Wynne was born in 1919, making her one of our oldest interviewees. She lived all her life around Sheffield’s Ecclesall Road area. She married a man from Newcastle and they had two daughters, Joan and Anne, and a son, Richard. With the exception of Richard, who was ‘more for enjoying the outdoor life’, everyone in the family loved books.
Wynne’s niece Diane Haswell, who sat in on the interview, said later:
[Auntie Wynne] says throughout the interview how little she could remember especially of authors’ names and titles, which is to be expected. However, as my dear godmother, she never missed a birthday or Christmas gift for me, and it was always books or book tokens and [she] always wanted to know what the books had been about and discuss them with me. Hugely supportive too when I was a student and started teaching in the ‘60s. She was very interested to know what I’d been reading to the children and later to my own.
Wynne, interviewed at the age of 92, had forgotten lots of the books and authors she had read. But it didn’t bother her. What she did remember was the pleasure reading had given, and was still giving, her (by 2011, she had taken happily to reading in bed). ‘Oh I always say I’d hate to go blind and can’t read,’ she said.
Wynne supposed that she learned to read at school, but had no clear memory of that, or of anyone reading aloud to her. But no-one ever seemed to suggest that reading was a waste of time and so somehow the habit developed, and got stronger over time. The first type of material that came to mind during the interview was not in fact a book, but a popular magazine. The stalwart People’s Friend was a favourite for both its ‘proper stories’ and its strong roots in Scotland, in which Wynne was interested. Wynne recalled enjoying the serials and short stories in such magazines in the early years of her marriage, reading them at the table, which was ‘naughty’:
I think probably it might have been a case of enjoying that more because they were short stories, not a full story or book.
Is this evidence of how much work was involved in looking after a home and young children when washer-driers, dishwashers and ready meals were pretty much unknown? Perhaps.
Wynne used to take her children to the Ecclesall branch library, then called Weetwood, when they were small, ‘because both Joan and Anne loved reading, wanted to read all the time’. She didn’t remember getting books for herself, but the library building made a lasting impression on her, as it did on others. It was a rather grand house in beautiful gardens, which had been sold to the Council and converted to library use in 1949, as part of a major post-war programme to extend library services in Sheffield.
This early investment in Joan’s and Anne’s reading paid long-term benefits. In time, they came to support their mother’s reading, just as she had supported theirs.
It might have been my daughters who eventually said, “We’ve been reading a book, you might enjoy it. We’ll give it you and if you like it fair enough and if you don’t, don’t bother.”
Joan would take charge of Wynne’s birthday and Christmas lists, ensuring that she got presents of books she would like, and Wynne, Joan and Anne shared books and chatted about them:
No, more or less we have the same [taste in books], apart from Anne … I can’t think of the author, there’s one book and she says, ‘I don’t read hers’ but Joan and I love them and Anne says, ‘Oh, I can’t read hers,’ and I can’t think of who it is.
One result of this little family book group was that Wynne’s tastes developed. She recalled a series of books about early settlers in Australia, where she had relatives, and another book about the horrors of workhouses:
[At school] I hated history, but since reading some of these books which are historical so there [is] a bit of truth in a lot [of] them, I have really enjoyed them and enjoyed historical things more.
Books beat television, in Wynne’s opinion:
… television’s all right but it seems to have taken over with the children. Sit them in a chair and put in front of the television. I don’t agree with a lot of that. I mean I know you say, ‘You can’t stop progress,’ but a lot of it’s not for the good.
sinks more, sinks more in my mind. The only problem is that after a while I forget even it. But I can’t do anything about that.
By way of example, there was Jung Chang’s 1991 memoir, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China:
I can’t remember the years when it happened but when I read it, I said, ‘But this was in my lifetime and I don’t remember a thing about that happening’ – this book just astounded me. … I still think about it, that book.
You can read Wynne’s full interview or listen to it here.