Bookworm A Memoir of CHILDHOOD READING by Lucy Mangan

 Bookworm cover

Bookworm A Memoir of CHILDHOOD READING by Lucy Mangan seemed to be being read by so many of the blogs that I visit last year, but it has taken me a while to get around to it. I really like Lucy Mangan in the articles she writes for the Guardian and I knew that she had a huge collection of books, even the actual books she had as a child. I’m envious of that as my mother gave all of mine away – to a younger child who didn’t even read! – it still enrages me. When I started to read Susan Hill’s Howards End is on the Landing this book is what I hoped and expected it to be but I was sorely disappointed with that one. I suspect that Lucy Mangan was too and decided to do a better job of writing about her childhood books – and she certainly did. I loved it.

Lucy was incredibly lucky to have been brought up in a family where books were loved and to have a father who supplied her with books that he thought she would love. Her mother did worry that Lucy never seemed to play outside, she was stuck on the sofa reading as often as she could and hated having to go to childhood parties. Socialising was not her thing, she preferred the lives inside the books she was reading and she devoured them. Her reading experiences don’t quite match mine though as she ranges from The Very Hungry Caterpillar – a book that I read to my own children but didn’t know as a child – and almost ends with her experiences of Sweet Valley High, definitely after my time.

But in between Lucy talks enthusiastically of her love of so many different books and her love of her local library, she bonded with her father through books and at the time was totally unaware that her sister was busy bonding with their father through visits to all sorts of places that Lucy hadn’t been to – as she was too busy living inside books. What a great father he was/is.

Illustrated books, Ladybirds, Puffins, boarding school books, pony books, Alice, Blyton, Narnia, Nesbit, Streatfeild, Tom Sawyer, Holiday House, Anne of Green Gables, Dahl, Winnie the Pooh, the Brontes …. just about every children’s book you could think of gets a mention – except Peter Pan which seems bizarre to me as I love that one.

On reaching ‘double figures’ Lucy noticed that things had changed in the playground. There was no more playing with the boys. ‘The girls had hived themselves off and stopped running around and getting sweaty. They played with each other’s hair and compared frilly ankle socks and fancy pencil cases instead. If a boy spoke to you now, you had to giggle instead of answer. The boys were baffled. I was baffled. I tried giggling once, but it was not to be.’ Lucy wasn’t a twirly girl.

How well I remember those days and honestly I was glad when I left school that I didn’t have to be in the same room as those inane gigglers and constant hair flickers. I never did grow into make-up, hair flicking and nail varnish.

In passing Lucy mentions that boarding schools lost popularity when free secondary education came in after World War 2. I’d hate anyone to think that that was the same for the whole of the UK as education had been free in Scotland long long before then. The state of English education was quite shocking.

Reading this book is like having a chat with Lucy, especially if you read her Guardian articles and know about her family already. I borrowed this one from the library but I think it’s a book that I would enjoy dipping into every now and then so I’ll probably buy a copy of it.

As I moved onto books for adults far too early I’ve been busy catching up with children’s books I missed out on as a youngster but I’ve had to take notes of so many more that I hadn’t even heard of and were/are adored by Lucy Mangan.

The Magic World by E. Nesbit

When I was in the kitchen at Christmas (when was I not in the kitchen, I’m definitely going to make it all easier for myself next year) I had the radio on as usual and I was listening to Radio 4 extra which usually has something entertaining and different along the lines of vintage comedy or classic fiction. This time I realised it was E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It which I read some years ago as I never did get around to it as a child.

If you like Edwardian fantasy/fairy tale type things then you’ll enjoy Nesbit, her writing is quite humorous. She was writing at a time when life seemed to be so much simpler and more wholesome – if you didn’t get consumption or typhoid and you weren’t a ‘slavey’ in service.

As it happened I was in the middle of reading a book of Nesbit short stories called The Magic World – a collection of twelve stories involving magic. Perfect for children of all ages and I’m going to be passing my copy of this Puffin Classic on to a ten year old girl I know. I’m not sure if she’ll like it, it might be a bit too old fashioned for a modern miss but she did love the omnibus book of Little House on the Prairie which I passed on to her as part of my decluttering efforts.

Edith Nesbit lived from 1858-1924 and she was a bit of a shocker in her day. She lived a very Bohemian life as a member of the socialist Fabian Society. They were a fairly loose moralled bunch for the times – well for any times really and as I recall she had an affair with H.G. Wells amongst others. It was a bit of a toss up as to who fathered the children involved. But although she was a very successful writer her charitable deeds almost led to her becoming bankrupt, so her heart was in the right place!