Memories of Childhood
The books we read as children have a special place in our memories. Those we loved remain with us throughout our lives. Often as adults we return to these books - sometimes just to read them again ourselves, perhaps to learn something about who we once were. Other times maybe we want to just share the experience and joy with our own children, grandchildren or other children.
I myself come from a family which had no books at all in the home. By chance at the age of about six or seven I stumbled upon the local public library. I had been wandering around the local street market aimlessly not quite knowing what to do with myself. I got a warm welcome from the library staff and three library tickets - the old fashioned type where they took a slip out of the book and retained it with the ticket until you returned the book. Ah! I feel a whiff of nostalgia for those pre-electronic days when libraries were for books not computers and where people were expected to read quietly and talk in whispers. I have been an avid reader ever since.
The first books I can remember falling in love with were the William books by Richmal Crompton. What boy growing up in England in the 1950s didn't? I completely identified with William, with the pranks he got up to, the scrapes he invariably got himself into and his irrepressible sense of curiosity and fun. He was essentially a good boy with a healthy mischievousness and a deep sense of right and wrong. The kind of boy I like to think I was.
"William was bored. It was the summer holiday; Ginger, Douglas and Henry were all away from home; and William was left to his own resources. He wandered desolately about the lanes and woods, playing imaginary games by himself, but somehow there was no savour in them" - The opening to William the Detective .
That could so easily have been written about me and how I felt during the summer holidays. Change the names and location from suburbia to the streets around Waterloo Station and the same yearning for something new - an adventure - was still there.
Whenever I read William stories, I immediately put myself at the centre of his adventures. That was their appeal and magic.
After William I next got interested in the Jennings books by Anthony Buckeridge. Jennings's life at boarding school couldn't have been further from mine on a South London council estate. Yet still I was intrigued by his activities. I can particularly remember a story in which he wrote his diary in code and the hilarious consequences which followed. Perhaps I too at some subliminal level was trying to decode the mysteries of my own life. I was trying to find out why I was so different from the rest of my family - I was a cuckoo in a strange nest.
I progressed through a brief period of reading almost exclusively science fiction to a continuing adult interest in factual science, literature, philosophy and almost anything that takes my fancy. Romance however, has never cut it for me. Perhaps it's a boy thing.
One of the fascinating things about working at Stella Books is that due to our large stock of children's books, we frequently get customers seeking books that have been important to them in their childhood. We also have instant access to all the stock held by our sister shop Rose's Books in Hay, which specialises in children's books. So if we can't find it here there's a strong possibility we can get it from there. It is especially satisfying to trace through our catalogues and provide a customer with exactly the book they have been looking for.
Of course when we return to a book from our childhood we read it differently as an adult. I remember returning to Ian Serrallier's The Silver Sword as an adult and being quite startled at how different it was from my memory. The characters and story were essentially the same but it gave me a strong insight into the kind of child I must have been and how I would have responded to the plight of the central character emotionally as I was a post-war baby myself. On a lighter note, I remember re-reading George Orwell's Animal Farm and discovering it was far more than the simple story about animals I thought it was when I first read it. Loss of innocence comes in many ways.
As the above anecdotes illustrate, each of us store our memories differently and very seldom is a book's title what people remember first. It can be a central character, the story or even the image on the front cover that is imprinted in our minds. What is called for most in this job therefore are the ability to think laterally, basic detective skills, an inherent sense of curiosity and the ability to decode fragments of information - Just like both William and Jennings.
Contributed by Pete Solan