When her nose first got stuck

An om­niv­o­rous reader re­counts how her love of books helped de­fine her child­hood.

New Zealand Listener - - BOOKS & CULTURE - by BRIGID FEE­HAN

As a child read­ing Ray­mond Briggs’ When the Wind Blows, Lucy Man­gan re­sponded to the threat of a nu­clear holo­caust by qui­etly think­ing, “As long as there are enough books in the bunker, how bad can it re­ally be?”

Man­gan, a Guardian jour­nal­ist and life­long book­worm, has writ­ten a mem­oir of her child­hood read­ing. “I read om­niv­o­rously but not well,” warns the in­tro­duc­tion. What­ever you think of her book­list (chances are you’ve read many), Man­gan writes beau­ti­fully about the hungers and sat­is­fac­tions of read­ing as a child. On CS Lewis’s Prince Caspian: “… if I could just read the words on a page one more time, bring one more ounce of love to the story they told, I could an­i­mate them, too. The flimsy bar­ri­ers of time, space and im­ma­te­ri­al­ity would fi­nally fall away and Nar­nia would spring up all around me and I would be there, at last.”

Read­ing brought rev­e­la­tions. “Oh Milly-Molly-Mandy. Un­til she came along I didn’t know that ei­ther the coun­try­side or the past ex­isted.”

But it’s not all smooth sail­ing. What was Ju­dith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea think­ing? “A tiger who just turns up with­out any ex­pla­na­tion or in­vi­ta­tion and stays for tea? Bound­aries, peo­ple!” Some­how we’re not sur­prised small Man­gan is hor­ri­fied by Dr Seuss’s “malev­o­lent” hat­ted cat.

Man­gan chron­i­cles her two-year ad­dic­tion to Enid Bly­ton (“it was an older girl who got me into the stuff”), her mixed emo­tions about Roald Dahl (loved Char­lie and the Cho­co­late Fac­tory; in ret­ro­spect, wary of nas­ti­ness to aunts and obese peo­ple else­where) and her be­daz­zle­ment by Noel Streat­feild’s sto­ries of chil­dren con­sumed by a raven­ing lust for star­dom. “Proto-sex­god Dickon” from The Se­cret Gar­den gets her off the sofa and into the gar­den to grow things, but piti­ful re­sults meant she “would not make the mis­take of try­ing to find con­tent­ment in real life again any time soon”.

Nor­ton Juster’s The Phan­tom Toll­booth “rocked my tiny world”, and Char­lotte’s Web had her shriek­ing to her fa­ther, “I know peo­ple die in real life … but why do they have to die in books?”

There is much more. Pony books. Wombles. Twain, Blume, An­to­nia For­est, dystopia and Sweet Val­ley High. Lots of anec­dotes about au­thors. My per­sonal favourite: Mau­rice Sen­dak sent an il­lus­trated note to a young fan. His mother wrote back, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.”

BOOK­WORM: A Mem­oir of Child­hood Read­ing, by Lucy Man­gan (Square Peg, $40)

“A tiger who just turns up with­out any ex­pla­na­tion or in­vi­ta­tion and stays for tea? Bound­aries, peo­ple!”

Lucy Man­gan: “proto-sex­god Dickon” from The Se­cret Gar­den got her off the sofa.

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