I’ve already commented on the book we were reading for book club last week, Bookworm by Lucy Mangan, and although I didn’t enjoy it, I did think it was a very interesting way to explore autobiography – by considering the books which had an impact on you through your life – especially if you started young as a reader. She mentioned the way one can become totally immersed in a book to such an extent that you become blind and deaf to the actual world around you – and that total immersion is particularly strong as a child when you can become literally lost in whatever you’re reading.
Someone asked me what books I read when young – I kept a notebook with them all written down, a notebook lost aeons ago which is sad because it would have been fascinating to be reminded of those stories I read when I was still at junior school. I still have some of my books from early child hood, ‘Kittens and Puppies’ – or was it ‘Puppies and Kittens’, I’ll have to burrow in the book case to find out. I had two Babar books by Jean de Brunhoff which I must have had read to me and then read myself hundreds of times; some of the incidents in ‘Babar the King’, and ‘The Travels of Babar’ made a great impact on me; the idea of adventure, of troubles and difficulties to be overcome, of love and loyalty, influenced my early writing – even though there are aspects of the books which are not acceptable these days. These two books were written almost ninety years ago in 1933 and 1932 so it’s not surprising they have ideas which we reject now.
Every year I had a Rupert annual – or so I seem to remember, but in trying to find out which ones I had, I think that maybe I only had two or three of them. My parents read them to me time and time again before I could read, and they always read the rhyming couplets which went with each illustration; this had a big influence as when I went to school, whenever we had to write a poem I found it very easy because I had that idea of rhythm and rhyme imprinted in my mind! Later, when I continued to write poetry I began to abandon the rhyme and wrote with the idea of the rhythm, regular and irregular. I still occasionally write poetry, for my private enjoyment, and those influences of the way to use language remain!
My godmother gave me a book of Æsop’s Fables, and although some of the fables have meanings which are no longer current, there are many which still resonate with me, and it would be fair to say some of the moral codes did influence me as a child. Mount Everest was first climbed in 1952, and when I was only a very young child I received ‘The Conquest of Everest’ by Sir John Hunt, the story of Tensing and Hillary’s climb of the mountain. I was too young to read it, but I would spend hours looking at the picture, and that fascination with it, and with Tibet has remained – and only recently I read several books about the ill-fated 1997 Everest expeditions.
I read literally hundreds, if not thousands of books as a child and into my teens, several and more a week sometimes. All the classics, Arthur Ransome, John Verney, E. Nesbit, Noel Streatfield, Frances Hodgson Burnett, C.S. Lewis, Phillipa Pearce, Mary Norton, Lucy M. Boston, Captain W.E.Johns, William Mayne… The list could go on and on, and yes I did read Enid Blyton but I can’t say she was a particular favourite. When I look back at some of the books I read, I wonder how I did! I have tried to reread some of them and found them stodgy beyond belief – not necessarily the ones by the authors I’ve mentioned above! Which ones had the most influence on me? That’s something I need to think about!