Book Review |Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan 

BookwormAbout the Book

When Lucy Mangan was little, stories were 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.

Format: Hardcover (336 pp.)    Publisher: Square Peg
Published: 1st March 2018        Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction

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My Review

Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan is one of the books on my Henley Festival 2018 Reading list.  You can find the complete list on my dedicated Henley Literary Festival page.

The reader finds out quite a lot about Lucy Mangan from her book.   For one, that she has an amazing memory for the books she read as a child.  I think few of us, myself included, could bring to mind so much detail about the books we read at each age.  Then again, the author is clearly a hoarder, or perhaps more correctly, a cherisher of books, still owning many of the books she acquired as a child.

Bookworm gives the reader a picture of a somewhat solitary child; not lonely, but self-contained, grabbing every spare moment to curl up somewhere with a book.  If you’re a bookworm yourself, you’ll be familiar with the dilemma of being obliged to fulfil social engagements when immersed in a particularly gripping read.  Encouraged by her father in particular, the author fell in love with libraries at an early age and believes in the importance of their role still.  Mangan is passionate about passing on her love of reading to her son, even if he is a bit reluctant occasionally to show the degree of excitement she’d like over a particularly beloved book!

The author is pragmatic about the distractions from reading that exist in today’s world.  She notes ‘Encouraging reading in this day and age is like trying to create a wildflower meadow.  Most of the job is just about clearing and preserving a space in which rarer and more delicate plants can grow…’  At times opinionated (in the sense of knowing what she likes and, to a certain extent, liking what she knows), Mangan has no time for Tolkien, gives short shrift to the books of Stephanie Meyer and confesses she still hasn’t touched a book by Charles Dickens.  Having said that, in her mind, the bookworm’s ‘prime directive’ is that any book is better than no book.

Her love of words is evident and there are witty, occasionally acerbic, footnotes throughout the book.  A firm advocate of rereading, Mangan observes, ‘what you lose in suspense and excitement on rereading is counterbalanced by a greater depth of knowledge and an almost tangibly increasing mastery over the world.’  And returning to a book after many years, she argues, can bring new insight. ‘The beauty of a book is that it remains the same for as long as you need it…You can’t wear out a book’s patience.’

Mangan rejects the notion that a book should be regarded merely as a beautiful object: ‘Quantity of content over quality of livery has been the philosophy I have clung to’.  In other words, don’t waste money on a beautiful book you’re never going to read.  Still a prolific reader, she makes interesting observations about her experience of reading as an adult versus as a child, recognizing she does not get absorbed as easily or as fully in books as she once did.  ‘I miss the days of effortless immersion and the glorious certainty of pleasure.’ 

Bookworm may be a very individual take on favourite childhood books (personally I loved the Dr. Seuss books) but I believe it speaks to all of us for whom reading is an essential pleasure, maybe even an essential part, of life.  One of my favourite quotations from the book is: ‘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 different points of view.’  Amen to that.

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In three words: Witty, nostalgic, heartfelt

Try something similar…The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler (read my review here)

About the Author

Lucy Mangan is a British journalist and author. She is a columnist, features writer and TV critic for The Guardian. Her writing style is both feminist and humorous.

Mangan grew up in Catford, south east London, but both her parents were originally from Lancashire. She studied English at Cambridge University and trained to be a solicitor. After qualifying as a solicitor, she began to work instead in a bookshop and then, in 2003, found a work experience placement at The Guardian.

She continues to work at The Guardian writing a regular column and TV reviews plus occasional features. Her book My Family and other Disasters (2009) is a collection of her newspaper columns. She has also written books about her childhood and her wedding.

Mangan also has a regular column for Stylist magazine and has been a judge for the Booktrust Roald Dahl Funny Prize.

Connect with Lucy

Website  ǀ  Twitter  ǀ  Goodreads


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