My reading has gone to pot a bit this month – this represents only the sixth book I’ve finished so far (although I appear to be part-way through three more). It was on my print TBR at least – the second volume of Lodge’s memoirs is in my TBR project and Gill kindly gave me this, the first volume, last Christmas. I chose it to read on Monday as it felt appropriate, covering a large chunk of the Queen’s early life and her coronation up to almost her Silver Jubilee (although it turns out she’s not mentioned at all!).

David Lodge – “Quite a Good Time to be Born: A Memoir 1935-1975”

(23 January 2022, from Gill for Christmas)

Lodge planned to do his memoirs in two chunks, covering half his life each, and indeed did, so this takes him from birth to forty, taking in his family history as well. He kept diaries apparently, and he has letters and, from the age of about 17, Mary, later his wife, to remember stuff.

It was a good time to be born, with free education and the experience of a huge sociological shift in British life – he’s slightly too old to take part in 1960s counterculture etc but by that time is working in universities, so sees it happening with his students.

Excitingly, while I knew he was born in Brockley, South London, I didn’t realise his address was 8 minutes’ walk from where I lived in Brockley in the 1990s, and then obviously I knew he’d taught at Birmingham and lived there, but I had no idea he’d lived for a while in one of the “jerry-built”, poky and badly insulated 1930s semis on Reservoir Road, Selly Oak – where I lived in the earlier 1990s! So it all came alive for me in a very nice way.

Once his childhood is over, and trips to see his auntie in Germany, we get the development of his twin careers as novelist and academic – the academic side of things including writing books on literary theory that I’m afraid I haven’t read, while I have read all of his early novels, some of them a couple of times. There is satisfying detail on the novels and their writing, editing and publishing, and also on the academic administration side of things, interesting for being at the very university department I attended later (Lodge was an honorary professor by the time I got there: I attended a talk he did on adapting one of his novels for TV, and I have met him a couple of times since, and have even introduced Matthew to him).

He is a bit old-fashioned in some attitudes, finding women of his acquaintance becoming more interesting to him with the dawn of second-wave feminism and offering a few terms we wouldn’t really use now (this was written in c. 2014, we need to remember). He talks movingly but “of the times” about the birth and childhood of his son Christopher, who lives with Down Syndrome, using the terms that were used around the time but making sure we know of the full, rich life his son lives.

As we progress through the book, Lodge encounters people I knew myself – John Sinclair, who founded the COBUILD corpus linguistics-based dictionary project I worked on in the 1990s; Mr Shapiro, who used to come into Special Collections at the library when I worked there, and there’s always that thrill of actual recognition, isn’t there.

An entertaining and substantial book which I heartily enjoyed. I appreciated Lodge’s honesty about the anxiety he experienced at times, the worries over his novels and encounters with the publishing industry and the pull between family, writing and academia. Once I’ve finished some of the other books I’m reading, I’m looking forward to the second volume.