Certain kinds of personalities have great trouble with lists, and I have one of them: I can actually conceive of the entries left out as slighted objects with tangible emotions. So it’s a great temptation to begin this selection with a rush of obviouslykatherinemansfieldchekhovtessahadleymavisgallanttoo, tucked within which is a clear pleasedontjudgeme. But this is madness, and I have found myself freed by something that the great broadcaster Danny Baker said of his appearance on Desert Island Discs: it’s not an affidavit, you can change them all if you like. So these are stories that have made a great impression on me at some point in my life, but if I look too carefully at why it will all stop making sense. If I had to isolate one common element, it would be that, in completely different ways, they are all thrilling; they provoked in me a feeling of utter absorption and delight.

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