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The Child That Books Built: A Life in Reading Hardcover – October 8, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; 1st edition (October 8, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805072152
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805072150
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,596,766 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From 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.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From 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 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

I'm a writer of non-fiction who is creeping up gradually on writing novels. I write slowly and I always move to new subject-matter with each book, because I want to be learning something fresh every time, both in terms of encountering history and people and thinking which are new to me, and also in the sense of trying out a new way of writing. My idea of a good project is one that I can only just manage. I've written a memoir of my childhood as a compulsive reader, an analysis of the British obsession with polar exploration, a book about engineers which is also a stealth history of Britain since 1945, and a fusion of history with novel called "Red Plenty", about the USSR in the early 1960s. My next book will complete my slow crabwise crawl into fiction by being an honest-to-goodness entirely made-up story, without a footnote in sight. But before that, I have out a short polemic about religion called "Unapologetic". Despite the impression given by some of the reactions to it, it isn't, in fact, an attack on atheism, a position I have no trouble at all respecting. I am a little rude and a little mocking to the likes of Richard Dawkins - but it seems to me that when it comes to the lived experience of faith, Dawkins and co. are, as they say, not even wrong. So, though the book begins at the familiar address where the bust-up over religion has been going on for a decade now, it then goes entirely elsewhere, to try to convey to readers of all persuasions what Christianity feels like from the inside: actual Christianity, rather than the conjectural caricature currently in circulation. The book isn't an argument than Christianity is true, because how could anyone know that? It's only an attempt to show that it is recognisable, in ordinary human terms - made up of the shared emotions of ordinary adult life, rather than taking place in some special and simple-minded zoo. There is a tumblr for the book at unapologetic-book.tumblr.com.

(Oh, biography. I was born in 1964, I'm married with a seven-year-old daughter, and I teach on the MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths College, London.)

Customer Reviews

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I read this book in 2003, the year after it was first published.
Jennifer Cameron-Smith
As others have stated, there is a lot of academic discussion here, and some very in-depth analysis of the stories that shaped Spufford's reading experiences.
Graceann Macleod
This is a book I wish I'd written myself, and anyone who loves children's fiction or who wants their child to read should buy it.
A. Craig

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
For me, a 34 year old British guy, one of the most interesting parts was seeing just how my childhood reading overlapped with Francis Spufford's. His re-reading has spurred me on to do the same and I'm enjoying taking a fresh look at my old favorites.
This is not a light-hearted read, though. This is a fairly academic exercise, picking the books he read as a child and really analyzing them as to how they affected his development. Do not expect a romp through the books, expect a detailed, studied analysis.
The writing, though, is beautiful. Francis knows how to read well and how to write better! Mingling a little bit of autobiography, Francis breaks the books down into various categories. Some, like the Narnia chronicles, get full chapters to themselves. Some, like the Swallows & Amazons tales, get mentioned in passing.
If you are at all interested in how childhood books affect our adulthood, read this book. At the very least, it might inspire you to embark of the same odyssey.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A. Craig on February 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a book I wish I'd written myself, and anyone who loves children's fiction or who wants their child to read should buy it. Spufford's loves - Narnia, The Little House on the Prairie, Ursula le Guin etc will be shared by many, but few will describe so beautifully the feeling of learning to read The Hobbit, or of the way books act as "mood altering substances". The essays on individual authors are excellent, but his evocation of a chilhood sheltered by books while his sister was slowly dying of kidney illness, and how his reading changed as he grew up and out of paradise is one that will strike a chord with many.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
I read this book in 2003, the year after it was first published.

While I read some of the same books as Francis Spufford, my real interest in this book was in discovering someone else for whom reading was such an important part of growing up.

Reading can be such a solitary pursuit, especially where it is an escape route, that why we read what we read is sometimes not much discussed. The adult level analysis that Francis Spufford applies to his childhood reading will appeal to some more than others. I enjoyed it because I like the idea of revisiting some of the journeys of childhood and trying to identify some of the influences on the adult I now am.

I bought this book in hardcover because I know it is a book I want to keep, to refer back to, and perhaps to share.

Highly recommended to all who read.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Graceann Macleod on January 26, 2008
Format: Paperback
Even though I am a few years younger than Mr. Spufford, he and I started reading at just about the same time. His rendition of the discovery of the magic of words on a page is the best I have ever read, and the first that directly connects with my own experience. Even all these many years later, I still remember how amazing it was when those strange marks on paper came together to form... a STORY. Spufford's description of this journey is lyrical, magical and such that I wish to put most of his first chapter in my favorite quotes page.

From here, he goes into the books that shaped his reading habits as an adult: C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and many others. His frustration at being "in between" children's books and adult fiction is palpable, and his discovery of, um, one-handed reading for adult men, is hilarious.

As others have stated, there is a lot of academic discussion here, and some very in-depth analysis of the stories that shaped Spufford's reading experiences. Some of those portions can be very dry, but I still give this five stars because the rest of it, the best of it, when Spufford discusses his own reading experiences, is pure magic.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on February 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
Francis Spufford, winner of the 1997 Somerset Maugham and Writers' Guild awards, has ably written The Child That Books Built: A Life In Reading, a tribute to the enduring message and power of children's books and how they shaped his life from his early years onward. Fondly reflecting on such classics as "The Wind in the Willows", "The Little House on the Prairie", and the Narnia chronicles, The Child That Books Built is a memorable and inspiring testimony to the wonder of books and the many universes they unlock for the wondering mind of a literate child.
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