Friday, 14 February 2020

Re-reading The Great Gatsby

During my final years in Cambridge, my college would run a Great Gatsby themed formal dinner, which of course offered marvelous opportunities for dressing up. I even went to a costume party shop and asked for a suitable head band. But I wonder how many people at those dinners, students or Fellows, had actually read the novel. I had read it, I read it when I was very young, and I had vague memories of it. Therefore I included it in my 2020 re-reading challenge.

What I remembered was what anyone might know even without having read the book. It takes place in the 1920s, Gatsby is tremendously rich and gives huge parties, there is a romantic mystery, and he dies in the end. If you had asked me a week ago how he dies, I would have claimed with confidence that he commits suicide. (No spoilers, but he doesn't).

In many works of literary criticism The Great Gatsby is used as an example of witness-narrator: a first-person narrator who tells someone else's story. I have repeated this false statement many times. Nick Carraway is a highly self-centered narrator and occupies significantly more space in the novel than Gatsby. I was surprised to notice that Gatsby is only present marginally in the first third of the book, as a neighbour with a dubious reputation. Encounter with Gatsby shatters Nick's worldview, makes him abandon his career – Nick is doubtless the main character in his own story, while Gatsby is what narratologists would call a catalyst, a character who affects the protagonist's fate. A substantial bit of the plot also revolves around Nick's romantic involvement. In other words, Nick is in no way an objective biographer. It is his story, not Gatsby's. And as a narrator, he is totally unreliable, not least because he repeatedly admits that he dislikes Gatsby. What I did, however, notice and appreciate with my critical, narratological eyes, is how the narrator accounts for something that someone else tells him, but not in direct speech, and not in reported speech, but as if he really witnessed it, suddenly interrupted either by direct speech or abrupt temporal shift. There are also recurrent flashforwards of the type: All this I learned much later…

My memory of Gatsby was of a romantic figure. I think the reason is the unhappy love story. As readers we are conditioned to emphathise with unhappy lovers, and although I did not remember the details, I had the sense of his actions justified by love. Yet as it turns out, he is a liar, a hypocrite, a financial criminal and ultimately a murder accomplice. Nick has all the reasons to dislike him.

I had completely forgotten Gatsby's father who comes to his funeral. The pathetic funeral episode made me in a way reconcile with Gatsby; I felt genuinely sorry for him.

It is brilliantly written, and I enjoyed every page. I may re-read it soon again. 

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Re-reading Salinger

I have re-read The Catcher in the Rye dozens of times. I have taught it in every course I could squeeze it into, even in the USA where I soon realised it was just as controversial as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. And I re-read it for every course I taught, and I still find it one of the greatest novels ever written. But it does not fit into my 2020 reading challenge so I have chosen a different Salinger, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters & Seymour, An Introduction. I read it soon after The Catcher in the Rye – once again, everyone I knew was reading it at the same time; we also read Nine Stories, and some of us read Franny and Zooey. I was, as many friends then, fascinated by Zen. My mother was a Japanese scholar, specialising on Zen gardens, so I knew quite a lot about Zen, probably superficially, but enough to at least start understanding Seymour Glass and his siblings.

I had vague memories of the first novella and none at all of the second; maybe I never read it then. Of the first, I remembered that it featured a cancelled wedding and started by stating that at the time of narration the bridegroom had committed suicide. I also remembered the scene in which Seymour reads a Zen text to baby Franny. I remembered that Seymour's brother Buddy is the narrator, and that their sister Boo Boo writes a message for Seymour with a bit of soap on a bathroom mirror: “Raise high the roof beam, carpenters...”

I cannot imagine what I could have appreciated in this little gem when I was seventeen. For it is a gem. It evolves in real time or even in a stretch (a temporal pattern in which it takes longer to tell an event than it takes place). Nothing, absolutely nothing happens. Buddy the narrator and a party of the bride's guests are riding a taxi in Manhattan, get stuck in traffic, go to Buddy's apartment. They have insignificant conversations, interrupted, discursively, by Buddy's reflections and memories. The characters are hilarious. The atmosphere is brilliant. I was sad when I finished because I wanted it to go on for a while yet. (I believe I will re-read it again soon).

