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.
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.
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.
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.
More about the author
'Passionate, witty, informed, and gloriously opinionated' Jacqueline Wilson
'I felt like this was written just for me, and I think everyone will feel this way' Jenny Colgan
'Beautiful and moving... It will kickstart a cascade of nostalgia for countless people' Marian Keyes
When Lucy Mangan was little, stories were everything. They opened up new worlds and cast light on all the complexities she encountered in this one.
She was whisked away to Narnia – and Kirrin Island – and Wonderland. She ventured down rabbit holes and womble burrows into midnight gardens and chocolate factories. She wandered the countryside with Milly-Molly-Mandy, and played by the tracks with the Railway Children. With Charlotte’s Web she discovered Death and with Judy Blume it was Boys. No wonder she only left the house for her weekly trip to the library or to spend her pocket money on amassing her own at home.
In Bookworm, Lucy revisits her childhood reading with wit, love and gratitude. She relives our best-beloved books, their extraordinary creators, and looks at the thousand subtle ways they shape our lives. She also disinters a few forgotten treasures to inspire the next generation of bookworms and set them on their way.
Lucy brings the favourite characters of our collective childhoods back to life – prompting endless re-readings, rediscoveries, and, inevitably, fierce debate – and brilliantly uses them to tell her own story, that of a born, and unrepentant, bookworm.