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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > June 2019 > Shelf life

Shelf life

In the days before Amazon algorithms served up your next read, one of the joys of reading was serendipity. As writers assemble in Britain’s town of books, speakers at Hay tell us about a chance encounter in a library, a B&B or a second-hand bookshop that took them down an unexpected path
ILLUSTRATION BY BILL McCONKEY

Jacqueline Wilson

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I’d just started at secondary school and was happily browsing in the library at lunchtime when a teacher wandered past, pulled down a book, and put it in my hands. “I think you might like it,” she said.

It was I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. It seemed a strange title, and I thought it was probably about some historical battle, so I didn’t look enthusiastic. I took it home simply to be polite—but when I read the first startling paragraph, where Cassandra tells us she’s writing her journal sitting in the kitchen sink enduring a depressing smell of carbolic soap, I knew I was going to love this book.

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In Prospect's June issue: