. This book is absolutely joyous, and for me it also represents that readerly joy of serendipity.

Dart by Alice Oswald

I’ve moved around quite a lot, and there’s something about reading ‘into’ a place that helps to root you, I find. Alice Oswald is a contemporary poet who lives in Devon, as I did before coming to Cambridge, and here she collects the voices of those who live and work along the River Dart. I have walked, cycled and picnicked along these banks, and this collection really sings to me. You can dip into it or follow it all the way through to the end. Either way, the writing is beautiful.

Interview by Catherine Galloway and image by Reeve photography.

This article first appeared in CAM (Cambridge Alumni Magazine) Issue 84