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The Child that Books Built

3.50  ·  Rating details ·  766 ratings  ·  130 reviews
Children's books - from Narnia to The Hobbit - are celebrated in this enlightened examination of the joys of childhood reading.

Fairy tales and Where the Wild Things Are, The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia books, Little House on the Prairie and The Earthsea Trilogy. What would you find if you went back and re-read your favourite books from childhood? Francis Spufford
Paperback, 214 pages
Published 2003 by Faber and Faber (first published 2002)
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Average rating 3.50  · 
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Allie Riley
Feb 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 24, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I want to quote practically all of this wonderful book. The only other time I’ve felt such kinship with an author writing about reading was Alberto Manguel, notably in The Library at Night. Although I was an only child rather than having a chronically ill younger sister, my childhood experience of books was very similar to Spufford’s. Of course he is able to articulate it much more elegantly than I ever could. On the very first page, he describes reading just as I experience it:

As my
Amal Bedhyefi
" But I was finding it more and more difficult to find books I enjoyed reading. "
I could not agree more Francis.
Even though I love reading books about books , it took me a while to finish this one .
But I have to admit that some parts were really relatable.
I've been through that phase before where I was uncertain about my reading choices . The jump from books i've read during my teenage years and the ones I'm currently reading was not an easy one , in fact , it scared me and made me question why
May 04, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sid Nuncius
May 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I think The Child That Books Built lives up to its reputation; it is readable, evocative, funny in places and extremely insightful about the activity of reading itself and the effects it may have.

This is more than a memoir of childhood reading. Spufford does tell us about how he learned to read and became an obsessive bookworm, but there is also a lot of erudite and very interesting stuff about developmental psychology, philosophy and so on and the light they may (or sometimes may not) shed on
Rosemary Standeven
I may have never been a young boy, but this book described much of my early life (at least book-wise) perfectly. I went through the whole book, page after page, going "I read that", "I liked that", "I loved that" ....
This very much felt like a book of two halves for me but both halves were enjoyable and intriguing in their own ways. For the first half, I felt we experienced the literature that Spufford encountered as a child and the effect that these books had on him during that period. The latter part of the book (probably last third rather than half) was more of a reflection on what it is that this literature does and his search for books and a sense of enjoyment that he so relished in his early youth. ...more
Aug 07, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 27, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Dec 03, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
DNF at 64 pages.
Jan 19, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2018
I am sorry to say I was highly dissapointed in this book. While I liked particular stories from the author, as a whole I did not enjoy it very much. I feel as though his constant over-use of rhetoric really caused me to dislike the writing. I had high expectations for this book based on the synopsis and certain reviews I had read, but it ended up being quite a dissapointment. I would not reccomend this book. 2/5 stars.
May 06, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
I have no idea where this came from, but it's been on my shelf for ages and I finally got around to digging in. I tried so hard to continue with this, as the premise sounds right up my alley. However, I couldn't make it. Chapter 1 felt like someone trying really hard to craft beautiful prose, unconcerned with building a narrative or making any sense. I was so confused and had no idea what this man was trying to express. I also found his expressions about his sister distasteful.

After deciding I
Mar 14, 2012 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
Grace Mc
Nov 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this as part of my research into my extended essay for the Children's Literature module I took last term- and I'm not sure why this book isn't compulsory reading for all lifelong bookworms once they hit their 20s. A book that is autobiographical as well as semi-theoretical and psychological in its exploration of childhood reading and the way we interact with texts as children and young adults this book is mind bendingly a collective biography of all bookworms who were once voracious ...more
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
Apr 12, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 23, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 14, 2011 rated it it was ok
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.
Aug 31, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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...
Aug 27, 2008 marked it as backburner  ·  review of another edition
I would really like to read this sometime too Wanda...going to see if our library has it!
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.
Nadine Leishman
Mar 04, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Okay, so I didn't read the last 20 pages or more. I just really didn't find the author likable.
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a lovely book, with enough quirks to keep it interesting. I never thought I'd read an adult Englishman's impressions of Laura Ingalls Wilder's wonderful series of books, for one example. His take on the Narnia Chronicles, especially the LW&W, was like reading my own thoughts about the book. He even did a sly and loving homage to The Phantom Tollbooth which I hugely enjoyed. He read slightly different books than I did as a child, but it's amazing how much we overlapped. We are 1 year ...more
Lily Evangeline
"With its conventions that mimic the three dimensions of the world off the page, and its simulations of time passing as measured by experience's ordinary clocks, we hope it can bring a fully uttered clarify to the living we do, which is, we know, so hard to disentangle and articulate. And when it does, when a fiction does trip a profound recognition...the reward is more than an inert item of knowledge. The book becomes part of the history of our self-understanding. The stories that mean most to
Aug 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book not about Francis Spufford’s life or childhood but about the books he read as he was growing and the effect different books had on him and how they helped him grow and develop as a person. It is about the experience of reading itself- from the initial confusion of getting to grips with the words on the page to a child craving the same familiar stories over and over to becoming a more sophisticated reader with more discerning tastes. It is about how reading can at once be an escape ...more
Apr 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm completely torn on this. On the one hand, Francis Spufford at his best is just a fantastic wordsmith, and I really love that he wrote a whole book about reading and what it's meant to him. On the other, I also disagreed with some of it.

For instance, I really don't get how he can write THAT MUCH about Little House On The Prairie without acknowledging how racist those books are? I am not at all saying that he shouldn't write about them, or at that loving them anyway is necessarily wrong. But I
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
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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
“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.” 30 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.” 12 likes
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