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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 26 March 2002
There are few more solitary occupations than being a child bookworm, so it is absolutely wonderful to find something on the shelves which remembers us.
Here's a simple test to see if you'll like this book- does this: "It was as if Puffin were part of the administration of the world. They were the department of the welfare state responsible for the distribution of narrative." give you a shiver of recognition? If so, you'll find much to enjoy here.
It's full of little things that strike chords: the feel of old libraries, the terror of horror stories that imaginative children have; the phrase 'stepping lightly from C.S. Lewis to Jane Eyre'.
My complaint would be that it is a little academic in parts- if we wanted the philosophy and analysis of our childhood reading, we've probably done it already. What I wanted more of were the small joys; the little nostalgias. Where children hide to read books; what pleases and what annoys, and I'd have liked more of Spufford's home life. There are also disappointingly few books covered- more than just a skimming of Leon Garfield, Ian Serrallier or Peter Dickinson would have been nice, and perhaps a little less of the visiting the 'Little House on the Prairie' jaunt. Also, I suppose as a girl I missed the feminine side- Anne of Green Gables, Katy, the Chalet school et al.
But these are small grumbles set against what a lovely thing this is- it was suggested to me after I read 'Stet', which I would also recommend wholeheartedly- for all of us who, as an erstwhile friend of mine said, 'don't so much like books as suffer from an obsessive-compulsive illness'.
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on 23 May 2017
I realise this book goes back a long way but have only just got round to reading it and can't recommend it highly enough to anyone interested in the mysterious and wonderful practice of reading. I found the book compelling (even though I'd describe my own experiences slightly differently) in the way they interrogated what is that happens when marks on bits of wood pulp somehow translate into the worlds that fiction can conjure in the private space of our imaginations. Solitary childhood reading is both escaping from and to and the brief biographical details given here give a context for Francis Spufford's reading. As so often happens, this is a book I borrowed from the library that I will end up buying as it is so relevant to my work in biblio-poetry therapy that I want to share and explore parts of it with my students.
One tiny quibble, at the risk of sounding like a grammar-anorak - the use of who in accusative and dative constructions niggled a bit in an otherwise brilliantly written book.
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on 18 January 2009
This certainly wasn't what I expected - just proving the old adage that `You can't judge a book by its cover.' Where I expected charm and books and childhood pleasures, instead I found an intense, philosophical analysis of the way children respond to books, with a heavy emphasis on psychoanalytic ideas.

I had to skip over some of the first chapter (unheard of for me) because it was unintelligible, but it did improve after a while. Once the books became more familiar it was more enjoyable and easier to follow - for example, there was an interesting section on Laura Ingalls Wilder's `Little House' books, and the place of the prairie and the town in her novels. There was also a good section later on concerning the shift from children's books to adult reading, and the role of the classics in bridging the gap. Knowing more about these novels again made this part easier to understand and appreciate.

Despite the better areas, the overly abstract academic analysis made this a much heavier book than it needed to be. There was also a decidedly self-obsessed air about it, and the familiar self-consciousness that is noticeable in many memoirs. An average read - and certainly not an easy one.
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on 6 October 2013
There is a thread of autobiography running through this book. It's an interesting story, but it's peripheral. At heart this book is a passionate, learned examination of children's books and what they say about childhood and the nature of reading.

It begins with a look at the psychology of the child's mind and the role that language and stories play in its development. Interesting at first, this does go on perhaps a bit too long. Then, occupying the core of the work, are analyses of two series of books: the Narnia chronicles of C. S. Lewis and the Little House books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It is a testament to the insight and poetry that Spufford brings to these exercises that I was fascinated by what he had to say about the Little House books, having avoided them enthusiastically as a child.

The last chapter concerns more adult books: Fleming, Le Guin, Borges, a bit of light porn (tastefully done).... The range is broader but consequently the analyses are thinner, no less intellgent, but less detailed, less satisfying.

