Title: Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading (review copy)
Author: Lucy Mangan
Genre/Themes: Non Fiction, Memoir, Reading, Childhood
Blurb from Goodreads
When Lucy Mangan was little, stories were everything. They opened up new worlds and cast light on all the complexities she encountered in this one.
In Bookworm, Lucy revisits her childhood reading with wit, love and gratitude. She relives our best-beloved books, their extraordinary creators, and looks at the thousand subtle ways they shape our lives. She also disinters a few forgotten treasures to inspire the next generation of bookworms and set them on their way.
As a child my books were my constant companions. As an adult this has not changed. So when I read the blurb on this book describing it as a memoir of childhood reading I knew I had to read it and I am ever so glad I did.
This book is simply beautiful.
It is full of heart and soul.
I felt almost like this was my own childhood story I was reading about even though I hadn’t read all the titles featured in this memoir as a child myself. The author Lucy Mangan writes with such joy when she discusses how books and reading have shaped her life.
She shares various anecdotes about her family life and how each member of her family had a different relationship with reading. The family dynamics are written with great affection and warmth.
Lucy introduces us to her mum, a woman she describes as a doer and very much not a reader. Her sister shares that same lack of passion for reading.
The most influential person in her reading life is shown to be her quietly unassuming dad. He is the one who brought her home various paperbacks throughout the years. There is a particularly touching description of when he handed Lucy a copy of CS Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
Lucy also gives background detail into some of the titles she loved as a child sharing with us factoids about authors from Eric Carle, the writer of The Hungry Caterpillar, through to Judy Blume, the author of many much loved young adult books.
I had read a great many of the same books as Lucy had as a child and seeing these books through her eyes gave me such a great joy.
We both loved Mog the Forgetful Cat, were ambivalent about Babar and were both fans of The Worst Witch.
We both loved the Ladybird books and shared an unending appetite for Enid Blyton at a particular age.
She read many of the same classics as I did: Little Women, A Little Princess to name but two.
Yet she found a joy in Alice in Wonderland that I never did.
We both read Roald Dahl, admittedly she a greater fan than I, but both went equally bonkers for the sunny climes of Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High books.
Goodnight Mister Tom broke both our hearts but also gently held them and pieced them back together.
There are some titles that I sadly missed out on during my childhood, Charlotte’s Web and Streatfield’s Shoe books, but reading about them through Lucy’s eyes made me feel as if they had been a part of my childhood.
One thing that we both shared was our phase of knocking on the back of wardrobes after reading the Narnia books. I vividly remember an old wardrobe that my Granny had in her house and climbing into it as a child and knocking all around it looking for a secret passage to another realm. I’m very gladdened to learn that I wasn’t the only child that did such a thing in their innocence.
There are of course many books that I read as a child that Lucy didn’t; for instance I lived for Nancy Drew and Greek myths and legends but even though all my personal favourites aren’t included I don’t feel at all shortchanged by this book.
I think however, the most important thing that Lucy does in this memoir is to show us how when a book leaves the realms of the author’s mind it takes on a new existence and becomes the property of the reader reading it.
There’s a lovely moment in the book when as an adult Lucy meets the author of a much loved childhood book and the author dismisses it as not being some of their best work… But it is Lucy’s disagreement with this revelation from the author that touched me. She didn’t let it affect the great affection with which she remembered the book. Instead she holds fast to the idea that if it means something to a child and it was a part of their formative years then the worth of the book should never be devalued.
One of the things she managed to express so beautifully in this memoir is how we read as children versus how we read as adults.
As adults we are hyper-critical, we rush to judgments, we know what we like and what we don’t, we aren’t as willing to suspend our beliefs…
Whereas as children we can lose ourselves wholly in any book. There is little to distract us and we just accept these book-worlds with greater ease. We don’t mind the saccharine, we don’t mind the clichés, we let what we do not understand wash over us… And instead read purely for the joy of reading. It’s a more innocent time and a time that this book really brings back to life for the adult reader.
I must confess that when Lucy Mangan ended this book with her reaching that stage in life where she reached for adult titles I shed a few tears. It was so thoughtfully written. It was so beautifully bittersweet and she really captured the essence of what it is to love reading at any age, but especially as a child.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who was an avid childhood reader like myself. It will bring you such joy to read about titles that you remember reading for yourself and will also make you want to read all the ones that you missed out on!
And if you didn’t read as a child then I think this book would make for a perfect introduction into the world of children’s literature and would hopefully begin you on a journey to a place where life is simpler and all that matters is the book in your hands.
An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher, Random House UK Vintage Publishing, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.