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The Child That Books Built: A Life in Reading

3.43  ·  Rating Details ·  567 Ratings  ·  103 Reviews
In this extended love letter to children's books and the wonders they perform, Francis Spufford makes a confession: books were his mother, his father, his school. Reading made him who he is. To understand the thrall of fiction, Spufford goes back to his earliest encounters with books, exploring such beloved classics as The Wind in the Willows, The Little House on the Prair ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published December 1st 2003 by Picador (first published 2002)
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Jul 24, 2012 Nikki rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Not sure what to think about this, and not sure what I expected, only that I didn't get it. To me it wasn't really a book about books, about reading, but just a book about growing up and a nod to how books figured into that -- I thought, when I saw the title, that if I wrote an autobiography I'd have to steal the title, but... I don't know, I think Francis Spufford is talking less about how books formed and shaped him, and more about how he reacted to them, and even more about how people in ...more
Allie Riley
Aug 28, 2013 Allie Riley rated it really liked it
I noticed that many on Goodreads found this disappointing. In some respects I can understand this since the book of the title and the blurb on the back would appear not to be what is actually on the pages. There is precious little actual memoir. We are given the sketchiest of details about Spufford's life and not as much about the actual books as you might presume ought to be in such a book (although there is, obviously, a quantity of that).

The book was, however, fascinating to me for many reaso
I appreciate the effort Francis Spufford made into to describe all the psychological reasons behind reading anything from picture books to porn literature. He analysed his reading from the moment he learnt to read until his late teenage years.
It was an interesting perspective, though I think sometimes a bit far fetched. I wish there was more memoir in this memoir and less of showing off Spufford's erudition. Even though it was interesting most of the time, I felt like it was random and going now
Aug 07, 2011 Selene rated it liked it
This book started off really well, digging deeply into early children's fiction and the effect it had on the writer. I would say it was good up until his teenage years, where he became crass and self indulgent, flowing off on to different and boring tangents.
Feb 18, 2009 Barbara rated it liked it
I found parts of this book easy to read and others impossibly hard. I liked best the middle chapters when Spufford wrote in detail about his first book loves. In the chapter entitled "The Island" he writes about the Narnia books and describes beautifully his feeling of betrayal when Narnia is destroyed in the final book. In "The Town" he describes a visit to an Independence Day celebration of the "Little House" books and shows how Rose Wilder's libertarian views may have colored The Long Winter. ...more
Feb 04, 2015 ^ rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers of 1960s-1970s British childrens literature
A first hand, first class description of what it is to be a child addicted to reading. Yes, I do agree with Mr Spufford that the 1960s & 1970s did see a veritable explosion of excellent and imaginative writing for children: a Golden Age by comparison to the last thirty years. I very largely agree with his perspicacious analysis from answering questions which had not previously occurred to me (I’m uncomplicated. I just enjoy a story at the level of the story!). It’s also always pleasant to ...more
Apr 12, 2008 Lisa rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was quoted often in the little blurbs before each chapter in Inkheart and Inkspell; it made me want to read the book. The author looks back at his history with reading and books and how they affected him through his life. He is WORDY (and the bigger the words, the better), deeply and DETAILEDLY analytical and awfully hard to get through at times (I wanted to bundle up some of his big words and beat him with them!) yet I still kept reading (except towards the end when he gets into ...more
Feb 18, 2012 Mackay rated it really liked it
Not at all what I expected (what that was, I can hardly say now, having read it). A sort of memoir; a cogitation of books and reading and language; a study of philosophy; a look at the books or writers--or both--that the author loved and read at various stages of his reading life as a child... All these things, and more, written in lovely prose with deep-thought invoking ideas. One of the pleasures is comparing what books he read to those I read, how he reacted to them, and how he built the ...more
Jan 26, 2016 Lindsey rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-on-book
I have been into a "books on books" kick lately and had been recommended this book rather highly. I am a reader that will usually give a mediocre book/author I've never read before three books before I give up entirely on them. I don't think I made it half-way through this book. Not only was I disgusted with the author and his views on his own family. But was shocked at how bluntly his stated mentally and physically challenged people scared and revolted him, especially his own younger sibling, ...more
May 23, 2014 Katie rated it liked it
Shelves: pcl, reviews
I'm a sucker for Spufford's metaphor-tastic conceit, equating the different phases of his childhood reading to landscapes, but the book rather faceplants in the last section, which has none of the focus and depth of the previous parts. The Forest, The Island, The Town, The Hole. I'm not sure if he's being too coy or not coy enough? I would have liked it more if he'd just called it The Orgy - a hole implies depth and cthonic darkness to me, not fumbling adolescence. Or maybe I'm just too much a ...more
I love books about books, but I just couldn't get into this. I thought from the cover copy that it would be Spufford's thoughts and reminiscences about the books he loved growing up. Instead there was a lot of psychological stuff about what books do to children's brains. That's interesting too, but not what I thought I was going to get. I only made it maybe 50-75 pages in. I got the impression that maybe I would have enjoyed the later stuff more, but it wasn't really worth the investment for me.
Jan 20, 2011 Carolin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
I had high expectations for this one but got bored fairly quickly. Probably because I read different books as a child and because the author comes across as a know-it-all. Interesting facts about Laura Ingalls though.
May 21, 2011 Sara rated it it was ok
Not as good as I thought it would be. Great language but long and ranty-- purposeless. Thought I could learn more from it. Good to read only if you have time and want the nostalgia.
Nov 05, 2010 Leli rated it did not like it
I am about to give up just a couple of pages in. If you are not going to write a good book, you should NOT give it an intriguing title...
Mar 04, 2009 Nadine rated it did not like it
Okay, so I didn't read the last 20 pages or more. I just really didn't find the author likable.
Erin Boyington
A lifelong reading addict guides us through not only his own autobiographical journey, but also through the wild geography of children's literature, from Little House on the Prairie to Narnia and beyond.

