A wonderful book to review today which I raced through eagerly, partly on the treadmill and cross-trainer in a substitute-for-a-long-run gym session on Sunday, partly all the rest of any free moments I had. It’s that good, and it didn’t disappoint, right to the end. I read it on Kindle, so I didn’t get the gorgeous cover, but then I did get it a tiny bit early, via NetGalley (thank you to Random House Vintage) in return for an honest review.

Lucy Mangan – “Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading”

(01 March 2018)

An absolutely delightful book which is a MUST if you’re a 35-55 year old British person and a great read for everyone else, too. She’s one of us, dear blog readers – a massive bookworm – as she takes us through her reading childhood from the Very Hungry Caterpillar to Judy Blume, with so many stops along the way that exactly echoed my own reading experience and huge favourites.

If you’re familiar with Mangan’s columns and other writing, you’ll know that she gives a gently comically exaggerated view of family life – here concentrating of course on her birth family growing up, but also talking about her son and her desperate efforts hoping he’ll become a bookworm like her (it’s so sad when we read that he doesn’t have a favourite book yet!). But there’s a real warmth as she described “those glorious days when reading was the thing and life was only a minor inconvenience”.

I particularly loved it when she revealed her hatred for The Cat in the Hat. I know the book has helped so many reluctant readers and been beloved by millions, but I, like Lucy, found its anarchy really disturbing and upsetting, and when I read of her risk-averse ways and fondness for the routine, I was hoping I’d come across a matching view to mine. And there it was! Obviously we do diverge a little, otherwise this would be a book about me, but we get the classic Nesbits and Streatfeilds, the Borrowers and Mrs Frisby, the wondrous nature of the series and the repetition therein, and the joy of pony books and the shocking amount of those and school stories still washing around the libraries of our 1980s youths.

She brings in fascinating details of the authors’ lives which make it more than “just” a memoir, and there were some great points throughout the book. Did you know that the “Charlotte’s Web” E.B. White was the “Strunk and White” E.B. White? Well, I certainly didn’t. There’s also some background on the growth and development of children’s books which is really well done and interesting and will certainly hold the interest of any reader who hasn’t had the almost exact same reading experience (I loved Lord of the Rings and she loved Sweet Valley High; that’s about it, really!).

The book discusses the emotional growth that reading brings even the most shy and introverted reader, helping with the development of empathy and offering role models and different paths to those she sees around her. There’s also a good strand about how reading older books with unfamiliar vocabulary stretches the mind, although she is pro-expunging the racism from Blyton. Mangan also talks about how being thrilled to find northerners like her family in a book made her realise how much more important it is to be able to see yourself reflected in the books you read when you’re more obviously or deeply other than the straight white norm, and how important it therefore is for books to be inclusive. She also learns a lot about other people’s experiences from “issue” books, as we all do.

The background information and opinions are great and deepen and widen the book, but it’s the direct correlation with my own early reading life that made this such a satisfying read, even down to her policy of buying as many “reading copies” as possible rather than all the pretty ones. She even goes to the Venue in New Cross, although sadly I think a few years before I was living in New Cross myself. A fabulous read that I can see myself pressing onto all and sundry!

Thank you to the publisher for providing this via NetGalley. I found I had two sets of reactions to this book, personal and more reviewery, so I’m going to be submitting a review to Shiny New Books which will be both different and more than this one, and will let you know when that’s out. I hope you’ll forgive me placing two reviews in front of you. This is already a contender for a Book of 2018.

Simon at Stuck in a Book has also written a lovely review, which you can find here.