This month we remember the great crime writer Ruth Rendell, who died on 2 May. For her contribution to The Pleasure of Reading, first published in 1992, she chose Fairy Book, edited by Andrew Lang. Here is an extract:
The picture I can still see in my mind’s eye is of a dancing, gesticulating thing with a human face and cat’s ears, its body furred like a bear. The anomaly is that at the time, when I was about seven, the last thing I wanted was ever to see the picture again. I knew quite precisely where in the Andrew Lang Fairy Book it came, in which quarter of the book and between which pages, and I was determined never to look at it, it frightened me too much. On the other hand, so perverse are human beings, however youthful and innocent, that I was also terribly tempted to peep at it. To flick quickly through the pages in the dangerous area and catch a tiny fearful glimpse.
Now I can’t even remember which of the Fairy Books it was, Crimson, Blue, Yellow, Lilac. I read them all. They were the first books I read that others had not either read or recommended to me, and they left me with a permanent fondness for fairy stories and with something else, something that has been of practical use to me as well as perennial fascination. Lang began the process of teaching me how to frighten my readers.
The Pleasure of Reading is being published in a new edition on 21 May with new contributions from Emily Berry, Kamila Shamsie, Rory Stewart, Katie Waldegrave and Tom Wells. All royalties will go to Give a Book. Find out more.