Bookworm by Lucy Mangan is a memoir of childhood reading, from her earliest memories as a small child reading ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ by Eric Carle, to her secondary school years in the late 1980s when Judy Blume books and the Sweet Valley High series were at the height of their popularity. Born in 1974 to northern Catholic parents, Mangan grew up in south east London and was a voracious reader from the start. Even though my formative years of childhood reading occurred over a decade later than Mangan’s, there is a significant amount of overlap in our literary diets. This isn’t very surprising given that Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and other staples have remained so popular over several generations, and it means that most readers will be familiar with much of what Mangan reminisces about here too. For the most part, we also have fairly similar taste in books – like Mangan, I prefer stories with fantasy elements to be at least partly grounded in the real world, and neither of us are great lovers of poetry (“All that feeling”). The exceptions are the ballet and pony stories favoured by Mangan and the late arrival of a series of books about a certain boy wizard which was a big part of my childhood reading.
Anyone who grew up as a bookworm in a pre-internet era will identify with Mangan’s self-deprecating descriptions of herself as a young reader absorbing everything she could and the sense of total immersion in reading which becomes much harder to achieve as an adult. Mangan writes fondly but not over-sentimentally about her family life and her obvious enthusiasm for reading is enhanced by her excellent sense of humour. In particular, there is much amusement to be found as she revisits childhood classics from her perspective as an adult. Mangan’s bibliomemoir would make an ideal present for any bookworm in your life.
The Bookseller’s Tale by Martin Latham is described in the blurb as “the story of our love affair of books…part cultural history, part literary love-letter and part reluctant memoir” which looks at the reading, borrowing, selling, publishing and collecting of books throughout history and around the world. Latham has been a bookseller for over 35 years and currently works at the Canterbury branch of Waterstones. Unsurprisingly, he is particularly reverent of books as physical objects.
The blurb is certainly accurate about the memoir aspect being a reluctant one, as the cultural history mostly dominates, and Latham’s personal account of his experience as a bookseller is only slipped in briefly at the end. Overall, this is an entertaining book crammed with interesting and pleasingly obscure facts and amusing anecdotes and I found that it is a good book to dip in and out of over a longer period of time rather than reading it all in one go.