When I started this walk down literary memory lane to answer questions about the books I wouldn't part with, the first book I thought of is a lost book... I read it as a child, the approximate title was Tales and Legends of the Sea and it fascinated me. It narrated the legend of The Flying Dutchman and other sailors' stories. The book allowed any doubt to persist on whether it told true stories or fictions; I think it is this porous border between reality and imagination I enjoyed so much. I have never found this book again, either in bookstores or on the internet and maybe it is better this way... Who knows if it ever really existed?

But here are the five books that really matter for me, each in their own way:

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
It is, in my opinion, the one children's book that comes close to perfection. In this book, everything - the drawings and the narration - every single word has been perfectly chosen. You go from Max's room to his inner world full of monsters, that Max will eventually harness, and you end with a hot dinner and a perfect fall. I very often think of this book when I start a new children's literature project.

Swann's Way, volume one of In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
It is the kind of book you're not really allowed to mention whenever you're making this kind of list. But here I go. On the occasion of a hospital stay, I spent so much time on a bed that, after having tried every possible position, I dived into In Search of Lost Time. I have never experienced anything similar since then. I didn't think it was possible to express through words and with such acuteness all the convolutions of the soul.


The Easy Way To Stop Smoking by Allen Carr
Definitely not in the same style as In Search of Lost Time but it casually changed my life! I never touched a cigarette after reading it and I started dancing instead.

Disgrace by John Maxwell Coetzee
A book I read all at once. It narrates the slow descent of David Lurrie, a romantic poetry teacher who goes sideways. Dark and very beautiful, so well written that you let yourself get carried away . . . and I didn't see the last page coming.

Looking for Alaska by John Green
A touching coming-of-age novel, teenage in all its glory, a book that makes you want to feel alive. I recommended it to my 13-year-old daughter; it became her favourite book, before Harry Potter.

•Eric Veille is a French author and illustrator of children's books, who recently released Encyclopedia of Grannies (Gecko Press, $30). He and fellow author-illustrator Clotilde Perrin (who wrote 2018's wonderful Inside the Villains) tour New Zealand next month for the Embassy of France's Les Petits Kiwis (Reading Kiwis) Festival in association with Gecko Press, Alliance Francaise and Institut Francais. They'll be at the Auckland Central Library on Saturday, May 4 ; Dorothy Butler Children's Bookshop on Sunday, May 5 and Alliance Francaise on Monday, May 6. For exact dates and times – as well as their other NZ appearances – see geckopress.com/les-petits-kiwis-festival/