Seymour, An Introduction was, if possible, the opposite. A long and rather pointless reflection by Buddy, many years after Seymour's suicide, ostensibly trying to create a credible portrait of his much admired brother. I was about to give up halfway when it suddenly turned more interesting, becoming what narratologist Seymour (coincidence?) Chatman calls “comment on discourse”. Buddy the narrator, by this time a published author, conveys the pain of writing, the very process of transposing memories on paper, addressing his potential reader. I guess it was a kind of self-reflection by Salinger, but I am not really interested in real authors, all the more in fictitious authors, and Buddy eventually turned out to be a fascinating storyteller, not least in contrast to the subdued narrator of the first novella. I probably won't re-read Seymour, An Introduction, but when I am finished with my re-reading challenge I might want to re-read more stories about the Glass siblings. 


Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Re-reading One Hundred Years of Solitude

My reading challenge for 2020 is re-reading twenty-five books that I read fifty years ago and never re-read again. I have chosen books that were important, life-changing, books I discussed with my friends. It's a mixture of very high-brow and trash (that at the time I didn't know was trash).

I recently re-read The Glass Bead Game, but I had re-read it between then and now, so it doesn't count. I decided to start with One Hundred Years of Solitude because I had been planning to re-read it for a while, and I had to start somewhere. It was, again, one of those books everyone in my vicinity read at the same time when it was published in Russia. Everyone talked about it. It was like nothing else we had read. It was probably one of the very first Latin American authors translated into Russian, and I wonder why.

I had very vague memory of the book. I remembered the old man sitting forever under a tree. I remembered generations of men with the same names. I remembered that the very last couple has a baby with a pig's tail. I also remembered the weirdness, the strange flow of time which we subsequently learned was associated with the concept of magical realism. I was obsessed with time then – as now – so it made a deep impression on me, precisely because it was seemingly realism, and still not quite, always with a twist.

I did not remember that so much of the novel is about war and politics. I did not remember that the characters died suddenly and their death was mentioned in passing as something insignificant. I did not remember that the baby with the pig's tail is eaten by ants. I did not remember that the town of Macondo is sinking into total decay.

I found the novel exceptionally boring. It took me several weeks to finish, and on many occasions I would tell myself that I was too tired to read. If it hadn't been part of my challenge I would have put it aside. I could not relate to the characters, possibly apart from a couple of women that at least had some personality. I don't mind novels where nothing happens, but then they need to offer something else. This novel didn't offer me much else. I wonder what exactly was so attractive fifty years ago. Maybe just that it wasn't like anything we had read before. I also suspect that I read it quickly, skimming rather than reading deeply.

There were, however, some aspects I enjoyed, few and far between. The characters dying casually is one. It is a powerful narrative feature. The reader gets invested in a character (well, to a certain degree in my case), and then they suddenly are no more. I loved the way the word "solitude" appeared every now and then, just to remind me of the theme. I loved the prolepses, flashforwards, like the opening of the novel, saying “Many years later...” I don't think I appreciated this fifty years ago, perhaps didn't even notice. I loved the ending, also something I had totally forgotten: metafiction, the book within the book. It was worth suffering through the endless boring pages.

It is not surprising that I read differently now from when I was seventeen, because I am now a professional reader, damaged by the analytical toolkit I cannot ignore as I read. Yet the novel is still praised at one of the greatest masterpieces of the twentieth century. Why do I fail to recognise its greatness today? Of course, as I always tell my students, not all books are for everyone, and we should not be ashamed to admit that we don't like something that “everybody” likes. Still I wonder what I liked fifty years ago. Or maybe I didn't. Maybe I bluffed. Maybe everyone I knew bluffed.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Re-reading The Glass Bead Game

The last book I read in 2019 (or in the 2010s if you insist) was Hermann Hesse's The Glass Bead Game, one of the very, very few books, books as physical objects, that have followed me through all moves and other hurdles in the last fifty years. Its dust jacket is falling apart, its pages are yellow. I am not sure why I suddenly decided to re-read it; possibly it happened in the short interim when I didn't yet have internet in my new home and couldn't download whatever was queued on my Kindle. I opened the moving box marked “Books” and pulled out a book at random. This was a moving box from Gatehouse where I only had a handful of books. The fact that Glass Bead Game was in that box is telling.

