Reading Memories

By Lynne Gibbons

Our friend Lynne Gibbons shares her reading memories, prompted by her book group’s choosing to read Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading (London, Square Peg, 2018).

I really enjoyed Bookworm and I’m sure it will have sparked many memories for all our group. I can imagine there will be lots of ‘I loved that…’ and ‘I couldn’t stand that!’. I was reminded of books from my own childhood, from my daughter’s childhood and from my days teaching infants.

I’m still quite partial to books labelled ‘for children’ or ‘YA – young adults’. (That’s a whole other discussion – should books be age categorized at all?) I have to confess that I caused great arguments at my Lancashire book group, by recommending YA books. The one they really hated was The Knife of Never Letting Go (Walker Books, 2013) by Patrick Ness, but I was so sad when they were quite dismissive about Here Lies Arthur (Marion Lloyd Books, 2011) by Philip Reeve. I won’t expand on either book, but I still recommend them!

I still have some books from my childhood, including the Enid Blytons shown below. Apparently I had hysterics whenever the blue book was suggested. In that one, Mary Mouse, who was the family’s nursemaid, left the children because they were so naughty. She did return in the end, but I obviously couldn’t stand the upset and eventually I took to hiding it! ‘Not the blue book – don’t read the blue book!’ 

Post-war books look so sad now, but my Dad sought out some lovely picture books for me and later enrolled me in the Children’s Book Club. I think it was run by Foyles and happily it didn’t seem to have specific boy or girl choices, so I read lots of Biggles, by Captain W E Johns, as well as Dodie Smith!

I also accumulated piles of pre-war, vintage volumes from jumble sales, mostly run by the local Labour Party. I loved Susan Coolidge’s Katy books, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women series and L M Montgomery’s novels about Anne Shirley. But I have to say some of the more obscure volumes were puzzling, to say the least! Two Missionary Ladies in Tibet or Little Maid Marigold? These books are ‘prize fiction’, that is, moralising novels given as prizes for punctuality and the like at school or Sunday School in late 19th and early 20th centuries. The photographs below show a prize book, Doreen (London, John F Shaw, 1928), by Charles Herbert, and the bookplate awarding it to Ivy Eyre. I think Ivy was a friend of my parents from the Labour Party.

Little Maid Marigold (London, Religious Tract Society, 1902) is by Eleanora H. Stooke. Two Lady Missionaries in Tibet (London, S W Partridge, 1909) is by Isabel Suart Robson and includes a photograph of the two ladies, Annie R Taylor and Susie Carson Moyes, and a fascinating 30-page catalogue of the publisher’s Popular Illustrated Books which range in price from 6s to 3d. The Missionary Ladies come in the 1s 6d list.

And there was always the library to borrow books from! Highfield was my first one, when I was aged 4.

Thanks to Bookworm, I was reminded of a conversation with my friend Frances. She never had a doll’s house when she was a child. Her lack of this toy has stayed with her as my ‘blue book’ horrors have with me. Did we suffer any long-term consequences? I don’t know but the memories are sharp. I’ve recommended to Frances that she read Rumer Godden’s The Doll’s House (London, Michael Joseph, 1947). This is a surprisingly dark story about the dolls who live in the house. When I checked in Bookworm, it turns out that Lucy Mangan knows and loves this book too.

2 thoughts on “Reading Memories

  1. Thank you for this consoling read! Apart from naming some of my favourite authors it has reminded me that whatever changes we may be experiencing, literature is there to lighten as well as enlighten. Most of us probably need that right now.

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