Monday, 17 August 2015


I remember the first book I ever owned. It was big (or so it seemed, but then I was small) and it contained stories and verses and puzzles and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland serialised through its pages. I was aged three- or maybe four-years-old and couldn't yet read, but I knew that book was something magical and that it could be opened at any page and – providing I could find someone to read to me – would have the power to take me to places other than the gloomy London flat in which I lived with my parents.

I don't have the book any longer (though I am always looking for it in bookshops and bookseller's catalogues) but I do now have a great many other books and that first book is entirely to blame!

Not everyone, I find, understands about books: not just the need to read them, but the need to have them, own them, keep them and treasure them as close as if they were friends and relations. However, when – once in a while – I encounter another obsessive-compulsive bibliophile, I am reassured that I am not alone and feel a sense of bonding camaraderie.

I mention all this as a prelude to recommending an delightful book about books for children and reading as a child...

Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading (The Somerville Press £10) is written by Patricia Craig who, with the late Mary Cadogan, wrote that classic appreciation of over a century of girls' fiction, You're A Brick, Angela!

Craig's new book does what books do best: allows you to slip between its pages while it magically transform itself into a time machine ready to carry you back to the past – in this case, the past of post-war Northern Ireland where her younger self began a life-long love of books for the young – and, in the fullness of time, the young grown up.

As, one by one, Craig opens and shares the Christmas annuals, story books, popular fiction and assorted classics that she discovered, she evokes memories of the world of her childhood, making this a book about place – Belfast – and places, from Greyfriars School to Narnia and Puddleby-on-the Marsh.

As a child, having no one to tell me what to read, I developed an eclectic taste that, thankfully, has never left me and much of the pleasure in Craig's book comes from her willingness to share her own juvenile eclecticism, introducing (or, maybe reacquainting) her readers with Enid Blyton, Frank Richards, Capt W E Johns, Richmal Crompton and (of course!) Angela Brazil as enthusiastically as she goes back to Lewis Carroll, E Nesbit, Louisa M Allcot and Lucy Boston.

This is a book about loving books by a devoted lover, collector and historian of books who is also a born enthusiast well aware that the first duty of someone who has been enthused to pass the enthusiasm on...

As Patricia Craig concludes: "For all of us tenacious readers, there are more worlds to be inhabited than the real one, more excitements to be undergone, initiatives to be applauded, doors to be opened, thresholds to be crossed, resolutions to be savoured, nettles to be grasped, mettle to be cheered, rose-gardens to be visited, myths  to be assimilated, children among the leaves to be glimpsed, mysteries to be illumined, lights to be seen, prairies to be explored, revelations to be encountered, evocations to be submerged in, pasts to be resurrected ... and more, and more."

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