It was a cult book in Russia – as elsewhere – fifty years ago, during my so-called formative years when certain books could be life-changing. Everybody read it, young and old. Translated books were rare in the Soviet Union then. Translated books other than by explicit supporters of the Soviet regime were exceptions. Translated books that didn't describe the horrors of capitalism were more than exceptions. Considering it now, I wonder how this book could be published in the Soviet Union at the time when every attempt at freedom of speech was crushed. Of course Hesse was anti-Fascist, and there was something called “the subtle art of forewords”; and indeed the foreword, written by a literary critic, promptly explains to the ignorant Russian reader that the novel presents the decline of spirituality in capitalist society. I am not even sure I read the foreword fifty years ago, but if I did, I probably laughed at it, together will my Russian fellow readers. We recognised the rhetoric only too well.

But today I see that it is precisely what the novel does.

I wonder how much I understood reading this extremely complicated novel at the age of seventeen. I wonder how much my parents understood. There is almost no plot, dialogue is sparse, and paragraphs go on for page upon page. Did I skim the pages? Wasn't I bored to death? Did I fake my fascination just to show off? However, I do remember that the novel made a strong impression on me – as already said, strong enough to save my precious copy for fifty years.

I also remember that I re-read it a couple of years ago. What strikes me now is that I have no memory of the book from this re-reading. Surely, a few years ago I would read it slower and deeper; I am also, I believe, more educated and knowledgeable than fifty years ago, with years and years of literary studies to equip me in both understanding and enjoying the novel. Yet when I re-read it now it was as if I hadn't re-read it since fifty years ago. I remembered the beginning and the ending of the minimal linear plot. I had even forgotten that there were also appended stories, purportedly written by the main character. Metafiction. I may not have known what metafiction was fifty years ago. But surely five years ago.

I had forgotten that the story takes place in the distant future, two hundred years from now and told by someone even further away in the future. Goodness, I have written tons of critical work on narrative temporality, and I didn't notice it in Glass Bead Game? And of course it is a dystopia. I wasn't as well-versed in the genre fifty years ago as I am now, but I had read 1984 and We, and I was living in a totalitarian state. But Glass Bead Game is a much more subtle dystopia than Orwell's or Zamyatin's. It is a seductive book, and I believe we were all seduced back then. I remember in my upper teens and early twenties we referred to our existential conversations as glass-bead games. We genuinely believed that it was the highest intellectual achievement of humanity. But why then does the main character, Magister Ludi, give it up? If we saw him as our role model, shouldn't we at the very least question his choice? We didn't. Probably we simply ignored the ending, which is, as reading research shows, a common reaction to unsatisfactory resolutions. And of course the Game continues – they still play it in the narrator's distant time.

What I clearly see now – and again, how carelessly must I have read it three or so years ago that I didn't even contemplate it – is that the narrator is unreliable (another favourite scholarly subject I have put much effort into), that he – only men could become Game masters – admires the legendary Magister Ludi whose objective biographer he pretends to be. But the reader is supposed to see through it and realise that the Game is a parasitic, pointless escape for a handful of self-proclaimed geniuses who have rejected science, arts, religion, social life, human relationships, for the sake of a safe and secure life within a strict hierarchical structure. Didn't we see it when we were young? No, because we saw what we wanted to see, extreme spirituality, and ignored the rest. But three years ago I should have noticed.

This is a rather long reflection on the tricks of memory. I always tell my students: Don't trust your memory, re-read! I should listen to my own advice. 

Sunday, 29 December 2019

My 2010s

Currently, both media and individuals are summarising not only the past year, but the past decade. For me, the 2010s more or less coincided with my sojourn in Cambridge so it feels natural to look back at it. While on the global scale these years have been disconcerting, for me personally they have been fruitful and enjoyable.

I had reached the highest position an academic can reach, a Chair in one of the three best universities in the world (the ranking rotates from year to year, but Cambridge is always in the top three). I believe I have done the work well. I built a community that I am proud of. I took fourteen doctoral students to completion and supervised scores of masters. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be among these brilliant young people with their inquisitive minds and tough questions. My former students have good jobs or other prominent positions. Some have become friends. 

I very much enjoyed being a Fellow of Homerton College, a superb intellectual community where you have opportunities to meet outstanding people outside your discipline. Free lunches and college dinners may sound attractive, but it's not about being free, but being an environment for professional and personal growth. 

I published two academic books, edited several more, revised a successful handbook, and I have lost track of articles and book chapters.

