What I read in June 2019 (Part 3) Bookworm

Not long after reading The Librarian, which awoke memories of my childhood reading, I discovered another library book – Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan.

The author claims to have been a bookworm to the exclusion of many other activities.

She certainly read some books at a younger age than I did. I thought I had been young to read The Lord of the Rings aged thirteen, long before the films were envisaged. I lapped it up. Lucy Mangan was younger and didn’t like it. I had already read (and reread) the Roger Lancelyn Green books of Greek myths, The Tale of Troy and Arthurian legends, which she encountered later.

Her book is well-written and intersperses childhood memories with information about books.

The section about teenage or young adult books mostly included books which I have not read as they were written fairly recently. Although I have heard of some of the authors, their books did not feature in my reading or in my children’s reading matter, which I often borrowed. It was interesting to learn of trends I had been unaware of.

At the back of the book there is a list of books for each chapter.

One thing I dscovered from this book was that I have been spelling a favourite author’s name incorrectly; Noel Streatfeild has two vowels in a different order from usual. My favourite of her books is The Painted Garden, which is about some children going to Hollywood and acting in a film. I still remember a description of how sunset in California differed from sunset in England. Perhaps Lucy Mangan had not read this book as she only mentioned White Boots and Ballet Shoes.

I have already returned the book to the library and am unable to check my facts, but I recall that Tom’s Midnight Garden was also a book she read and enjoyed.

Bookworm is an unusual way of writing about children’s books. The mixture of information about books and personal memories made an interesting read. The author grew up in the suburbs of London, as I did, but did not gain experience of the countryside until a later age than I did.

This book should be essential reading for anyone considering writing for children. Parents and teachers may also find it invaluable as an overview of children’s literature.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

This prompt from Post-40 Bloggers appealed to me, perhaps because as a child I was always nonplussed by the question: What do you want to be when you grow up? As an adult, I don’t think it is a particularly helpful question. Some questions, which might be more helpful in leading a young person to choose a suitable career include:-

What are your favourite subjects and your hobbies?

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

My own experience of being asked the question in the title resulted in some memorable exchanges. The first was when someone asked me shortly after a family outing to Bertram Mills’ Circus at Olympia. I replied, “A trapeze artiste”. The horrified expression on my mother’s face said it all! I think she had something to say about it as well.

Later on my ambition was to be a writer. This did not go down well with my family either. A relative, who had been an English teacher, produced her copy of ‘The Young Visiters’ by Daisy Ashford aged nine. Her implied message was: if you can write like this, then perhaps! I was twelve. Other reasons not to pursue a career in writing were that self-employed writing didn’t pay enough to live on and I hadn’t a tough enough skin to be a journalist. It would have been considered impudent of me to voice my opinion that someone, who had a degree in English and was not working outside the home, ought to be writing for fun if for no other reason.

The fact that I had produced a ‘school magazine’ with a friend, including pictures from magazines alongside writing and puzzles we devised ourselves, when we were both ten years old, seemed to have been overlooked.

I was more fortunate than many young people in the careers advice, which was available in the area where I grew up. At the state girls’ school I attended from the age of eleven, there were regular visits from people, who told us about the kinds of things we should take into consideration, when choosing a job or a career. Did we want to work indoors or outside in all weathers? With animals or children? I remember a talk about the General Post Office (GPO) as it was then and the range of employment that the Post Office and telephone service provided and another about the Civil Service. I also received some one-to-one advice.

Unlike someone I met later, who told me she had become a teacher, because the only professional people she had met were teachers, I had also met at least one accountant, architect, civil servant, engineer, probation officer, stock-broker and a few clergy. I was happy to be able to eliminate Vicar from my list of possible careers as at that time women were not allowed to be fully-fledged clergy. (I didn’t consider being a deaconess or a nun.)

I spent many a free lunchtime in the tiny careers room browsing the lists of courses offered by universities all over England. The A-levels required for each were set out. The range of choice was bewildering.

After making various decisions and gaining some qualifications, I ended up with a challenging job, where some writing was required. I had made most of my decisions before someone made me aware that God is able to guide us to make good decisions if we ask. (Sometimes we can be guided without being aware of it.)

It is only since I left paid employment that I have been free to pursue my own interests in writing. The lack of encouragement from my family and the fact that I did not gain as good grades at O-level in English as in most other subjects has not helped my confidence in writing-related matters. My next step ought to be to move on from being a blogger to being an author. Then I might consider myself properly grown-up!

Looking back over my experience, I would advise any young person to consider the interests they had by the age of ten, twelve or (at the latest) before they have to choose between subjects for examinations. Which careers are related to those interests? Enjoyable paid work is surely best for the individual and society.


What I read in September 2018 (Part 1)

A Sky Full of Birds: In search of Britain’s Great Bird Gatherings by Matt Merritt

I think it is true to say that I have always been interested in birds. I am not a twitcher or even a regular bird-spotter, but when there are birds about I listen to them, watch them and try to identify them. In the first interview I ever had (for a posh school, which fortunately did not offer me a scholarship place) my reply that I watched birds in my back garden, did not seem to satisfy the panel. There was a pyracanthus with berries outside our living room window and blackbirds regularly nested in it and in the hawthorn hedge. Starlings flocked to the lawn. Sparrows and occasionally other birds were also to be seen. My mother waged war against the wood pigeons as she tried to protect her vegetable crops!

A Sky Full of Birds is another library book, which appealed to me for its subject matter and for having been short-listed for the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize. Chris Packham’s endorsement, “Prose from a poet” proved to be correct. (I must remember to look at his A People’s Manifesto for Wildlife)

I found this book well-written and easy to read. I learned a lot more about birds and their habits. I recommended it to hubby, who agrees. My only disappointment with the book is that it does not have any direct link with the area where I live now, although I am within easy reach of an RSPB reserve (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and on a migration route for geese. The geographical area covered is mainly on the east side of the country. The Wirral and York are the nearest places to here as the crow flies!