Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan
Opening sentence: “I still have all my childhood books.”
I considered myself a pretty dedicated bookworm until reading this. Lucy Mangan has an insane amount of books: ‘I was once interviewed by a man from a book collecting magazine because he refused to believe that I had 10,000 books in my house.’ Yes, 10,000 (!!!) – I cannot claim near any such numbers, but I did relate to so many of Lucy’s reading memories, making this a delight. If having a good old chat with someone about the books they enjoyed reading as a child sounds like a pretty good way to while away the hours over a glass (bottle) of red wine, then you need to pick this up.
This type of book will, of course, get you thinking about your own childhood reading. There is something so lovely about reading as a child, when you don’t have to try and squeeze it into your day (hello, commute reading), Lucy perfectly captures this: ‘But let us relive, for the next few chapters at least, a little of those glorious days when reading was the thing and life was only a minor inconvenience.’
However, I also had a bittersweet feeling. Like Lucy, I’ve been a bookworm since I was tiny, my mum tells me I used to spend hours as a young child copying out my favourite books onto reams of computer paper (the type with perforated edges that you could peel off) and I have memories of going with mum to the upper floor of my local WH Smith to buy the latest in The Babysitters Club series. This was followed by a devotion to Roald Dahl, Sweet Valley High and the Point Horror/Romance collections. (The next time a series would grab my attention so completely was, of course, Harry Potter when I was a teenager. I mean, were you even a bookworm of the 1990s/2000s if you didn’t adore HP?) In primary school I borrowed every Enid Blyton book from the library to the point where the librarian told me I had to intersperse different authors every other borrow – I didn’t know why at the time, but Lucy gives me clarity, ‘(Blyton) was a one woman mass production line, turning out workmanlike units that perfectly serve a particular need at a particular time in a child’s life, not finely wrought pieces of art.’
Yes, I have these memories but sadly (due to house moves through the years) not the books any longer. I also don’t have a recollection of the books that were read to me as a small child, so I got major pangs of jealousy when Lucy describes having even her first bookcase, as well as the books that she read as a toddler. It’s not so bad though, I still have a few books from then and Bookworm has inspired me to keep my sons’ books I read to them now, so that they’ll always have them. Lucy talks about hoping her son becomes a fellow bookworm – same for me. My toddler is addicted to reading The Gruffalo again and again, so there’s hope!
Along with the autobiographical element, there are wonderful little insights into the lives of the authors she mentions, adding depth to their own stories and a historical context to the books.
I adored Bookworm for giving me an enchanting trip down memory lane, some passages felt like I was reading about myself like when she mentions she didn’t actually read Alice in Wonderland until she was an adult, but knew the story so well, she assumed she had read it as a child – same for me! She also includes this great tit-bit: ‘Alan Bennett’s famous definition of a classic – a book everyone is assumed to have read and often thinks they have.’ Bookworm has an effortless, conversational style making it a pleasure to read. It really did feel like having a chat with a bookish friend about books we had both loved (Sweet Valley High, Roald Dahl) and childhood classics I haven’t yet read (Goodnight Mister Tom, The Phantom Tollboth) that I now really want to read to my sons. It also has a very handy list of every book she mentions at the back, so I can get cracking on filling in those childhood reading gaps.