Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading

Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood ReadingBookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading
by Lucy Mangan
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780224098854
Publication Date: March 1, 2018
Pages: 322
Genre: Books and Reading, Memoir
Publisher: Square Peg

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.


Were you a bookworm as a kid?  I was.  I was even voted “Class Bookworm” in 7th grade – a category they made up just for me.  I was the kid with the book inside the text book during school lectures.  So when I saw this a few years ago, I thought … maybe.  As much as I enjoy most books about books, I figured the title was likely to be an overstatement and I’d be reading a sedate, literary criticism of childhood books.  The front flap reinforced this suspicion.  Which is why it sat on my shelves for so long.

Oh, how wrong – and kinda right – I was.  Lucy Mangan is a true bookworm; back in the day, she’d have given me a run for the title and the award.  She was also way better read than I was, so there is some lit criticism here, but it’s fabulous lit criticism; she’s hilarious and she’s rational and she’s so very real.

On Enid Blyton:

I can barely bring myself to talk about my Enid Blyton.

Like generations of children before me,
and like generations since (she still sells over 8 million
copies a year around the world) I fell head over heels in
love. No, not love – it was an obsession, an addiction. It
was wonderful.

It was an older girl that got me into the stuff. Becky-
next- door lent me her copy of something called Five on a
Secret Trail. It was a floppy, late 1970s Knight Books
edition with, I believe, the original 1950’s illustrations
inside. I read it. It was good. Very good. I enjoyed it. I
enjoyed it very much. I asked Becky if she had any more.
She did. It was called Five Run Away Together. I read it. It
was good. Very good. Possibly even better than Five on
a Secret Trail. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it very much. I
noticed it had a number ‘3’ on the spine. Five on a Secret
Trail had a ’15’. What did that mean? I decided to look for
clues. Even without a loyal canine companion to help me,
it didn’t take long. The endpapers carried a
list. Apparently Enid Blyton had written twenty-one
books! What excellent news! What riches! What vital.
absolutely essential riches!

I took the news and the list to my parents. I’m going
to need all of these,’ I said, gently.

And so it began.

And on C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series being a Christian allegory:

The tale of Lucy Pevensie discovering the secret
world beyond the wardrobe door is a story about
courage, loyalty, generosity, sacrifice and nobility versus
greed, conceit, arrogance and betrayal. You can call the
former Christian virtues, or you can just call them
virtues, let the kids concentrate on the self-renewing
Turkish delight, magically unerring bows and hybrid
man-beasts and relax.

Reading this, I feel like I missed out on something amazing by not living down the road from Lucy.  I suspect we’d have had a lot of fun swapping books and comparing notes.  But it was a joy to read her memoirs now and in so doing take a trip down the memory lane of my own reading.

Mangan primarily recounts her childhood reading in a fun and often funny style, but she also dips lightly into the historical aspects of Children’s literature here and there, when the subject matter seems to call for it – a specific genre, or the roots of illustrations.  These bits are less engaging, more straightforward, and in context with the whole, makes the pace drag a tiny bit when you get to them.  They’re interesting, but they’re not entertaining.

Because Mangan’s writing style is very conversational, the sentences that include many clauses and often long parentheticals can sometimes be hard to follow.  This was probably my only criticism – not that I didn’t enjoy the style, because I absolutely did – it’s just once or twice, by the time the sentence ended, I had forgotten how it began.

Admittedly, a large number of the books that Lucy Mangan covers are books unknown to me.  I expected this because she was growing up in London, and I was growing up in tiny town Florida.  But I was delighted at how often our book titles did converge, and how many titles that, even if I didn’t read them, I was familiar enough with to easily follow along.

The author has written a few other books, and I enjoyed this one so much, that I’m interested to discover what they’re about and see about getting my hands on one or two.

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