Friday, 11 May 2018



There's a lot that I enjoyed in Lucy Mangan's Bookworm memoir although she's considerably younger than me and our childhood reading didn't quite coincide. (No Maurice Sendak or Roald Dahl in my childhood or anything cutting-edge and modern that was written-up in the Sunday review sections. My mum steered us towards classics from her own childhood, mostly cherished Christmas and birthday presents from my great-grandfather, who is credited with the reading gene that runs through the family: Milly-Molly-Mandy, which was published when she was six, and Little Women and What Katy Did. My dad wasn't a reader and the local children's library only ran to a few sparsely-filled shelves ... when you'd read all the Noel Streatfeilds and the ballet books, you went back to the beginning and started again.)
It was lovely to be reminded of Teddy Robinson - how could I have so completely forgotten him? (None of us in our house much cared for Winnie-the-Pooh.) There were books that were banned, on a parental Index Librorum Prohibitorum because my mum couldn't stomach them any longer - but mostly because my sister and I loved them so much that we'd hide them and run up massive library fines. (I've just googled the wretched Pookie and I'm astonished that the white, furry rabbit with floppity ears only dates back to 1946 because you'd swear he was an Edwardian!)
Like Lucy Mangan, I felt outraged, too, at the God-stuff in CS Lewis - what a cheek, I thought, and what an idiot I felt for being so slow to tumble to it. Hobbits and elves and animal books ... not for me, thanks. (My mum was appalled by my stony-hearted indifference to Black Beauty and Greyfriars Bobby over which she had wept buckets.) I could lose myself in a rubbishy Enid Blyton and was bored to tears by Swallows and Amazons, which might just as well have had stamped on the cover: Approved by Grown-ups.
Unfortunately, what really grated on me is Lucy Mangan's brash, self-deprecating, overly chatty, tabloid-y voice ... I know it's a memoir, but I just wanted her to pipe down. (Pot calling kettle, I know!)

7 comments:

Lesley Anne said...

Gosh Mary,you have got me thinking this morning. I had a couple of the Pookie books as a child, but didn't much care for them- I much preferred the bustling efficiency of Little Grey Rabbit's world. What shocks me is how early I was introduced to the so-called classics. For a whole summer when I was about 5 I was terrified by the idea of The Pied Piper of Hamelin coming through my village to spirit me and the other children away. After that I went on to be traumatised by Hans Christian Andersen; the dog with they eyes as big as dinner plates from the Tinderbox and the poor little mermaid; Edward Lear- "Z was a box of Zinc- step in my little master, I'm sure we've all heard quite enough of your sad disaster" and Greek myths- poor old Prometheus having his liver pecked out. All when I was about 6 or 7! No wonder I preferred to spend my pocket money on Enid Blyton- I was a particular fan of the Five Finder- Outers, whom I am quite sure were a band of nasty little smart alecs, but a great relief from the grief and misery elsewhere in the acceptable canon for children at the time!

Mary said...

You are the only person I've ever come across who remembers Pookie, Lesley-Anne. My sister had a grand passion for him (must have been his little trews!) but like you, I preferred Little Grey Rabbit's house - which also fell under the parental ban because I hid that one, too, as I didn't want to part with it. I must have had an urge for gracious living even then - never fulfilled, sadly! I never enjoyed fairy stories unless they had a bit of Cinderella glamour - all those dull Andrew Lang fairy books! I can see why little girls today prefer Disney princesses. My favourite Enid Blyton was the Valley of Adventure and the rest of that series ... taking off in a wrong plane to a treasure island, I thought that was thrilling! I don't know why grown-ups were so sniffy about her - what's wrong with a good page turner? Though I was quite aware that Alan Garner's Weirdstone of Brisingamen was classier .
I wish I'd retained that capacity completely to lose myself in a book - I can still do it, but it doesn't happen that often. I suppose you get more critical as you get older and anyway, you have to make your own dinner! Looking back, I realise how sympathetic my mum was - I don't ever remember being dragged away from reading to help with dishes, because that's what she'd resented as a child! I shuddered reading Lucy Mangan's book because she wasn't allowed to read upstairs on her own - but had to be part of the family circle even if her nose was buried in a book. That seemed such a cruel punishment for the naturally solitary!

Veronica Cooke said...

I enjoyed Lucy Mangan's articles for the Guardian so think I shall enjoy reading this. it's on my reservation list from the library...

I loved Milly Molly Mandy and Enid Blyton - what about 'The Family from One End Street'? Did you read that? I have a copy bought in a charity shop and I'm saving it for a rainy day... I also loved the Swallows and Amazon's books and Elizabeth Goudge books (more God)and Rumer Godden, too.

Mary said...

I think you'll enjoy this, Veronica. Yes, she mentions The Family from One End Street - it was the pictures that I loved. And did you have Ameliaranne and the Green Umbrella with all the little Stigginses? I preferred the less godly Elizabeth Goudges - Towers in the Mist was so romantic!

Veronica Cooke said...

No, Mary, I've never heard of Ameliaranne and the Green Umbrella! I'll have to check it now...

Lucille said...

Oh yes I had Pookie. Too much writing. Loved The Bobbsey Twins, Family from One End Street, Mallory Towers, M-M-M, The Little Princess, all the Rumer Godden Japanese doll books. I had two libraries to visit on rotation and a mother who would leave a new book on my bed to find when I came home from school.
Greyfriars Bobby was a dull blue book on the shelf at school. I had read all the others over and over and picked it up very reluctantly. I never managed to finish it. I also had Aesop's Fables and lots of Grimms and Hans Anderson.
My brother was given Strewelpeter poor boy.

Mary said...

I must tell my sister that she is not the only person who carries a torch for Pookie! What a wonderful mother, Lucille - we had a book for Christmas, one for birthdays - but the library at least once a week.
Greyfriars Bobby was so boring - but I don't care for animals and I never loved animal books. Or fairy tales, unless they had pictures of princesses in glamorous ballgowns. (There was one book, a birthday present from my aunt, that I adored for the fashion glamour. I'd have been a nightmare child had I been born into the pink princess generation.) Struwwelpeter made me feel slightly sick - still does, also Edward Scissorhands ... yuck! Never read the stories, just revolted by the pictures.