Every so often you read a book that makes you just long to sit down with its author and have a lengthy chat. That’s how I felt when I finished reading Lucy Mangan’s wonderful Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading.
I wanted to sit with Lucy for a week, discussing her choice of favourites, sometimes disagreeing with her and at other times feeling that she was expressing my own feelings so beautifully. (The image above is from her visit to Waterstones bookstore where she talks to fellow bookworm and bookseller Martha Greengrass.)
Her book is a very personal one, giving delightful glimpses of her rather eccentric family throughout. Lucy is definitely a kindred spirit – like her, I wondered why people thought I should ‘go out and play’ when I was so utterly happy with a book; like her, I was enraptured by The Railway Children, A Little Princess, Charlotte’s Web and Milly-Molly-Mandy. I shared Lucy’s boredom with Babar the Elephant, and like her, was never really gripped by Tolkien.
But if I ever get to sit down and chat with Lucy, I will have to disagree with her on some things – how could she possibly NOT weep when Beth died in Little Women, why did Anne of Green Gables not instantly charm her and did she ever read the rest of the series, and why did she skip over the romance Katy has with a handsome naval captain in What Katy Did at School (in my view, those were the best bits!)? I feel sad that Lucy never got to know some of the Australian books that were a big part of my own childhood reading – Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians series, Mary Grant Bruce’s Billabong books, and May Gibbs’ Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.
Lucy Mangan explores what she learned from her reading, how it promoted empathy, how easy it was to find more books by favourite authors in 1980s Britain, and questions decisions made by librarians and teachers in banning Enid Blyton or trying to simplify vocabularies for young readers. She gives her readers so much to think about and chew over afterwards!
This is a book that will take you back down the memory lane of reading, yet it will also tell you fascinating bits of information about the authors of famous books for children and how they came to be written. It is quirky, personal, funny and a sheer joy to read. I felt slightly bereft when it ended and am so glad I own a copy, so that I can dip into it again soon. Thank you, Lucy Mangan!
Have you read Lucy Mangan’s book? As a child, were you told to ‘go out and play’? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan
The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit (original illustrations by C. E. Brock)
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Illustrated by Eva Evgeniya)
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook by Joyce Lankester Brisley
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
What Katy Did at School by Susan Coolidge
Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner
A Little Bush Maid (The Billabong books) by Mary Grant Bruce
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