Penguin guest contributor, journalist and bibliophile Lucy Mangan, confesses her sins to literature with the children’s classics she’s not read (yet). Join us on Twitter and let us know yours using #IHaveNeverRead.
Hmm. Well. You know…I had been hoping we’d have a bit longer to get to know each other, forge a bond, find some common ground, shared interests, have a few laughs and all that before we moved into the confessional stage but events have outpaced us. We are about to begin Puffin’s #IHaveNeverRead (or, if you are not on Twitter or if you are simply a devotee of traditional layout and punctuation, Puffin’s I Have Never Read) campaign, designed to promote honesty, purge our sins of omission and encourage us to pick up the books we have somehow just never quite got around to reading.
And this includes children’s books – the classics you perhaps didn’t manage to read at the “right” time and so have ignored ever since. Maybe you were put off by the cover. Maybe you tried the first few pages and didn’t like it, or found it too difficult and assumed (as children will, living in the ever-present as they do) that this would always be the case. Or maybe – especially in the pre-internet age – you simply didn’t know a book existed.
My own back catalogue is far from complete. For example, Puffin has just re-issued 20 children’s classics and for all the above reasons and more – including a deep prejudice as irrational as it was unyielding against anything that involved animals as main characters, especially if they talked – I must confess to having not read:
Black Beauty, The Jungle Book, Wind in the Willows, Call of the Wild (because of the animal thing), Treasure Island (thought it was a boys’ book), Roger Lancelyn Green’s Tales of the Greek Heroes and King Arthur (existence unknown to me – though I had gone cross-eyed at the complexity of his The Tale of Troy and I suspect that Arthur and Agamemnon would have foundered on the rocks of my inexperience too), Heidi and Journey to the Centre of the Earth (saw them on TV. I never liked to mix media streams. If I’d read something, I didn’t like to see it on screen and vice versa.)
So – the spines of nearly half of a canonical selection have gone uncracked by me out of a mixture of luck, idiosyncratic bias, internalised bigotry, sexism and stupidity. Looking back, I almost admire myself for getting this far in life when I was clearly such an idiot. It must have been the other 11 out of 20 that saved me.
The point is, of course, that this is all a madness. None of these things should ever have stopped me reading any book. And while there may very well be an ideal time to read a book – any point before you’re 18, I’d hazard, when you are still receptive enough to absorb it effortlessly into your soul and carry it with you forevermore – it does not follow that there is ever a wrong time. How can there be a bad time to make good a lack? I only got round to Huck Finn at university, re-tried Anne of Green Gables (La Shirley’s perceived tweeness making me sick as a child) at 25, and read Geraldine McCaughrean’s The Odyssey a few years ago when I was desperately trying to plug other (classical mythology-shaped) holes in my education.
In short – go for it, any time. If you didn’t like the cover of your library’s copy of Peter Pan, let it hold you back no longer. If you thought A Little Princess stank, see if your nose for unabashed Victorianadrama has improved since. Me, I’m going to give Black Beauty another try even though everything in me still quails as hard as it did when I was 12 at the thought of a horse’s autobiography. It’s been gallopingly popular now for 136 years. Let’s see if I’ve become less of an idiot over the last 28.
Follow Lucy on Twitter @LucyMangan. Visit the Puffin Books Pinterest to see the the whole range of Puffin Classics, and join Lucy in confessing which you haven’t read on Twitter using #IHaveNeverRead.
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