The Most Precious Book I Own

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I am not a book collector and I’m not fussy about particular editions. As long as the words are there I don’t mind. Deciding on an especially precious book, I first considered something I received as a school prize, the Macmillan edition of Yeats’s Collected Poems. That book was a magical object for me as a teenager. I was for some time obsessed with the melodies of Yeats’s early poems and moved by their forthright, challenging pathos: ‘Tread softly because you tread on my dreams’ or

I must be gone: there is a grave
Where daffodil and lily wave . . .

There was an intricate Celtic design in gold on the bright green cover, and on the back was Yeats’s face, with dream-heavy eyelids, as painted by Augustus John. It was a portal, that book, but even so it was replaceable and it’s no longer the edition I read.

There is only one book I own that I know I will always want to keep. It’s small and unprepossessing, navy blue, about five inches by three, and is inscribed ‘Pte I. Masidlover’, who was my grandfather. A Book of Jewish Thoughts, selected by the Chief Rabbi Dr Hertz, was issued in 1942 to ‘His Majesty’s Jewish sailors, soldiers and airmen’. My copy also bears the stamp of another excellent name, Rabbi Dayan M. Gollop, Senior Jewish Chaplain to HM Forces. The book’s size means, I suppose, that it could be kept buttoned into a top pocket and taken anywhere.

The quotations in the book come from a range of sacred texts, commentaries and later authors, among them Einstein, Winston

Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt. They are arranged by subject, beginning, with pleasing archaic resonance, ‘I Am an Hebrew’, and ending with meditations on ‘Time and Eternity’. Various moments of Jewish history are invoked. Ephraim of Bonn, writing in 1180 about the Second Crusade, praises Bernard of Clairvaux for bringing a halt to violence towards Jews. Elsewhere an early twentieth-century

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About the contributor

Adam Foulds’s new novel, In the Wolf ’s Mouth, has just been published. This article was commissioned in conjunction with the Royal Society of Literature’s Review.

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