Bookworming my way through 2020

Happy new year! I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s pretty brutal out there right now. 2020 is going to need some serious self-soothing and we’re only eight days in… It’s good and important to be aware of what’s going on in the world, but it’s important if you can- and you need to- take a break from the news. Add to this the added expectations of new years’ resolutions and it all seems that we’re in a permanent state of anxiety and a never ending discussion of how to make ourselves feel better. (Although to be honest my main resolution seems to be ‘make more pies’, so I’m not exactly Gwyneth Paltrow.)

Last year, on a whim, I bought a beautiful hardback copy of The Secret Garden. I have a bit of a thing for very nice, yet relatively inexpensive hardback copies of classics. I was, I decided, going to save it for when I was feeling my anxiety creep up and revisit a favourite from my childhood. In this vein I have also picked up three more classic books I loved as a small girl- Heidi, A Little Princess and Little Women (even though I can’t even remember if I liked the book much as a kid, or whether my A-level Media Studies essay comparing the 1994 film of Little Women with The Virgin Suicides ruined the story for me.) I’m not going to lie to you, either- I bought the latter three purely because they have beautiful covers designed by Anna Bond of Paper Rifle- apparently you can get a copy of Alice in Wonderland and Anne of Green Gables also. I have my eye on a very nice edition of The Borrowers, too, mainly because a) the compendium of novels given to me by my Grandma for Christmas the year the stories were adapted for the BBC remains one of my favourite presents ever and also b) as a small ginger child with limited role models, Arietty was the OG.

But. Those books also hold very strong emotional memories, something I’m revisiting by reading Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading, which I pre-ordered ages ago and then didn’t get round to reading until now- proving my belief that every book has its Martine McCutcheon-esque perfect moment. I remember reading all of those books in cheap volumes collected from one of those part-works which came with a magazine (discarded), each book bound in faux leather with oft-smudged type printed on very thin paper. I loved them.

Life wasn’t always easy- home could be difficult and I was badly bullied at school- so I was quite drawn to stories about little girls with hard lives, even if I seriously doubted whether I would ever be the benefactor of a mysteriously well-timed windfall. I remember being mesmerised by the thought of goat’s milk in Heidi (god, that was a disappointment, as an adult. Johanna Spyri really sold me a number on how delicious that was.) and obsessed with the idea of a garden of my own, which I fully attribute the fact I have a garden and an allotment to. I even have my own robins which follow me round, unimpressed. Just call me Mary, yeah?

So why am I writing about these novels, now? Mainly because I think, like the Lucy Mangan book, for me these books’ time is now. I need escapism again, but this time from the wider world. I’m curious to see how I respond to the books as an adult with my own child (did I really love Little Women, or no?) So, aside from making pies, I’m going to make 2020 the year I revisit the books I loved so much and that meant so much to me. I’m hoping that I find some of the same comfort in the stories again. I think it’s also important that I never taught any of these novels, so they have a position in my brain where they are linked purely for enjoyment and escape- and I have a feeling that we’re going to need a lot of both to get through the early months of what already feels like a turbulent year.

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