Finding the right book to kick-start the blog proved to be almost impossible and I agonised over the decision for far longer than I should have, I’m sure, but in the end it had to be this: Bookworm, by Lucy Mangan. After reading the first few pages, I knew I was in the presence of a kindred spirit (how not to identify with her descriptions of an almost visceral need for books and near-total disregard for any outdoor activities?), but its appeal is universal and certainly not restricted to those souls who are happy to play Russian roulette with a severe lack of vitamin D.
And don’t be fooled by the apparent simplicity of the format, either: Bookworm is so, so much more than simply the highlights of the author’s childhood reading choices listed in chronological order. It is a witty, warm trip down memory lane that touches some of the most iconic books of the last century – all seamlessly woven into a rich backdrop of family life, with its up and downs, and punctuated by some delightful titbits of information about how a genre evolved across the ages.
Although it’s a personal journey, the feelings it evokes are familiar: we all remember reading a book that we found terrifying as children or one that still holds a special place in our heart because, after reading it, the world suddenly seemed to make more sense. And that’s what Lucy explains so well: as an adult, she can recognise how stories help to shape young brains. Empathy and imagination, as well as what is magic and how it relates to reality, are a few of the concepts that kids automatically grasp when they lose themselves in stories.
The father–daughter bond that cements itself through a shared love of reading – and reading, again and again, in the way small children have of requesting their favourite stories on a loop – is genuinely sweet and never falls into syrupy sentimentality. Books are linked in a chain that stretches across the generations: they were gifted to us and, once it’s our turn, we open their covers to reveal those fantastical worlds to the younger members of the family. The eerie feeling of seeing the ghost of your child self, as you read aloud the words that were once so lovingly read to you is something that many adults will recognise.
This book is not inward-looking, though, as it touches on many current topics, such as the importance for all children to be able to identify themselves in the characters they encounter (the recent success of the pop-up bookshop in Brixton confirmed the need for more stories that feature BAME protagonists). The author also highlights how reading is essential to the development of a child’s vocabulary – although I was already aware of this, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of dread at the thought of increasing library closures.
I will happily admit that I hadn’t previously come across some of the books described in Bookworm – I’m Italian and, when growing up, we had our own set of iconic children’s authors to explore. So I approached some of the stories in this book for the first time as an adult, and I am sure I wouldn’t have understood and enjoyed them as much if they hadn’t been put into context by Lucy. For those of you out there who are familiar with these tales, I can only reassure you that it will be a fantastic trip down memory lane, hand in hand with the best guide you could wish for.
Needless to say, I devoured this book and felt utterly bereft once I reached the end. Thank you, Bookworm, for providing such an enjoyable read, throwing open the doors to new worlds and rekindling old memories – after all aren’t books just time machines in disguise?