I am a book reviewer for NetGalley, which means I received this book for free in exchange for a review. Click here for more information.
Author: Lucy Mangan is a stylist columnist, writer for the Guardian, author, and die-hard bookworm
Genre/category: Non-fiction / memoir
Where can I buy it? Here
Release date: 23rd February 2018
‘Your kid is a real bookworm.’
My parents heard that phrase a lot. Because I was. Growing up, I couldn’t stop reading. We used to go to family events and I would retreat into the corner and read. In fact, one of my fondest memories is of being at a neighbours’ house, reading Black Beauty, and snuggling up with my ear on my Dad’s chest, listening to his heartbeat, hearing the deepness of his voice as he said, proudly, that I was always reading. ‘She’s a bookworm. Sometimes we go to the library and she’s read half a book on the way home in the car.’
(He was exaggerating. I can’t read in a moving vehicle because it makes me want to throw up.)
When I was approved to read an advance copy of Bookworm by Lucy Mangan, I was pretty excited. Bookworm is a love letter to childhood reading, an exploration into the origin of children’s literature, and a journey through Mangan’s own literary life.
Mangan describes her own childhood reading experiences with great fondness and nostalgia. She describes being the kid that snuck books to the breakfast table, the kid that enjoyed hours and hours of uninterrupted, blissful book time. Reading her words made all sorts of feelings bubble up in me – a wistfulness for times gone by, fond memories of reading a beloved book for the first time, recollections of faint horror at some of the things I read too young (Stray by A.N Wilson for me. If you want to read in-depth about cats that get hit by cars, that book is for you.)
I consider myself to be one of the lucky generation that grew up with a certain famous wizard. Harry’s age roughly matched mine as the books were released, and so I literally grew up alongside the famous trio, although I considered my life to be significantly more boring than theirs. There is something special, looking back, on having been part of such a hugely important book series being released. There was something – and I know this is cheese-tastic – magical about queuing up with all the other excitable young teenagers and their exhausted parents at midnight outside W.H Smiths, returning home with a shiny new book in a special paper bag, being the first to hear what happened next. As Harry reached adolescence, I did. As the real world started to encroach upon him, taking him away from Hogwarts, I was also moving away from school and into college and work. I remember reading, bleary-eyed, late into the night, getting to Dumbledore’s death scene and sobbing into my pillow knowing that not only was I heartbroken, but I was going to have to get up early to go to work the next day with his death looming in my mind while I folded t-shirts and paired up all the shoes. (It was a fun kind of job.)
They changed me, those books. They taught me about friendship and love and courage and destiny and continuing, always, to fight for what is good in the world even when darkness closes in around you from all sides, and I know that I’ll keep flicking through those same battered copies again and again as long as I live.
Lucy Mangan understands this. She understands the power of a book to change your heart, to shape you, to influence your life in a myriad of ways. She understands the importance of passing these experiences and memories on to your own children, of re-living much-loved stories through them, of passing on important tales to the next generation. She knows that the best stories never really leave you, even as you grow up and start to forget names and places and details. The best books leave an imprint on you, somewhere deep inside.
She also understands that adult reading is just not the same. For you never lose yourself with that same sense of total abandonment to the real world as an adult. Childhood is the only time where you can really detach from your own life long enough to be completely enveloped in someone else’s. Bookworm reminded me of those long-ago days, where the weekend would roll around and nothing would be expected of me, and the days would stretch out ahead of me, and I would anticipate that feeling of getting lost again.
Mangan is also very funny. Her description of the Sweet Valley High series had me laughing out loud (‘Jessica crushed people’s dreams, manipulated her family as naturally as she breathed, stole innumerable boyfriends from innumerable lesser, nicer females, drove the vulnerable to attempt suicide and everyone continued to find her vaguely charming … Todd did various Toddish things Toddishly.’), as did her recollection of her family’s feelings towards her book habit, and the clash of personalities between her and her sister. For Mangan, books were a childhood refuge, a place of safety where school worries and family and life events couldn’t reach her; I felt similarly as a child, too.
I’ve now, thanks to Bookworm, added several books to my ongoing ‘books I have to force upon my children whether they want to read them or not’ list. Books like The Phantom Tollbooth, The Borrowers, Where the Wild Things Are, and Ballet Shoes have found their place on my stupidly long Amazon wishlist. I long for them to experience the magic of connecting with a writer who lived long before you:
‘A man in Brookyln can think up a story about a boy riding through a purple tollbooth – a purple tollbooth, for heaven’s sake! – and twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years later (and counting) it can delight and boggle the mind of an eight-year-old in Catford, a ten-year-old in Canberra or anyone at any point in between.’
The best thing about this book, though, is the feeling of comradery, or at least, for my childhood self. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to embrace being introverted as a good thing, not as a thing I should really try and change at some point to fit in with everyone else. And sure, as a grown-up, it’s a bit ruder to rock up to party and sit in the corner with your head in a book. But as a kid? It’s fine. Really, compared to what kids could be getting into, it’s fine.
And if an adult would rather spend her Friday night in Hogwarts pyjamas and reading a book than dragging themselves from their warm sofa? Also fine.
‘We’re fine. More than fine. Reading’s our thing.’
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