The Child that Books Built by Francis Spufford

View from this book:

Still on a beach in Mexico, lounging outside my tent.  My family and I camped on an island just off the Baja Peninsula and kayaked around

Mexico kayaking

and went snorkeling with sea lions

whatchu gringos doin in my ocean?

whatchu gringos doin in my ocean?

and after all that effort, I plopped down in front of my tent

Mexico family tents on the beach

and plonked open this book.


The book:

Books about books are fabulous, except when they’re not.  This particular effort chronicles the author’s coming-of-age through reading, which is a very intriguing idea, but WARNING to ye aspiring memoirists out there: if you write like a dickwad (which might mean you’re a dickwad in real life), maybe choose a different genre.  If I don’t like you, I’m not going to like you as a narrator, and since memoirs are all “look at me, look at me,” it’s kinda hard to avoid the unlikable narrator. *Chucks memoir into the bin-of-priggish-books.*

There are some great bits to this book, though, when Spufford talks about his books.  He combines his love for certain books with developmental psychology (Where the Wild Things Are with Piaget) and with stories of growing up (The Hobbit with learning the magic of the alphabet).  He also provides entirely quotable bits (on the Earthsea novels: “…their archipelago of bright islands like ideal Hebrides…”) and deeply analyzes certain books in a satisfying way.  He mentions gazillions of books I’d love to pick up.  In fact, when he started analyzing The Left Hand of Darkness, I skipped to the end of the chapter because that’s a book want to read first on my own!

All of that said, The Child That Books Built is…well, flat.  It could serve as more of a reference book to thumb through for titles I’ll add to my books-to-read-in-the-future list.  As a memoir, though, it’s fairly shallow and not all that insightful, and the author’s description of himself gave me a creepy-crawly feeling that makes me want to avoid all of his other work.  I wanted Spufford to write more of the bookish bits (which were great) and less of the Spuffordish bits (which were creepy.  Seriously, I think he is not a person I’d ever want to meet, ever).  4 out of 10

The Child That Books Built


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