My thanks to NetGalley and Random House, UK for what turned out to be a quite lovely read for me. I’d also like to add a thank you to my goodreads friend Susan for mentioning this book, else I mayn’t have come across it.
Bookworm quite simply can be described as the author’s memoirs of her childhood reading, and it is that, but also so so much more. The author, Lucy Mangan, takes us through her reading from the days she was read to, to when she began reading herself, through till her teens, and eventual transition into grown-up books. From The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Mog the Cat, Babar the Elephant to Topsy and Tim, Miffy, Milly Molly Mandy, Rumer Godden, Blyton, Beverley Clearly, school stories, dystopian literature, All of a Kind Family, Dr Seuss, Dahl, Narnia, Nesbit, William, Burnett, to Sweet Valley High and Judy Blume and more present-day books like the Harry Potter books and Hunger Games books―this has it all, and much much more (a real feast of children’s literature). And it isn’t just about the books themselves and the joy that they brought Mangan as a child but also the things about life and people that various books taught her, or rather opened her eyes to, and of course how she relates to or appreciates these as an adult. She also writes about children’s literature itself, how it has evolved over the years, about illustrators and their visions of/approaches to their work, and also different genres and how they developed.
Starting this book, the first thing that caught my eye (and probably does every other reader’s) was the little illustration at the beginning of each chapter―a cat, a teddy bear, a school hat―this changes with every chapter and relates in some way to it, and I thought it a delightful touch. I also really enjoyed the writing―Mangan is not only witty, she has a knack for describing the books themselves and her feelings about them just perfectly. One can “feel” her love for them (and for bookish spaces), and how she is enraptured by the books, the characters, the stories, and the illustrations (the section on illustration was among my favourites). One can’t help being affected by her enthusiasm (of course one is probably already enthusiastic about books to start with). Also reading the book, I couldn’t help but reminiscing about my own childhood reading, in which there was quite a bit (though not all( in common with the author’s―mine was a lot of Enid Blyton like hers (but I have a grouse about that part that I’ll come to), Burnett, Heidi, Alcott, Topsy and Tim, among others, though while the author went through a Sweet Valley phase (these were books I’ve never read though I remember other children in my school reading them), my phase around that time with a similar type (conglomerate-produced) of book was Nancy Drew―I read pretty much all I could get my hands on, the original books, the files, even the supermysteries (that featured both Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys in one), and I also read related series like the Hardy Boys books, and Dana Girls. (Writing this down I realise that this probably has to do with my love for mystery/detective stories in general, which extends to my current reading as well.) But not to get carried away, my point was her sentiments were ones I could really relate to, much of the time. Another point on which I agree with the author is the needlessness of “updating” books to make them more relatable, editing out period specific features―I mean if books had to be relatable, why at all do we need to learn about other cultures or parts of the world, they aren’t things we see and do in our daily lives, are they? Why learn history at all?
The Enid Blyton chapter in this book was the one that I was looking forward to the most and that was the one that turned out to disappoint me a little as well. While I agree with her response to many of the criticisms against Blyton, the fact that she finds Blyton unreadable as an adult (reiterated elsewhere in the book) was something that I just couldn’t digest. I loved EB as a child and I still do, I still read her and love her books (may be I am more critical of them and notice things that I mayn’t have as a child), so does my mother, so does a friend who only began to enjoy her as an adult and loves Ern and Fatty and Snubby and Barney as I do (and this is a very well read someone), and so does a whole group of EB fans of various ages I am part of on Facebook. Her Findouters mysteries (so many of them) have solutions I still find interesting, the imagination she shows in her “fantasy” books like the faraway tree books is something that always delights (and amazes), and her quite good knowledge of nature and animals reflects in some of her fiction series (the ‘Adventure’ books, for instance, or the Adventures of Pip for that matter) as well as in her non-fiction. And she doesn’t deal with only light themes, one only had to read, say, the Six Cousins books to see that. Yes, I do realise this is the author’s personal opinion but I couldn’t help but be disappointed by it (kind of like the author’s own reaction to Richmal Crompton’s opinion of her William books―not to compare the books themselves of course).
But anyway, at the end of it all, this is a great book for Bookworms in general and lovers of children’s literature in particular. Like me you will probably have added quite a bit to your TBR at the end of it, so be prepared to do a lot of book shopping. But also be warned, there are some spoilers along the way (not in every case, but you are told once in a way which characters, er… pop off, etc.) so in case there are books you’re planning to read from those she mentions, may be you’d want to skip a para or two. Four and a half stars!