The Child That Books Built: A Life in Reading

Overview

A wise and tender tribute to childhood reading and the power of fiction

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 ...

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2002 Hard cover First edition. 1st printing New in new dust jacket. 224 p.

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Overview

A wise and tender tribute to childhood reading and the power of fiction

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 Narnia chronicles. He re-creates the excitement of discovery, writing joyfully of the moment when fuzzy marks on a page become words, which then reveal . . . a dragon. 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 for mastery of the world, how they shift our boundaries of the sayable, how they stretch the chambers of our imagination.

Fired by humanity, curiosity, and humor, The Child That Books Built confirms Spufford as a profound and original thinker, evoking in the process the marvel of reading as if for the first time.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Praise for I May Be Some Time:

"Shot through with crystalline brilliance."
-Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World

"Spufford demonstrates that with this book, just as with the endeavors of the polar pioneers, the journey is worth it for its own sake."
-Robert R. Harris, The New York Times Book Review

The New Yorker
It is refreshing, when so many disquisitions on the pleasures of reading have a smug, cozy tone, to hear Spufford describe himself as an "addict" and wonder why reading is more socially sanctioned than video games. This is followed by an account of his childhood reading, from "The Hobbit," at age six, to Ursula K. Le Guin and beyond. Spufford intersperses his survey with excursions on what psychologists and cognitive scientists have managed to deduce about the way children think, and these insights in turn inform his own memories. Spufford believes he became a book addict because of the severe illness of his younger sister. Readers might have liked to hear more about this; that we don't is the natural corollary of his desire to lose himself in books and become "just a story among stories."
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805072150
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/8/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.76 (w) x 8.56 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Francis Spufford, a London-based journalist and critic, is a contributor to Granta and The Guardian. For his first book, I May Be Some Time, he was named the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and received the 1997 Somerset Maugham and Writers' Guild Awards.

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Table of Contents

1 Confessions of an English Fiction Eater 1
2 The Forest 23
3 The Island 64
4 The Town 108
5 The Hole 149
Acknowledgments 211
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