This was a tough one to review. As a lifelong bookworm myself, – who could disagree with Lucy’s assertion – “the bookworm’s prime directive: any book is better than no book”, I was keen to read her story. Unfortunately, having read almost none of the books she considers about, it turns out that a mutual love of reading isn’t entertaining in of itself.
I was already familiar with Lucy’s sharp and sassy observations on daily life from her Guardian column, with a baby called Buggerlugs and a husband known as Toryboy, and there is plenty of humour in this book. Her parents and sister play major roles, her father depicted with great affection, a key figure in both stimulating and supporting her reading habit. Her family provide plenty of comedic material; her mother – “gynaecologist, cleaner, laundrywoman, scorched earth gardener” who “if she ever has an unexpressed thought, she’ll die” and sister – “a born manager of others”, although once past the half way mark the references sometimes become a little too familiar
The affection and regard she has for the books she encountered as a child shines out, and each book she critiques is accompanied with some historical back story as well as the circumstances in which she read it and the impact it had on her. There are heroes and villains – “The Cat In The Hat can take his anapaestic archery and bugger off” puts Theodor Geisel in his place while she admits she took “Adventuring With Brindle” out of the library so many times she was eventually banned from borrowing it again – “I wept”. She adores “Charlie & The Chocolate Factory” although admits Dahl’s work now seems more brutal than she recalls as a child – but acknowledges that that may be down to motherhood and her driving desire to keep her child safe “rather than allow him any quality of life at all”. And was furious when she realized that C.S. Lewis used “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” as a covert way of promoting his faith.
There’s some engaging discussion of the wider importance of reading that resonated with me. Re-reading books as a child – something I did a lot and is often frowned upon by adults (particularly nonreaders) as a waste of precious time – allows a child to progress from decoding and understanding the words, to engaging in the plot and getting lost in the story. “The beauty of a book is that it remains the same for as long as you need it” and indeed “you can’t wear its patience out”. Couldn’t agree more.
She points out the whist Enid Blyton (one of the few authors we both read) may have been a mass producer of formulaic template based books (760 over 50 years), which resulted in many of them being excluded by 1930’s BBC and many libraries, there was nothing wrong with providing post war children with consistent reliable “comfort reading”. And of Blyton’s racism – the “most egregious examples of racism have been quietly removed”, an acceptable form of censorship.
She admits that Buggerlugs (a,k.a. Alexander) isn’t showing the same bookwormish inclinations as yet, but it’s evident she’s optimistic. And we get a hint of what the left wing bien-pensant Mangan sees in husband Toryboy when she mentions the latter has a complete collection of Ladybird “History “and “How To” books.
All in all this isn’t a bad book – in fact it’s well written and argued, and very funny in places. It’s just not my childhood reading story. There’s a full memoir in Lucy’s childhood if she cares to tackle it. I’ll but it.
Length of Read:Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
the same books as Lucy.
One thing you’ve learned
That The Wombles moved to Hyde Park