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The Child That Books Built: A Life in Reading
     

The Child That Books Built: A Life in Reading

by Francis Spufford
 

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In this extended love letter to children's books and the wonders they perform, Francis Spufford makes a confession: books were his mother, his father, his school. Reading made him who he is. To understand the thrall of fiction, Spufford goes back to his earliest encounters with books, exploring such beloved classics as The Wind in the Willows, The Little

Overview

In this extended love letter to children's books and the wonders they perform, Francis Spufford makes a confession: books were his mother, his father, his school. Reading made him who he is. To understand the thrall of fiction, Spufford goes back to his earliest encounters with books, exploring such beloved classics as The Wind in the Willows, The Little House on the Prairie, and The Chronicles of Narnia. He recreates the excitement of discovery, writing joyfully of the moment when fuzzy marks on a page become words. Weaving together child development, personal reflection, and social observation, Spufford shows the force of fiction in shaping a child: how stories allow for escape from pain and mastery of the world, how they shift our boundaries of the sayable, how they stretch the chambers of our imagination.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Exhilarating. . .It's a brilliant book, beautifully written, its insights hard-earned, filled with stuff that will make you understand a whole lot better your own life in reading.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Ambitious. . .His enthusiasm for this material is often charming. . .Spufford is at his best recalling his bookish discoveries.” —Newsday (New York)

“Francis Spufford lures us in to reveal the original power of books--as landscapes, as spurs to inwardness, as the very crucibles in which the self is formed. He is the addict's unrepentant confession, poignant, witty, and true in the way that every real reader will recognize instantly.” —Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies

Publishers Weekly
In this often incisive childhood memoir, a British journalist and award-winning author (I May Be Some Time) recreates his early reading itinerary and pinpoints the universal experiences of the constant young reader. Most important, he understands the escape that books offer a child "More than I wanted books to do anything else, I wanted them to take me away," he writes. He follows with musings on the particular effects created by the books he encountered: the ecstasy and longing of C.S. Lewis's Narnia chronicles, the community created in the Little House on the Prairie series (here Spufford offers interesting asides on how daughter Rose Wilder Lane's arch-conservative politics shaped her mother's books, which she helped write), and the "godsend," at a certain age, of science fiction, particularly that of Ursula Le Guin. Discussions of the ideas of Bettelheim, C.S. Lewis and others are serviceable but pale in effect beside rich evocations of communions with books, such as the pleasing power of libraries, the comfort of reliable Puffin Books, the experience of reading "faster than my understanding had grown" and the inevitable moment when a young reader reaches the "saturation point" and must move beyond children's books. Moments of literary discovery (even for "one-handed" reading of porn) are offered concisely. Readers will luxuriate in the memories of being consumed by books and the ways in which Spufford shows his developing talent as a reader. (Oct. 8) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
"I need fiction. I'm an addict," confesses Spufford, a British journalist and critic. Few will dispute the sincerity of this confession after following this autobiographical journey of an obsessive reading life, which Spufford began as an escape from the envy and pity he felt toward his seriously ill younger sister. To Spufford, reading is a way of balancing the real-world experience of incident with a controlled, or "piped," experience and is the force that shaped his values, imagination, self-understanding, and personality. With humor and passion, he chronicles reading experiences and the impact of books by authors such as William Mayne, Peter Dickinson, Alan Garner, Jill Paton Walsh, Kenneth Grahame, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Jane Austen. Spufford connects his personal development through reading with research and theories in child development, cognitive psychology, language development, and literary criticism. This is a boldly honest, enlightened, and enlightening testimony of the power of reading that all librarians and other educators should read. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.-Jeris Cassel, Rutgers Univ. Libs., New Brunswick, NJ Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In his first book (I May Be Some Time, 1997), journalist Spufford won acclaim for examining the English imagination; now he illuminates his own with verve and intimacy. To call the author bookish is to call a python a mere reptile. Spufford admits to being simultaneously obsessed, enslaved, and enraptured by the idea of fiction from the time he apprehended his first story from a picture book spread out on a nearby adult lap. And while his writing has every bit as much conviction as flair, the reader needn't take Spufford's word alone on the power of books over young minds; he marshals Bettelheim, Piaget, and other child-development pioneers for support. His point: the story is the most efficient form in which to package the essential cognitive material we all need in order to confront life. For example, a 1970s study cited found that about 70 percent of two-year-olds could distinguish storytelling conventions from other forms of adult speech. How the process worked and continues to work with Spufford himself is the main theme here, however, and it's anatomized with wit and incisiveness. Reflecting years later on Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, for instance, he sees the ending (Max returns from the imagined jungle to find the supper he was denied as punishment waiting in his bedroom, "and it was still hot") as unsatisfying since it "took away the risk from it all." Arriving at age 13 vaguely aware that he should begin reading more adult material, Spufford amusingly recounts his disappointment with classic English novels and the gnawing desperation of his search for a personal genre until he discovered science fiction in the nick of time. Later experiments with print porn didn't bearmuch fruit, but Kerouac and the Beats satisfyingly stoked his "anarchist days" at university. A brilliant personal view of why we read and why we should.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312421847
Publisher:
Picador
Publication date:
12/01/2003
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
616,947
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.51(d)

Meet the Author

Francis Spufford is also the author of I May Be Some Time (Picador). He was named Sunday Times (London) Young Writer of the Year and received the 1997 Somerset Maugham and Writers' Guild Awards. He lives in London.

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