I warn you now that this is going to be a gushing review. I feel like the author of this book and I would have been friends had we met as children as her childhood reading list is practically identical to mine. Of course, we’d never actually have been friends as we’d never actually have met, both preferring to sit quietly with our noses in books!
Oh my goodness, this brought back so many memories. There were books I remembered from my very young reading days such as My Naughty Little Sister, The Hungry Caterpillar, Flat Stanley and the Ladybird Fairy Tale series.
And then of course the wonder that was Enid Blyton. Who didn’t want to find smugglers in coves, sleep on moors, camp on your very own island and “get to sleep on a bracken bed under a starlit sky, next to the picturesque ruins of a castle”? And that’s before I wanted to go to Mallory Towers, St Clare’s or Whyteleafe, learn to play lacrosse and have midnight feasts. They are undoubtedly not politically correct these days but my goodness they were exciting and stick in the mind. As the author points out, “a gradual realisation that people one spoke, dressed and even thought differently from the way we do is a profound pleasure.”
In contrast to the author, I don’t now find them unreadable and loved re-reading with my own children when they were younger. Five Go to Billycock Hill is their favourite and they still fondly quote from it. As Roald Dahl reportedly told a national curriculum committee on English, they certainly get children reading.
And older still, I devoured The Chronicles of Narnia and Little Women and its various sequels, with Judy Blume’s books to see me through my early teenage years. Like the author though, I’ve never really got into The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings. Fantasy just isn’t my thing. Unless it’s Harry Potter. Or Terry Pratchett. Or Narnia…
But this book also reminded me of books I’d forgotten such as Antonia Foster’s Marlow series ( boarding school again!), Anne Digby’s Trebizon series (yes more boarding school fiction), an early foray into dystopia with Robert Swindells’ Z for Zachariah (why are books set in the future never a Utopia? Maybe I should write one!) and Sylvia Sherry’s A Pair of Jesus Boots. That latter one featuring Rocky O’Rourke, I have a vague feeling I maybe had as a school reading book.
The author tells of her childhood favourites with wit and warmth. I was that bookworm for whom time stood still when reading, for whom the excitement of a new book was the highlight of a week, for whom the characters who inhabited my books pages were as real as the people I encountered when I lifted my head from the book. Let’s face it, I still am! I am the bookworm who still has all my copies of The Famous Five (full set of course), Mallory Towers, St Clare’s and The Chalet School in a box in the attic.
I adored this book and will keep it to reread and reminisce about my childhood fictional friends again. I recommend you get yourself a copy and some extra to press into the hands of book-loving friends. It’s an easy 5* from me – in fact, can I give it more please?
To finish I just have to share this photo. The weekend I was reading this book, I met up with friends in Falkirk. We visited Callandar House and as we were walking along to it through the park, I noticed a lady sitting under a tree, reading a book, just like the cover of this book. Life imitating art.
Bookworm is available now and you should definitely go and buy yourself a copy. Preferably a physical book and preferably from a real bookshop. If however, that isn’t possible for you, you can order a copy online here: Bookworm
From the back of the book
When Lucy Mangan was little, stories were everything. They opened up different worlds and cast new light on 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. No wonder she only left the house for her weekly trip to the library.
In Bookworm, Lucy brings the favourite characters of our collective childhoods back to life and disinters a few forgotten treasures poignantly, wittily using them to tell her own story, that of a born, and unrepentant, bookworm.
About the author
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.