A Book Review – That’s Different
Yes it is. Regular readers will know that this is new here but I have just read a book that really engaged me and made me want to talk about it. Neil’s talked out and the books discussed aren’t really from his reading history. He wasn’t a Sweet Valley High or Judy Blume reader!
The book in question, Bookworm (A Memoir of Childhood Reading) by Lucy Mangan was bought for me by my friend Maria for my birthday. Maria said she passed it in Waterstones and after reading the back had to get it for me.
I was given the book, along with my other birthday presents, when we were visiting Maria, Ian and girls in Polperro at the end of our Summer Tour. I read the back, when I had found my glasses, and was itching to start reading. After we had a couple of lunchtime drinks at The Blue Peter Inn, Neil wanted to go for a walk towards Talland Bay but I chose to go back to our bed and breakfast to start my book before we headed out for dinner.
By the time we were ready to meet for dinner, I was 100 pages in and had to take it out with us. Neil said reading at the table was rude. I wasn’t planning to read it but needed it for reference to talk to Maria about some of the books already mentioned. It isn’t just a list of books Lucy remembers but her memories of how they made her feel, her thoughts at the time and thoughts now looking back with an adults point of view in this day and age.
A bit of background – Maria and I were born in the early 1970’s and met at primary school when we were around 5 or 6 and bonded over reading. At the end of the day our teacher would read to us and both Maria and I were some of the few, well actually the only two that I remember, who had our own books to read along to. That first book was The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. The author of Bookworm, Lucy Mangan, was also born in the 70’s so her reading material was the same as was available to us.
Lucy refers to quite a few books that I don’t remember or didn’t read but memories of the ones I did made me smile. Do you remember Plop? The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson. Fabulous story. I recently tried to buy it for my niece but couldn’t find the paperback version, only picture book ones. I’ll have to try again – quick look shows its available.
Some of you may remember Der Struwwelpeter or Shockheaded Pete. If not the title, you may remember it from the picture of the cover. Lucy’s memories of coming into contact with this book made me laugh and reminded me of my own. Twenty odd years ago when my brother and his wife were expecting a daughter one of the names they considered calling her was Harriet. I remember saying to him “not Harriet. Harriet burned to death” but couldn’t recall where I had read the poem. They called their daughter Claudia. Ten or so years ago when Neil and I were in Stow-on-the-Wold we passed a bookshop and there it was. I remembered the cover. I said to Neil, that’s the book with the poem about Harriet. We went into the store and I had a look. The poems, all gruesome and the illustrations, brought it all back and Neil bought me that copy of the book. I recalled we had borrowed the book from the local library when we lived in Southam, which made me around 5 years old. It obviously made an impression.
Just flicking through the pages of Bookworm I saw names of books, characters or places that I recalled from my youth. Misslethwaite Manor (The Secret Garden), Forever (by Judy Blume), Roald Dahl, Ladybird Books and of course The Phantom Tollbooth.
Ahhhhh The Phantom Tollbooth – my top book. Taught me what a dodecahedron is, what the weft & warp is, that numbers and letters are equally important and that if you don’t know something is impossible then you have no reason to doubt you can achieve it. Have a read. This was one of the books read to us at St Theresa’s. The teachers copy and the copies Maria and I had then were the mainly white cover. I have re-bought it twice I think and my copy is the pale blue one. During that time it has been out of print but I’m pleased to say it’s back in print now. I was so excited to see someone else had read it. Someone apart from Maria and I that is and someone who also had taken so many things from it.
I don’t have many of my childhood books, in fact I don’t have many books at all now as we live in such a small space. Some I have re-bought though, Der Struwwelpeter, The Phantom Tollbooth and Ladybird Books of The Night Sky and Cinderella (the proper one with the lovely blue and yellow dress). Maria has quite a few of hers still so when I said I was looking for a copy of The Talking Parcel by Gerald Durrell which seems to be out of print (another one I remember from school) and also some Nancy Drew stories, Maria had them. Excellent. I still enjoyed The Talking Parcel but not so much the Nancy Drews.
As I was reading Bookworm I was thinking I’d have to go back through the book to make a note of some of the titles of books I may now read or re-read. Helpfully, at the end of Bookworm, Lucy has listed all the books referred to by chapter – great although I don’t mind re-reading.
