July 26, 2016
MarkBernstein.org
 

The Pleasure of Reading

A clever anthology of essays by notable writers about their early reading and their favorite books. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this collection is that it gathers so many different voices (A. S. Byatt, Tom Stoppard, Ruth Rendell, Stephen Spender, J. G. Ballard) and asks them to write a piece on a tightly constrained set topic – like reading a pile of school essays written by the all-star team. Quite a few of the participants balk at some of the requirements, and the expected list of “ten favorite books” proves especially unpopular.

Some aspects of early reading are surprisingly common. There are, apparently, two ways to encounter Winnie The Pooh: either as bedtime reading when you are six, or as required reading in the bed of one’s college lover. Everyone, it seems, has read Richmal Compton’s Just William books, though I missed the memo. There are some wonderful evocations of libraries, bookstores and booksellers, especially from Gita Mehta:

Sahib. Latest from Plato. The Republic. Also James Hadley Chase and P. G. Wodehouse. You want Catcher In The Rye, Sahib? Mad Magazine?