This has to be hands-down my favorite books about the reading life, which is why I reread it this year. It's not your typical autobiography, nor your typical reading life journey. Spufford is much more interested in the movement of the human mind from childhood to adolescence, and he brings a pa
Francis Spufford’s book is uneven. I admire his intellect and the rigor of his analyses, but after I spent the last couple of weeks eagerly returning to The Child That Books Built and reminiscing about my own encounters with Narnia and the little house on the prairie, his book left me cold. He ends rather abruptly on a few summary biographical notes and his last chapter is about his late teen years and his discovery of pornographic books. Well written and thoughtfully addressed, it’s still a ...more
Dec 24, 2013 Scott rated it did not like it
Shelves: reading
A disastrously-disappointing book, made more so by the fact that I bought the book in response to recommendations I'd gotten. There's over 20 dollars down the drain, and a new book on its way to the landfill, which is something I NEVER do. I found no other proper response than to treat the book as it is: trash.

I suppose the main reason I was so thoroughly repulsed is that it took something of inestimable value to me and represented it as ultimately devoid of any meaning. Since a year before kind
Ian Smith
Jan 06, 2013 Ian Smith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Collecting Green Shield Stamps, but never having quite enough for the great gifts. Sledging treacherously with 'borrowed' beer trays on thin and muddied snow in Haw Hill Park. Watching the Woodentops and Fireball XL5 in black and white.

And sitting on the floor of the old smallpox hospital, now small-town library in Normanton, choosing with great care the three books, just three, to be handed over with great ceremony to the librarian, together with the three pale green borrower's cards. She remo
Dec 21, 2007 Tracey rated it really liked it
Shelves: libraryread
I checked this out from the library based on supergee's recommendation, but also curious to see if the author's experiences reflected my own.

Mr. Spufford not only reflects on his own reading choices as a child, but also discusses some of the psychological aspects of what children learn from books. He used books as an escape, a metaphorical forest in which he could choose to get lost. He explores the Narnia series in depth, giving his interpretation of Lewis' approach to Christianity and how, al
Apr 27, 2014 Eddie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Many fairy tales are set in vast forests ,which suggest a tale from long ago. The settings acts as a central metaphor: the forest as a place that is untainted by man where an individual can form their own life without interference or influence from others. This is the background Spufford asks us to step into.

