In this section of ‘Life Writing Projects’ we are publishing work that explores the role of books and reading in life histories. In an earlier Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research and Reframe collaboration, New Pathways: A Psychogeography of Lewes, we invited participants to become flâneurs, wandering outside their normal routes in a town they mostly knew well. Here we are creating a space for browsers and explorers of the world of books at a time when libraries are being closed and independent bookshops are priced out of the market by online sales and large chains. Although with the advent and success of the e-book and online reading the future of books as physical objects seems uncertain, readers’ attachment to them perhaps persists, and is explored in some of these pieces.
‘Book Memories’ is a recording of bookshop browsers’ and customers’ favourite memories of books and reading made in independent bookshop Much Ado Books in Alfriston, Sussex on June 25th, 2017. The recording was made by audio specialists Zoe and Leon of WordPlayAudio with the support of the shop owners Nash Robbins and Cate Olson, who introduce and close the podcast. Readers reflect on the impact of a favourite book on their life choices, the role of the public library in introducing them to literature, and the delights of browsing in the unique space of an independent bookshop that is loved and nurtured by its owners. In one poignant contribution a teacher describes giving an out of print book by Jacqueline Wilson to a little girl in her class who is losing her hearing, while the author herself reflects on the impact of reading Jane Eyre for the first time as a child.
Lyn Thomas’s contribution ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ describes her return in later life to the ‘Susan’ books by Jane Shaw that she read repeatedly from the age of seven to thirteen. She explores her fascination, then and now, with a set of characters whose lives, divided between Boarding School and holidays in Switzerland, France or at home in an eighteenth century mansion in Wichwood (i.e. Dulwich) village, bore little resemblance to her Comprehensive School education, and semi-detached home in Wolverhampton.