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Laura, Louisa and Me

Laura, Louisa and Me

The Child that Books Built is the title of a memoir by Francis Spufford which explores the impact of books read in childhood by interspersing an account of Spufford’s own reading with excursions into history, philosophy and psychology. It beautifully articulates the formative nature of childhood literary exploration. ‘The words we take into ourselves help to shape us,’ Spufford writes. ‘They help form the questions we think are worth asking; they shift around the boundaries of the sayable inside us . . . They build and stretch and build again the chambers of our imagination.’
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At Home with the Pewters

At Home with the Pewters

I’m bound to admit that some of the experiences, and also, for heavens’ sake, the attitudes of the ‘pathetic ass who records his trivial life’ (as William Emrys Williams put it in his introduction to the Penguin edition of 1945), seem embarrassingly close to my own. Mr Pooter may have lived more than a hundred years ago – just up the road from where I live now, as it happens, in a house, er, rather similar to mine – but his psychology is timeless.
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Too Much of a Good Thing

Too Much of a Good Thing

I see Frances Wood in that great tradition of intrepid British women explorers, like Mary Kingsley and Gertrude Bell. She sets out for China in 1975, when the Cultural Revolution is still going strong, and soon she is hacking a path through impenetrable jungles of revolutionary doctrine and jargon. Now she is gamely slogging across arid deserts of boredom and hours of improving lectures about the heroic deeds and shining examples of simple peasants. There are a hundred discomforts and irritations to be endured. To the natives she is a figure of curiosity; they stare and point and they don’t accept her. Like her explorer predecessors, she is indomitable, but in her case it is because of her heroic sense of humour and her eye for the absurd. Hand-Grenade Practice in Peking – her account of the year she spent as a student first at the Foreign Languages Institute in Peking and then at Peking University – is a very funny book.
A Personal Landscape

A Personal Landscape

Every reader of Wainwright will have his or her favourite passages: if nothing else the sequence is a monument to the self-effacing whimsy of a modest man. Enthusiasts point to the dedications of the different volumes, for example – The Eastern Fells ‘to the men of the Ordnance Survey’, The Southern Fells ‘to the sheep of Lakeland’, The North Western Fells ‘to those unlovely twins, my right leg and my left leg. Staunch supporters which have carried me about for over half a century, endured without complaint. And never once let me down.’ Again and again, the lovingly pastoral tone is enlivened by a wry (and occasionally macabre) humour.
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