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Nursery crimes The Child that Books Built A Memoir of Childhood and Reading Francis Spufford 214pp Faber Appropriately enough for a book that sets out to explore the problematic relationship between the self and what it reads Spufford has written a genre-busting text We hurtle through autobiographical scenes interpretations of books an occasional literary biography a burst of travel writing and regular sorties into linguistics psychology lit crit psychoanalysis critical theory and even some civics One second were in Spuffords dorm while the other 13-year-old chaps breathe and snore some four feet away and the next were piling through Kant Wittgenstein Chomsky Bettelheim Piaget and the like In between he takes us on a journey through his reading from fairy tales to such books as Maurice Sendaks Where the Wild Things Are Tolkiens The Lord of the Rings C S Lewiss Narnia books Laura Ingalls Wilders Little House on the Prairie series and on to Ian Fleming sci-fi and porn Spufford casts himself as a pathological obsessive born out of a family tragedy Throughout the book his sister Bridget hovers on the edge of death from a genetic disorder until she finally goes aged 22 saying Im sick of living at the frontiers of medical knowledge Looking back Spufford writes However strongly I pledged my allegiance to the family some terrible counter-truth of rage and rejection was pooled inside me His mother and father were academics who plunged themselves headlong into the massively time- and energy-gobbling task of trying to keep Bridget alive Aged 13 young Francis was dispatched to boarding school and though he never says as much this couldnt have helped with that rage and rejection Early on before we can measure what level of irony Spufford operates on he tells us that ever since Bridget he has hated vulnerable people So he seems to be warning us hes no chip off the Matthew Arnold block none of that
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