Inspiration for my June reading project came from a fellow editor’s tweet that she was reading Tom’s Midnight Garden. It brought back memories of all the books I had enjoyed in my childhood. As an only child I loved reading and the characters in my favourite books were my imaginary playmates. In addition to spending most of my Christmas and birthday money on books, I also spent a lot of time in the local library. This was in the day when my parents would not think twice about allowing me to cycle a couple of miles on my own to get there. I had a voracious appetite for words and my literary tastes ranged from The Famous Five, Mallory Towers and any book with a horse on the cover to Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle.
Favourite childhood classics
I had a collection of the children’s classics of the time that I read over and over again: The Railway Children, The Little Princess, Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, all the Narnia books, Black Beauty, Coral Island, Treasure Island, and the Moomin series. One of the dearest early memories of my father is him reading the House at Pooh Corner to me whenever I was ill in bed, and using different voices for each character – especially his squeaky Piglet voice.
I came across a BBC Culture blog about the hidden messages in children’s books, and I decided it would be fun to re-read some of my many childhood favourites. I had to start with Tom’s Midnight Garden. Written by Philippa Pearce in 1958, the book was awarded the Carnegie Medal by the Library Association. My childhood memory is not of reading the book, although I must have done, but of watching it on TV, probably the 1974 BBC serialisation. The story is a magical tale of time travel and friendship. The prose is beautiful, so I won’t give away any of the plot, just encourage you to read it.
June reading list
A garden also featured in the second book on my list, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I read this countless times as a child, it was one of my favourites, and I enjoyed it once again. Written earlier than Tom, in 1910, this story has a touch of the empire, class and aristocracy, as has the author’s other well-known book, The Little Princess (it was a toss-up which one I read). One of the plot themes is re-generation – of the orphan heroine, Mary Lennox, the abandoned walled garden and the dysfunctional Craven family. Again, this was serialised by the BBC in 1975 so I am sure this was another childhood influence.
Next, I read the timeless Canadian classic Anne of Green gables. This was written by L M Montgomery around the same time as The Secret Garden. It’s another tale of an orphan made good, with lots of emphasis on the healthy outdoors. Gardens, the countryside and nature play an important part in all of the books. It’s notable that the heroes and heroines of the stories are usually left to their own devices, for entertainment and friendships, and all relish the opportunity to be outdoors. The Railway Children by E Nesbitt is no exception, as the railway line and surrounding countryside provide the backdrop for the three protagonists’ adventures. My final book was my all-time favourite The Wind in the Willows, the enigmatic tale of life on the riverbank with Ratty, Mole, Badger, and, of course, Toad of Toad Hall. The book was listed at number 38 of the top 100 best novels written in English in The Guardian. I enjoyed all of these books and certainly didn’t feel that I was reading things that had been written specifically for children.
My previous report on the editor’s reading list covered January to March. However, I wasn’t idle in April and May – I managed a total of six books, one in English and five in French. Just for the record, the titles were: Dans la peau de Coventry by Sue Townsend, Le Cercle Littéraire des amateurs d’épluchures de patates by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows, Rien ne s’oppose a la nuit by Delphine de Vigan, Désolée, je suis attendee by Agnès Martin-Lugand, Elle et Lui by Marc Levy and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. It’s interesting to see that I’m already way ahead of the number of books I’d read this time last year. One reason for this is that I recently joined a virtual book group, and there is nothing like having to report on what you’re reading or discussing books with other people to motivate your reading mojo. I’ll be looking at motivation in next week’s blog. In the meantime, let me know what books you’ve enjoyed reading last quarter.