THE CHILD THAT BOOKS BUILT by Francis Spufford
Kirkus Star

THE CHILD THAT BOOKS BUILT

A Life in Reading

KIRKUS REVIEW

In his first book (I May Be Some Time, 1997), journalist Spufford won acclaim for examining the English imagination; now he illuminates his own with verve and intimacy.

To call the author bookish is to call a python a mere reptile. Spufford admits to being simultaneously obsessed, enslaved, and enraptured by the idea of fiction from the time he apprehended his first story from a picture book spread out on a nearby adult lap. And while his writing has every bit as much conviction as flair, the reader needn’t take Spufford’s word alone on the power of books over young minds; he marshals Bettelheim, Piaget, and other child-development pioneers for support. His point: the story is the most efficient form in which to package the essential cognitive material we all need in order to confront life. For example, a 1970s study cited found that about 70 percent of two-year-olds could distinguish storytelling conventions from other forms of adult speech. How the process worked and continues to work with Spufford himself is the main theme here, however, and it’s anatomized with wit and incisiveness. Reflecting years later on Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, for instance, he sees the ending (Max returns from the imagined jungle to find the supper he was denied as punishment waiting in his bedroom, “and it was still hot”) as unsatisfying since it “took away the risk from it all.” Arriving at age 13 vaguely aware that he should begin reading more adult material, Spufford amusingly recounts his disappointment with classic English novels and the gnawing desperation of his search for a personal genre until he discovered science fiction in the nick of time. Later experiments with print porn didn’t bear much fruit, but Kerouac and the Beats satisfyingly stoked his “anarchist days” at university.

A brilliant personal view of why we read and why we should.

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 2002
ISBN: 0-8050-7215-2
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2002




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NonfictionRED PLENTY by Francis Spufford
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NonfictionI MAY BE SOME TIME by Francis Spufford
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