In some of these stories children are lost in forests where there are no paths to follow and no real reference points. They are similar to the acquisition of language in the sense that Child
Feb 20, 2014 Naomi rated it it was amazing
A blend of memoir and criticism, this book describes in beautiful detail the immersive experience of childhood reading. Spufford and I are roughly contemporaneous and we read many of the same books, so I share (without being able to express in such eloquent detail) the joy. The book is divided into archetypal children's book settings: the wood, the island, the town . . . each setting is connected to a life stage and a set of books that reflect those motifs, so the wood is the place of identity ...more
Aug 05, 2011 Graceann rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
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 ...more
The two middle chapters are very good: 'The Island', on Narnia and escaping into fantasy, especially, and 'The Town' on the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and the ambivalent communities to be found in boarding schools, real and fictional.

The rest is... frustrating. Spufford's literary analysis is strong, particularly on Narnia and C. S. Lewis, which he seems to have an affinity with. He is less strong when it comes to showing how his own life circumstances impacted on his reading, or vice versa. He
Nick Davies
Feb 12, 2016 Nick Davies rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
DNF - I gave up on this, as it was unreadable to the extent that I got no pleasure from it. Though it an interesting idea to write about how the books a person reads might affect them, and though it started off interestingly with some good psychological observations about fairy stories, it rapidly became difficult to follow. The author seemed to consider a writing style of listing reference after reference to various passages of various children's books (seemingly with little relevance) with ...more
Ann Spivack
Dec 03, 2012 Ann Spivack rated it it was ok
So disappointing. My expectations submarined this book for me. I was expecting magical writing, as magical as the books that brought light into my childhood. Instead, this very academic look at a small subset of children's books feels dry, soulless, and sad. The best parts of this book are the author's own story, talking about being an older sibling to a child with a devastating illness, but those parts are few and far between.

These two sentences sum up the book's tone and purpose:

"When child ab
Eva Mitnick
Francis Spufford (what a supremely British name) was born only the year before I was and is, like me, a self-described book addict who began reading compulsively at a very early age. He discusses those books that had an early strong effect on him, from picture books like Where the Wild Things Are to The Hobbit, one of the first books he read all the way through, and discusses the circumstances of his life that may have given rise to such a reading mania. Bettelheim comes up, and Piaget - and the ...more
Apr 05, 2012 Tuck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
very nice meditations on reading, from a little ankle biter reading "the hobbit" when he was 6 to ransome to narnia to ingalls wilder to pullman to le guin to porn when he was 18 to borges and stories about stories. very insightful look into how reading works, how readers incorporate stories into their "real life" and that jolt, he says like grabbing a live wire, that delicious feeling of BEING inside the book where the characters and settings and feelings are what is real and real life maybe ...more
Irina Stoica
this was one strange book: i started reading it under the impression that it would take me on a trip among classic children's books, that it would describe the feelings I had when I was little and I put my hands on a great novel. It was only partly so: it was a roller coaster between presenting novels and those emotions a young reader has and philosophical ideas; don't get me wrong, I liked those as well, especially in the first two chapters, where language was debated at lentgh, but it simply ...more
May 24, 2013 Anna rated it it was amazing
I cannot believe I have not heard of this book before. I feel almost ashamed that I did not rush out to buy it immediately it hit the shelves. What can I say? Francis Spufford, c'est moi. And of course, I am not alone in thinking this. Admittedly I did not live in a family where a child was dying slowly of kidney failure, but Spufford's beautiful, loving, longing, yearning account of a childhood wholly informed by reading resonated so strongly for me that I had a lump in my throat the whole way ...more
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Spufford began as a writer of non-fiction, though always with a strong element of story-telling. Among his early books are I May Be Some Time, The Child That Books Built, and Backroom Boys. He has also edited two volumes of polar literature. But beginning in 2010 with Red Plenty, which explored the Soviet Union around the time of Sputnik using a mixture of fiction and history, he has been drawing ...more
More about Francis Spufford...

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“I can always tell when you're reading somewhere in the house,' my mother used to say. 'There's a special silence, a reading silence.” 21 likes
“When I'm tired and therefore indecisive, it can take half an hour to choose the book I am going to have with me while I brush my teeth.” 10 likes
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