I also published a book of memoirs that hasn't received as much attention as it should have. 

I attended some great conferences and hosted a few – how great those were is not for me to decide, but I was pleased. 

I was elected Fellow of the English Association “for my services to the English language”. Given that English is not my native tongue, I find it quite remarkable. My English has significantly improved during these years. For what it's worth, I learned a lot about UK geography, history and habits.

I met and in some cases became friends with some brilliant authors. I also made many new friends within and outside of academia. I had always thought it was impossible to make real friends at later stages of your life, but I was wrong. And some older friendships grew stronger. I am exceptionally lucky to have these friends.

According to Goodreads, I read 437 books in these years. Some for work, many for pleasure. A few were life-changing. I hadn't imagined that you could still encounter life-changing books at my age. Others were perhaps not life-changing, but still highly enjoyable. My reading habits have changed. I now read more slowly. I don't finish books that do not engage me after fifty pages (unless it is for work). I started reading on Kindle in 2013, and I read more on Kindle than in print, mostly because it is convenient. Kindle books demand no shelf space, it's comfortable to read in bed, you can take as many as you need when travelling, and you can choose the font size. Contrary to existing research, I read slower and deeper on Kindle.

I also got an iPad early and love it dearly. I am ecologically minded and have completely stopped printing out lectures, conference papers, meeting documents and such. I even managed to persuade my department head to give up printing. Together with Finance office they figured out that if they gave each department member an iPad, they would save on printing within three months. I secretly take credit for this contribution to greener environment.

I was given a smartphone for my sixtieth birthday and have since then discovered lots of apps that make my life easier. I am a champion of getting lost, and the navigator was my saviour.

Continuing with technology: like most people these days, I switched from DVDs and Blue-Ray to streaming, and I use Spotify on daily basis. Last year I invested in noise-cancelling headphones which is probably the most useful gadget I own.

I went on several remarkable trips, including the Amazonas, Madagascar, Southern Africa and Orkney. Every time I tell myself that it is likely the last major trip in my life. I definitely prefer nature to culture now. 

I became a passionate walker and cannot imagine my life without walking. I walked Hadrian's Wall and some other wonderful trails that abound in the UK. I had fabulous walking companions. 

I tried falconry which I hoped would become a pastime in retirement, but it wasn't to be. Still, it was an experience I wouldn't want to be without. 

For a few years, until my peripheral eyesight failed, I was a star-gazer, spending hours with my telescope and becoming particularly good friends with Jupiter, sketching the position of its four large moons day by day. I once saw Uranus, only because I knew it was supposed to be there, and I observed Venus phases. I wanted to be an astronomer when I was young so at least I fulfilled a tiny bit of this dream.

I developed as a gardener, and although I probably killed off more plants than I succeeded with, after ten years my garden started looking the way I had wanted. 

I was a faithful servant to four cats. (You know, you cannot own a cat, you can only serve them, if they allow you to). 

I pursued my miniature-making hobby and finally decided not to wait until retirement and acquired a huge dollhouse that so far took me six years of work, and it's far from finished. Six years sounds like a long time, but it is rather abstract and imprecise so I will instead account for my time investment in hours: about 2,000. I made many other projects in between, among them room boxes I gave away as presents – I believe appreciated. 

I learned book-binding. 


My grandchildren have grown up. I have become older – maybe wiser.

On reflection is was probably the happiest decade of my life. 

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Final destination

Some friends have had a chance to see snippets of my new life on Facebook, but I should probably offer a brief summary, now that I have reached my final destination. Well, not the final-final, which will probably be the lovely Forest Cemetery in Stockholm.

Of course you never know. Four years ago I was still confident that Milton, Cambridgeshire, UK, was my final destination (close to crematorium). Then came Brexit and its uncertainties. Then came other things and a series of moves and temporary dwellings. But this time I have hopefully landed.

I now live in a north-western suburb of Stockholm. I don't know this area at all. When we lived in Stockholm, three lives ago, we lived in a southern suburb. It is pure serendipity that I started looking for a place to live in this area, and I love it. It is right on the edge of a large nature reserve, that I have tentatively started to explore. It has several lakes and wetlands, a wide variety of wildlife and a 35km trail that will be my goal for summer. 

At the same time, it takes 15 minutes to city centre by commuter train so I don't feel isolated at all. I have already returned home late after various events, and it wasn't much different from returning to Södermalm.

