The tale, for me, is a familiar one: a girl named Lucy; a life shaped by books. Alas, this isn’t a memoir I’ve penned, but one by the brilliant Lucy Mangan, Stylist columnist and journalist extraordinaire, with whom I share both a name and an endless love of literature, Mangan’s memoir, Bookworm is a memoir of childhood reading that charts the books she read her way through as both a child and later a teenager; finding comfort, finding cheer and finding friends among the many pages she turned.
For any person of a bookish disposition, it is an endless delight to read. With every new chapter I rediscovered tales of years gone by, many of which were formative books in my younger years. From childhood treasures such as The Owl Who Was Afraid of The Dark (who didn’t love Plop?!) to Bramly Hedge and Babar (of whom Mangan wasn’t a fan) to Enid Blyton – an author who Mangan loved when reading in her youth, though not later as an adult. I was reminded of the power and poignancy of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and the hidden message and the magic of the world of Narnia C. S Lewis so wonderfully created, The Railway Children, Goodnight Mister Tom and Charlotte’s Web all made appearances, and interwoven within Mangan’s take on the various tales are back stories, the wheres, the whys and the hows behind the books.
In amongst the stories Mangan spoke of that brought about memories from my own, book dominated infancy, there were books I’d not even heard of, let alone read, many of which have been swiftly added to my TBR pile.
Nearing the end of Bookworm, Mangan writes brilliantly about the Sweet Valley Highs obsession that swept across her school and the impact of Blume’s many books. Both authors – Francine Pascal and Judy Blume – certainly continued to impact and influence the life of pre-pubescent girls when I was at school and both the books and my reading of them remain milestone events in my teenage years. Even recently – during my three month stint in LA – did the legacy of the Wakefield twins live on, and I I attest much of disappointment in California to its failure to live up to the golden image I had created in my head while reading the sunshine-filled SVH books.
Having read the BBC Top 100, and having spent much of my life head down between the pages of a book, having chosen books above many things, at many times in my life, it was comforting to read that it’s a habit I’m not alone in. I often wonder what life would be like were I not so hell bent on reading my way through it, indeed – I often blame the fact that I’m yet to write my own book on the sole fact that I’m always busy reading them. When, in the lead up to my thirtieth birthday a couple of years ago, I spent a month getting up at 4am in order to complete the self-set challenge to finish the BBC Top 100 before my birthday, many of my friends thought – quite rightly – that I was mad.
But mad though I was, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Says Mangan of her love for books: ‘I have lived so many lives through books, gone to so many places, so many eras, looked through so many different eyes, considered so many points of view.’
Bookworm is the best of bookish books; nostalgic and full of charm, witty and well told, it is a collective love letter to books that will resonate with readers far and wide, and reignite the flame for many of this magic thing we call reading.
Bookworm is published on March 1st.
About Lucy Mangan
Lucy Mangan is a columnist for Guardian Weekend magazine and Stylist, and the author of My Family and Other Disasters, The Reluctant Bride and Hopscotch and Handbags. You can follow her on Twitter here.
When Lucy Mangan was little, stories where everything. They opened up new worlds and cast light on all the complexities she encountered in this one.
She was whisked away to Narnia – and Kirrin Island – and Wonderland. She ventured down rabbit holes and womble burrows into midnight gardens and chocolate factories. She wandered the countryside with Milly-Molly-Mandy, and played by the tracks with the Railway Children. With Charlotte’s Web she discovered Death and with Judy Blume it was Boys. No wonder she only left the house for her weekly trip to the library or to spend her pocket money on amassing her own at home.
In Bookworm, Lucy revisits her childhood reading with wit, love and gratitude. She relives our best-beloved books, their extraordinary creators, and looks at the thousand subtle ways they shape our lives. She also disinters a few forgotten treasures to inspire the next generation of bookworms and set them on their way.
Lucy brings the favourite characters of our collective childhoods back to life – prompting endless re-readings, rediscoveries, and, inevitably, fierce debate – and brilliantly uses them to tell her own story, that of a born, and unrepentant, bookworm.
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