Tag Archives: George MacDonald

The Best Books for … giving

On my ninth birthday my grandfather gave to me a copy of At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald. I chiefly remember it because less than a month later I went off to boarding school and that book and my teddy bear (8 years old) seemed to be the only things that remained to me from my former life. No matter that the illustrations by Arthur Hughes were scary and the hero and his horse are both called Diamond, it was a comforting book to me.

This post focuses on books that have been important presents.

Gift for friends

The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane (2017)

I went through a phase of giving this book to many of my friends who I knew to be readers. It’s a beautiful little book with a lovely message and does what it says. It is a celebration of the gifts of giving, and the gifts that come from books and reading. It speaks of transformative gifts from and to other readers. Robert Macfarlane lists five books that he gives away again and again:

  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  • A Time of Gifts by Leigh Fermor
  • The Peregrine by JA Baker
  • The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd

I gave this little book to a friend. Soon after she gave me a copy of the Nan Shepherd. See what he means?

Holloway by Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood and Dan Richards (2014)

This too is a delightful book, full of the pleasures of sunken paths and exploring these features with friends in Dorset. It’s the best kind of nature writing for it invites you right in. There are a few holloways around me in Devon that should be investigated.

The Gift by Lewis Hyde (1983)

Gifts can be talents, and this book is a celebration of creative work. Lewis Hyde suggests improved ways of valuing and circulating creative work in society. The Theory of Gifts leads him to some socially transformative ideas. A friend of mine says it is a book she often gives people, especially writers.

The Golden Treasury of English Verse edited by Francis Turner Palgrave (1861)

Poetry books can make good presents for people you know. My penfriend on Death Row in Potosi, Missouri, USA and I wrote about our favourite poems. Before they banned gifts of books, I sent him a copy of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury of English Verse. We shared the discovery of many verses. (And yes, he was executed).

Better Fetch a Chair by me (2018)

Over the years I have given away copies of books I have written, or contributed to. (Note to potential recipients: contrary to the popular idea writers do not get hundreds of free or cheap copies for distribution. They need the income from royalties anyway.).

Last Christmas I gave copies to friends and relations of my recently published collection of short stories: Better Fetch a Chair. It didn’t help the sales, see above, but I got a great deal of positive feedback. And copies are still available at £5 + £1 p+p. Just  email me if you want a copy: lodgecm@gmail.com

You can read an account of publishing the book on a post from January 2019: My New Bookish Project.

Book Tokens

And I give lots of people book tokens. They can choose a book they want, at the time they want. 

And I give lots of people reverse book tokens, which means that other people who really need books are provided with them by Book Aid International. You can find out more on their website: https://bookaid.org

Gifts for me

And this Christmas I was given some wonderful books:

Circe by Madeline Miller. I enjoyed The Song of AchillesCirce was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2019. I expect it to be a good read.

Call them by their True Names by Rebecca Solnit. A collection of essays by an American writer of great quality and thoughtfulness. How Bookish People can have Hope in Dark Days was a post I wrote a few years ago.

Judith Kerr by Joanna Carey. These last two were from my daughter who knows a thing or two about me, and with whom I shared the tiger who came to tea. Judith Kerr died in May.

Best Books for …

This was my second post in an ad hoc series which will all begin The best book for …  Some other ideas are … reading in translation; … recommending to book groups; … taking on holiday; … when I am ill in bed; and so on. The first was The Best Books for … changing my life in December 2019.

Over to you

So what titles would you add to the possibilities of the best books for giving?


Filed under Books, Books for children, poetry, Reading, The Best Books for ...

Bookworm: a Memoir of childhood reading by Lucy Mangan

What is this strange pleasure of reading about people’s reading habits? It’s as good as talking with people about books and reading, and yet it has its own pleasures. In writing about her childhood reading obsession, Lucy Mangan has captured much of what I felt as a child as I escaped again and again into books. She has also given me some new books to read and so provided some new pleasures in anticipation.


Lucy Mangan describes the pleasures of discovering books and being read to, and takes us all the way through her reading historyto her late teenage years. She focuses on book for children, but I am sure she would be as interesting on the subject of adult reading. I hope she will write more.

From the very first, reading was her chief pleasure, shared with her father and indulged in in the public and school libraries of her childhood. Brought up in Catford in the 1980s, she read all the books I read plus those that my daughter read.

She too had an Enid Blyton binge and loved Noel Streatfield and noticed the large output of the Pulleins. My own Enid Blyton binge lasted about two months. I had been sent away to boarding school when I discovered a huge collection of her stories on the shelves of Judy Lovell who had not yet joined us after the holidays because she was ill. Her absence allowed me to wallow. We had a theory about how these books were churned out, and it turns out we were not far off the idea of the Sweet Valley High production line.

She [Francine Pascal] is named as author of the first two of what would become a 143-strong core series plus innumerable spin-offs. The rest were entirely produced by a host of freelance ghostwriters.  … They used a bible (notes on themes, character, settings, and so on, compiled by Pascal) to ensure consistency, and worked to outlines she provided. They were a band of typing postgrad monkeys stretching from sea to shining sea, producing for a fixed fee 140 pages every six to eight weeks. (284)

We believed that that was exactly how Enid Blyton produced so many repetitive books, only I think we believed her writers were elves.

She found some books that I have not read: for example The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster – and spurred on by her I believe it should be read. It was only published in 1961 and I might have thought I was too old for it.

Other delights she refers to I only discovered in my 30s. I came across MacDonalds, Charlotte’s Web and The BFG. My pleasure in finding the chips and the milkshakes has not endured, but my delight in EB White’s classic spider/pig story and all of Roald Dahl has lasted well. Not only did I share it with my daughter but Roald Dahl’s books are a favourite with my grandchildren.

In her assessment of her reading material and habits she explores the importance of reading to children, to develop a sense of change, otherness and other worlds. And, of course, the importance of libraries to support these.

Once a bookworm …

There is so much pleasure to revisit here and with such an accomplished and amusing writer. I’ve wanted to read this since I first saw it announced.

It has reminded me how I want to reread books, many from my childhood. And to reclaim others, such as At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald, a book that frightened and enthralled me at the same time. The illustrations (I think they were by Arthur Rackham) terrified me. It was a gift from my grandfather and I treasured it through the first months of my life at boarding school.

And, unlike Lucy Mangan, I loved historical fiction, especially Rosemary Sutcliff and Henry Treece before moving on to Georgette Heyer. Like her, I read every moment I could, especially with a torch under the bedclothes at night, or in the toilet. It was there that I consumed most of Oliver Twist and even today can never contemplate Dickens without thinking of the cold floor and the ridge on my cold bottom.

Perhaps I’ll institute a new series on Bookword: rereading childhood favourites. What do you think? And what would you recommend?

Bookworm: a Memoir of childhood reading by Lucy Mangan. Published in 2018 as a hardback by Square Peg 322pp

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Filed under Books, Books for children, Libraries, Reading