Possibly this book will only really appeal if you are of a certain age – no check that – so many of the books Lucy refers to are classics that whatever your age, if you are a reader chances are you will have read some of the same books and may be interested to see what Lucy felt/now feels about these stories. How perceptions change with age and understanding.
I didn’t read Little Women, although I do recall I had an A4 hardback abridged version with illustrations. The illustrations were lovely but I wasn’t drawn to read the book. I did however listen to it on audiobook last year and have to say, and maybe this is an age thing, I didn’t much enjoy it – I found them all too “nice”. That will be a problem reading childrens books as adults. As children, we are much more likely to accept them on face value and not look for the meaning behind characters, words etc. For example the Narnia books when read as a child were just a really good read about a magical land with no other connotation.
A couple of years ago I did a ‘Ten Books in 10 Days’ on Facebook (nominated by Maria) and have included my choices here. Books that I have loved or been influenced by. That choice would now include Bookworm. I tried to find images of the covers that I remembered reading. I’ve left the text in that I included in the posts at the time.
Day 1 – Read to us at St Teresa’s by Miss Sheridan, Class 6 – The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. My top children’s book that taught me stuff as well as entertaining me, I re-bought a hard copy after misplacing my original. I’m going to use the word “stuff” in the hope someone might be interested enough to find out for themselves.
Day 2 – Five Run Away Together was the first Famous Five book I remember reading. Maria and I were/are massive fans and much of our childhood was spent as George (Maria) and Anne (me). We still sign Birthday and Christmas cards as George & Anne. I have the best childhood memories of these tales.
Day 3 – This was the book my best friend and I bonded over. Class 3 of Our Lady & St Teresa’s, Cubbington. I joined Mrs Leddys class part way in the year and the class were already being read The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. Maria already had a copy of the book and Mum bought me a copy as I’d missed the beginning. That was around 1977 and we’ve been BFFs ever since. In fact before BFF was a thing (Best Friends Forever in case you are wondering).
Day 4 – Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews. Not a book I loved but it has stuck in my memory as the first book I recall reading (with parental consent) with an adult theme. I remember Mum bringing the series home and I wanted to read them. She asked me to wait until I was older as she thought the storyline would upset me. I think I waited until I was 14 to read them.
Day 5 – Der Struwwelpeter by Dr Heinrich Hoffman. For years and years I had this vague memory of a poem about a girl called Harriet who played with matches and was burned to death. Along with the memory of the cover of the book as a ‘creature with long fingers’. Neil and I were in Stow on the Wold and as we passed a bookshop I saw the book in the window. It also contains the story (with pictures) about the boy who sucked his thumb after he was told not to and it’s cut off with shears! I now have this book as Neil bought me the copy.
Day 6 – My favourite Narnian story is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C S Lewis. Maybe because this was the first one I read but I’ve reread this one more than the others. I’ll still refer to an old wardrobe looking ‘Narnian’ if I see one today.
Day 7 – Not sure if this counts as more of a genre rather than individual book. Poetry (and nursery rhymes). I have these books on the boat. My favourite poem from childhood is Cats Sleep Anywhere and one of the few I know by heart still. I have very fond memories of my Nan reading me Dolly on the Dustcart and I Wish I’d Looked After My Teeth by Pam Ayres. More recently I’ve been reading poetry by Maya Angelou. I must admit to liking poems that have a rhyme or rhythm like From a Railway Carriage by Robert Louis Stevenson
Day 8 – Cooking with Mother, Ladybird book. I remember always being interested in cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. I’ve owned numerous cookbooks over the years (I don’t have many left now) but this was the first. Maybe it was this book that started my enthusiasm and led to an O Level pass in Home Economics!
Day 9 – The Lady of Hay, Barbara Erskine – I have read this book many times and love it and have enjoyed the following books (newest one out this month). I must admit to struggling to describe why I like this book so much. So I’m going with “I just do”.
Day 10 – Harry Potter, J K Rowling. I’d say the entire series but if I had to pick two – first and last and if just one, the last, Deathly Hallows. Maria introduced me to these one holiday (Maria you feature a lot in my literary history!). I read the first 3 books one after the other then immediately re-read them and couldn’t wait for the series to continue. I’ve picked the last book over the first as a) it is longer so more hours immersed in the Harry Potter world and b) answers to lots of questions raised along the way – closure.
A bit of a different post to my usual but hope you enjoyed it and maybe gave some thought to your own childhood reading.