January 19th, 2018


Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading, Lucy Mangan

I predict that this book will be a bestseller because people who read, like reading about reading. And most of them were avid child readers, so will be in tune with Mangan’s account of her childhood reading. Lucy Mangan is probably best known as a Guardian columnist and TV reviewer. Here she sends herself up as a nerdy, precocious bookworm who preferred reading to life; life being, according to other people, socialising and getting out in the fresh air occasionally. We follow her through reading picture books (Judith Kerr, Shirley Hughes), with her father to discovering Judy Blume in her teens; on the way falling for Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and classics like Little Women, The Secret Garden, Tom’s Midnight Garden and the Just William books. Far too many books to mention, although they all cry out for it.

The forty-something generation will find much to sympathise with here and will probably utter glad cries of recognition as each fictional treasure is revealed and squealed over. People my age will think, poor Lucy, she was born too late (she may agree with this). She seems to have gone to terrible schools full of silly girls, only one of whom became a reading friend. She was never able to get into historical fiction because she didn’t know any history. She wouldn’t read any books with animals in and so missed out on, for example, The Wind in the Willows. I’m pleased to report that she now regrets this.

Where she’s so good is on the importance of reading, of entering another world and above all, rereading favourites over and over again. I personally find her style juvenile for someone her age; far too much ‘ya wanna’ and ‘yer’ and her determination to be funny all the time can be irritating. It’s a tribute to her enthusiasm that I obtained copies of and read two of her favourite books: Keep - Out Private by Gwen Grant and Sybil Burr’s Life with Lisa. They didn’t have me falling about laughing but they are good and I agree that they shouldn’t be out of print. I also *had* to reread immediately some of my own old favourites (Tom’s Midnight Garden and Eve Garnett’s One End Street books). Whether or not you agree with all the author’s opinions, you certainly won’t find the book dull.

I read this thanks to the publishers and NetGalley. It’s out on 1st March: order now!