Along the way a host of other books are mentioned and assessed briefly. Those readers interested in picking books for children will probably emerge with a few suggestions. Anybody of a bookish sensibility will find much to enjoy here.
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on 7 January 2012
well... What I had expected was a memoir that would draw upon books that had influenced him, and what I got was a basic review of childrens books as a whole. I felt the memoir wasn't personal enough, and I simply didn't engage with the narrator on any level. I found myself reading this as a critical analysis text, something I'd disect and quote for uni rather than something I wanted to dive into and enjoy reading. This is probably my own fault for expecting too much of the text rather than being grateful for what I'm being given.
The dispatch was quick, good quality book and a lovely edition.
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on 25 November 2013
Excellent foray into what influences what a child reads and why and how what he read shaped the man. A scholalry book but also an intensely personal, candid and poignant memoir which touches the child in the reader. It reverberated in this reader's memory for some time.
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on 20 April 2003
Ignore all the mediocre reviews of this book which other people have posted. If you love books and recall with fondness your childhood reading, then you will enjoy Spufford's elegant and wide-ranging exploration of the ways reading helps a child to create his or her sense of self.
Spufford was a voracious reader as a child, finding an escape from his family's heartrending and guilt-inducing medical problems behind the printed lines on a page. While writing this memoir of childhood reading, he reread all the books he had loved--from Where The Wild Things Are to Narnia and Little House on the Prairie, and attempted to find out just why he had read so catatonically, and how it had shaped him.
There's a great deal of pleasure to be found in reminiscing along with Spufford about your own first reading of The Hobbit, but he offers far more than a simple nostalgia-fest. He also discusses the theories of child psychologists on the importance of reading and the ways in which it can teach a child about language and the patterns in the world. Some people seem to have found this too dry and academic--and it isn't as interesting as the sections dealing with his own life--but stick with it! Spufford is discussing something very important: WHY is it better for your child to spend 3 hours reading than 3 hours on the Playstation?--and believe me, this proves that it is!
The rest of the book discusses Spufford's adolescence; the years when Narnia had lost its magic, but the world of adult books hadn't yet opened its doors. There are some great insights into sci-fi--The Left Hand of Darkness gets special mention and praise. Also interesting is his consideration of the root which many teenagers follow, walking out of childhood via the classics; Austen or the Brontes bridge that gap which he calls 'The Hole'.
I've always loved books about books and reading, and I recommend this to anyone who feels the same. Not quite as enjoyable or loveable as Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris (highly recommended) but this is a great, entertaining and educating read. One of the most unusual and moving books of the year.
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on 22 October 2003
I am surprised to learn that anyone who enjoys reading has failed to enjoy this book. Both as a memoir and as a study of how children's literature affects us it is strikingly original.The author's passion for reading began as an escape from a childhood skewed by his sister's illness, but once he read The Hobbit he embarked on the life of a bookworm. His descriptions of what it feels like to read are spot-on, and his studies of particular children's authors illuminating. Highly recommended.
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on 7 January 2013
I loved this book because it built, for mew, an instant connection with the author. I too was an avid reader, in fact, it was wonderful to read about someone else who is as addicted to reading. It hadn't occured to me before reading this book , how much books must have shaped me and some of my friends & relatives. Now it seems obvious!

I heartily recommend this book. I have even read one or two books he enjoyed since readsing his book, even though they were children'sa books. After reading it, I felt much better about my love of stories & fiction, which I had always felt to be escapist.
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on 14 June 2008
Though I like the idea of an adult bookworm going back over the books he enjoyed as a child, the reality of this book is that it reads more like some kind of idiosyncratic analysis of children's literature than the memoir it's advertised as. When it's about the author's life it's interesting; when he describes his reactions to the various books it can be engrossing. But much of the book is cerebral philosophising, sometimes on the nature of literature, sometimes on the nature of language itself. This wouldn't be so bad if it were in a more accessible style, but unfortunately the prose is often as dry and imprenetrable as the early 'Forest' chapter, which was a real struggle to get through.

If you have a fascination for language and the psychology of children's literature you might enjoy all this, but if you're looking for a memoir of a boy who retreated into books, I would look elsewhere, for this isn't it!
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