My local shopping centre has everything I may ever need. There is even a small old-fashioned cinema that is closed at the moment but is supposed to start operating again soon. There is a library and an excellent independent bookstore. There is a second-hand shop where I have already found some household stuff. Within walking distance I have a humongous shopping area with IKEA and other outlets. 

My new place is a condo that in the UK would be classified as one-bedroom and in Swedish is called 2rok, spelled out as 2 rooms and a kitchen. It is exactly what it sounds like: a large bedroom, a large living room and a large kitchen with a large dining area. Plus a large hall, a large bathroom and a large glazed balcony. The rooms face in two directions so there is plenty of light, and the windows are large. (I seem to be abusing the word “large”, but it really reflects my perception of space). There are zillions of built-in wardrobes and even a large – yes, really large! - walk-in wardrobe where I will store all my craft supplies. Otherwise I don't have a lot of furniture, and I got rid of much stuff when I was moving from Cambridge so the rooms are truly in a minimalist style which has always been my dream. In previous lives, we had far too many books filling every available space. I haven't unpacked all my books yet, but I will hardly have more than three or four shelves. As I said: I have a library within three minutes walk.

I am going to have a balcony garden. So far, I only have a potted Christmas tree and a couple of plants I brought from my rented flat. I aim at a tiered, hanging garden with flowers, decorative plants, herbs, strawberries and maybe even some veggies. I have also volunteered to join the garden committee of my cooperative. We have a lovely communal garden that could benefit from some improvements.

I haven't yet succumbed to a television, but I am seriously considering it. I have survived over a year without a television, but I like watching movies, and now that I do have space perhaps it's time to stop watching on computer and get a proper screen.

Most important, in two weeks I will bring home two longed-for friends, Smilla and Smirre. But this is another story.

Monday, 18 November 2019

My British children's literature, part 4

Read part 1, 2 and 3 of this story. 

Yet another unlikely British author, significantly more famous in Russia than in his home country, was Donald Bisset. Bisset was an actor at the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as in a large number of profoundly forgotten movies and some TV shows, including Dr Who. But he also published numerous children's books with self-explanatory titles such as Anytime Stories (1954), Some Time Stories (1957), Next Time Stories (1959), This Time Stories (1961), Another Time Stories (1963), as well as a more imaginative Talks with a Tiger (1967). Bisset's stories are very simple, almost devoid of plots, conflicts or morals. They feature anthropomorphised animals and animated objects and machines, including a minibus, a raisin bun, and a birthday. They are perfect for bedtime reading, and Bisset indeed read them on the radio, as well as adapted them for stage.

Again, I can only guess why several of his books were translated, but the translator was also a legendary editor at the central Children's Literature Publishing in Moscow, who was perhaps in a position to translate and publish what she wanted. We know that Bisset visited Moscow in 1969, so it is likely that the first translation was the result of this visit. Unlike the common practice in Russia, the first publication kept Bisset's original illustrations. Most subsequent editions were illustrated by Russian artists. A dozen tales were made into short animations. Today his stories are available at several sites for downloading or online reading.

In my upper teens, everybody in Russia, old and young, loved Bisset's stories, and one reason may be that they are in a way reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen's tales, tremendously popular in Russia, but without Andersen's dark undertones.

One of the stories is about the rivalry between St Pancrass and King's Cross. I read the story long before I knew that these places were real, and little did I know that King's Cross would one day become my most visited railway station. Not to mention that it would also become world famous thanks to a certain J.K. 

The last book in this series of reflections is The Questers, by E. W. Hildick, from 1966, published in Russian in 1969. Again, a book you have hardly heard about, by an author essentially forgotten, although there are very short entries both in the Oxford Companion to Children's Literature and the four-volume Oxford Encyclopedia of Children's Literature. E. W. (Edmund Wallace) Hildick (1925-2001) was educated at Leeds Training College and worked as a teacher until he became a full-time writer. Extremely prolific, he wrote several series of school novels, detective and adventure novels, but as far as I know is completely forgotten today. He also wrote a number of books about children’s literature, including Children and Fiction: a critical study in depth of the artistic and psychological factors involved in writing fiction for and about children (1970), to my surprise available at Homerton College Library. (Was it possibly included in the syllabus of one of those early children's literature courses?) The Questers is one of his less known books, followed by two sequels: Calling Questers Four (1967) and The Questers and the Whispering Spy (1968).

