Thursday, 4 March 2021

What made me want to read

It's World Book Day today, and there's an awful lot on Twitter relating to it. My favourite so far has been from Kirsten Irving (@KofTheTriffids), who has posted about some of the books that sparked her love of reading as a child. I'm about to shamelessly steal the idea here.

I can't honestly remember much of what I read when I first learned, except for Angela Banner's Ant and Bee books, but as I got older I became a voracious reader. Non-fiction, for a start. I used to virtually memorise Playfair Cricket and Football Annuals each year, and of course there were bird books. My grandmother bought me an RSPB guide, which had great artwork and short, pithy species accounts, some of which I remember to this day. A while ago, I dug it out, and found that it was written by David Saunders, who is a monthly contributor to Bird Watching, the magazine I now edit. 

When it came to fiction, I read The Hobbit on the recommendation of a friend, and loved it, and went on to The Lord of the Rings, and loved that too. But one book that really stands out in the memory was a slimmish volume that I got out of Coalville Library.

It was called The Goalkeeper's Revenge, a collection of short stories for kids by Bill Naughton (probably better known for his play Alfie, which was turned into the Michael Caine film). Set mainly in 1930s Lancashire (although at least one story was set in Ireland), it was both extremely readable, and yet full of period and local detail that could have been daunting but that just made you want to know more.

One of the things that still sticks in the memory from it was the food. There's one story where some boys go to a fair, and ponder what to spend their few pennies on. Half of them come down on the side of food (a reminder that in a 30s mill town, having enough to eat wasn't a given), and buy roast potatoes, and hot black peas.

In another story, about a deaf friend of the narrator, there are meat pies that still spring to mind even now, every time I see, let alone eat, a pie.

I have no idea if it's still in print, but I'd imagine there are plenty of secondhand copies around, as it was a favourite in libraries and school libraries. It stands up well even reading it as an adult, and I suspect kids now would love it just as much as I did then, because what rings most true about it is the way that kids talk and behave.

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