09 February 2018

I Capture the Castle

Dodie Smith

Strictly speaking, this book re-made me a bookworm. I read it first only 15 years ago, when the release of the film version brought it to my attention. It sounded perfect – an eccentric, impoverished family living in a decaying castle whose 1930's life is recorded in a dreamy, bookish teenage girl’s diary? How had I missed this in my youth? SIGN ME UP. And it was perfect. I read, at the age of 28, as if I were a child again; in a headlong rush, with nothing else existing except the Mortmains and Cassandra’s eggs for tea. It was, and remains, the most glorious and restorative treat.

 

The Secret Garden

Frances Hodgson Burnett

I would still give anything to find a secret garden. The peace and privacy that so appealed to me when I was little and surrounded by noisy children all day at school appeals even more now that I am beset on all sides by rotten adult responsibilities and Twitter. I would also like to have had a friend as exhilaratingly cantankerous as Mary at such a young age, and one as knowledgeable as Dickon about nature lore. It was my first lesson in the allure of any expertise. Their slow but steady work in bringing the garden back to life thrilled me to the marrow. Such a perfect mix of patience, purpose and reward – the seeds of love it has sowed for generations flourish still.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

Joan Aiken

This was my first experience of world-building, as Joan Aiken carefully, deliciously constructed her alternative history of nineteenth century England (with King James III on the throne and a tunnel between England and France) in which to set the adventures of Sylvia and Bonny as they flee their cruel guardian – oh, how I have always loved a cruel guardian, in everything from Mandy comic strips to A Little Princess! – Miss Slighcarp. For me, as for most children, fiction always assumed a huge reality for me but Wolves provided another level of immersion. Even at the advanced age of nine, I realised, there were still deeper joys to be found in books.

Charlotte’s Web

E.B. White

Did you know that books can even take you to other countries?

I did not, until I read the story of Wilbur the pig saved from the slaughterhouse by his valiant spider friend Charlotte. They lived in a barn in America, but the new physical territory covered was as nothing to the mental terrain it opened up for me. Those of you who know the book, or who are simply aware of what happens to spiders of a certain age, will know. For the rest of you – I will not speak of it. You need to be in the sure and capable hands of E.B. White to survive it. Godspeed.

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