Why would this obscure writer be translated into Russian, when so many significantly more famous writers were not? I have not managed to find any relevant information, but my guess is, just as with Leila Berg, that he either visited the Soviet Union some time during mid-1960s or was among the hosts for a visit from Soviet writers. Hildick was a working+class writer, his books set in working-class environments of Yorkshire, Stevenage, and Southern London. Writers with a working-class background who wrote about working-class children were acceptable and therefore attractive in the Soviet Union, unlike suspicious Christian Oxbridge types such as C S Lewis.

In 1969, I was seventeen and entering university, so strictly speaking this book was not part of my childhood reading, but at that point I already knew that I wanted to study children's literature professionally, even though there were no accessible resources. Every translated book was an event, and I still had an illusion that if a book was translated it had to be a masterpiece by a famous writer. There was no way to find any information about the author or to set the book in a context. By that time, I had read Winnie-the-Pooh, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins and other genuine classics of British children's literature, and I knew that fantasy rather than realism was its strongest aspect. The Questers puzzled me because I could not understand what made it a great book it was supposed to be.

Unlike The Adventures of Chunky, this book does have a chronological progression and a problem in the beginning, partially solved in the end. It is quite interesting in the light of today's disability studies. The main character, Peter, is bedridden with an unnamed disease – possibly polio – that he has little hope of being cured of. And he isn't, but there is a technological improvement of his situation that must have been truly radical in the mid-60s. The plot revolves around obtaining the technology – a walkie-talkie – that would enable Peter to participate in his friends' outdoor adventures and pastimes. As a side comment, a walkie-talkie was to us something from science fiction and would be considered illegal in the Soviet Union.

While planning for the treasure hunt in the local park that will win them the coveted prize, Peter's friends are also engaged in a number of other activities, including ice-cream eating competition, pet show and talent contest, all with disastrous outcomes. These episodes are not particularly funny or engaging, and the characters quite flat, so I am not surprised that the book has gone into oblivion in the UK, but in Russia, in the absence of hundreds of similar stories, it filled, and probably still fills a gap. Unlike classic Soviet gang books featuring brave and virtuous young communists, The Questers is devoid of any ideology or morals, apart from Peter's friends' genuine desire to support him. There are no lessons learned from disasters and no serious consequences either. All adults are nice, and the overall atmosphere benevolent. Even Peter's disability is presented in a positive light.

When I was writing my book From Mythic to Linear, that I still view as my major contribution to scholarship, I considered books such as The Adventures of Chunky and The Questers within my theoretical framework, in which I examined the temporal conditions of children's narratives in three main patterns: prelapsarian, carnivalesque and postlapsarian. Both fit into the first category, since nothing significant happens to the protagonists, and they are not in any way, not even temporarily, introduced to linearity and thus the central aspects of adulthood, such as growing up, death and power hierarchies. It can of course be argued whether it is legitimate to view the temporal structure of realistic stories as mythical, but this will take us to a discussion of the concept of realism and mimesis. Muffin the Mule, although featuring sentient animals, is also an example of Arcadian fiction: a narrative without linear progression, with characters trapped in eternal present. I am not questioning the value of such stories; on the contrary, they are essential to provide young readers with a sense of permanence and stability before they are ready first to explore and interrogate the world through carnival and eventually leave Arcadia in a linear progression toward imminent adulthood. What I find fascinating is that Soviet publishers, at least in the 1950s and '60s, clearly prioritised prelapsarian narratives in their choice of British books to translate. 

I want to conclude this series of blog posts with an event that became a turning point in my career and that most probably eventually brought me to Cambridge. In 1975, after I had finished my undergraduate degree and had a job as far away as imaginable from children's literature, British Council brought a large exhibition of children's books to Moscow. The venue was perhaps odd, a bookstore rather than a library. The nature of my job enabled me to dispose of my time as I saw fit, and for the duration of the exhibition, probably a couple of weeks, I spent day after day there, reading books and taking notes. This was my first encounter with The Borrowers, Tom's Midnight Garden, The Children of Green Knowe, the Narnia Chronicles and many other books that would become central in my research. Then the exhibition was closed and the books gone. And the glossy 12-page exhibition catalogue would for many years remain my only source of information about British children's literature.

The End