The group shared two entertaining and meaningful sessions this month. The first was online where we enjoyed reflecting on then discussing our reading-related memories. Many laughs and coincidences emerged as well as some beautiful pieces of writing you can find below.

For the in-person session, which was part of the Chorlton Book Festival, we co-hosted with Professor Sophie Woodward. The event was sponsored by the NCRM (National Centre for Research Methods). As these beautiful photographs, taken by Rachel Bywater, show, it was a lovely, connecting afternoon, where guests and regular participants shared stories and thoughts on memories prompted by reading related objects. As one attendee said, “This is a place where stories can evolve, often in real-time. Where strangers can quickly become known to one another and find common ground by laughing and listening.”

Read on to see if any of your own memories of reading are evoked and to also see pictures of the objects on which our writing was based.

Maureen Beeston

My father’s bookshelves and his family’s books

I have a large bookshelf built especially for my father in the late 1950s along with a collection of family books, many from the Victorian era including the Family Bible, the Imitation of Christ and some other reference works. 

My family has history of being interested in reading and books, dating back to at least the 1800s as my Great Great Grandfather Joseph Taylor bequeathed his books to my Great Grandfather Nathan in 1841, including those I own.  This was followed by my Grandfather owning many religious books, my father purchasing history books and managing bookshops, and myself working in the bookshop and in a library.  My daughter and grandchildren have now also followed the family’s interest in books.  I feel a great affinity to the book world and have a strong need to share the love of reading, especially physical books.  I hope new generations continue to love books as my family has.

Two pairs of old fashioned circular reading glasses, one with loop fastenings for a chain. Two black and white photographs of Maureen's great grandmother wearing the glasses.
My great grandmother’s reading glasses, photographed by Rachel Bywater

Tony Goulding

During Jolene’s introduction, it was the Jennings stories by Anthony Buckeridge which sprang to my mind.

The cover of a book called Jennings in particular, showing a teacher angrily chasing a piglet through a broken fence, in front of a crowd of laughing schoolboys, all wearing school caps.

They were set in a preparatory boarding school for boys, Linbury Court, and described the, often very humorous adventures, of Jennings and his best friend Darbishire.  A particular moment, I recalled, happened at my primary school, St. John’s Roman Catholic School which, at that time, was on High Lane, Chorlton-cum-Hardy. While I was reading one of this series of books during an hour of silent reading, probably on a Friday afternoon, the chapter I had reached was so funny that I could not help myself from laughing out loud. This generated a very stern rebuke from my teacher, Mrs. Hyland, for breaking the silence rule.

Another book I remembered from my childhood was this one,  “Moonfleet” by J. Meade Falkner.

The cover of the book showing a sailing ship with tattered sails in a stormy sea.  It is published by Puffin and the price shown is 3 shillings and six pence (old money)

It is an enjoyable adventure story based around smuggling in 18th century Dorset. However, it was the circumstances in which I received it which were the most memorable. The book was a gift from childhood, and lifelong, friend, Paul, whilst I was a patient in the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital. I had accidentally injured my eye earlier that day during some boys’ roughhousing. Fortunately, I had suffered no serious damage and I was only kept overnight for observation. This may, in part, have been due to my fainting during an initial assessment, when a strong light was shone into my injured eye!

Finally, I recalled, a novel I took out of the library of my secondary school, Xaverian College, which in my day was a Catholic Grammar School for boys. The book was a fictional account of the life of a professional cricketer. I believe its title was “Professional” and evidence of how much it impressed me on my first reading of it is the number of so far unsuccessful attempts I have made since then to find a copy.

Jean Thompson

I started school on my fifth birthday, just after the Christmas Holidays. I do not think I was able to read before I went to school, and I can’t remember how we were actually taught to read, other than it was a series of books about Janet and John and Spot the dog. What I can remember though is the magical moment when the black shapes on the page meant something to me, and I could READ.  It was a wonder world!

As a young child I loved the tales of Milly Molly Mandy (Millicent Margaret Amanda) who lived in a delightful little village with delightful kindly people. Her adventures were always innocent and her whole life sounded idyllic to me and pure escapism for a town child like me. The original book was published in 1928 but a few years ago there was a 75th anniversary edition published of all the original stories and illustrations. I had to get it of course.

The front cover of the Big Milly Molly Mandy Storybook with pictures of her, her friends. cat and dog
The Big Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook by Joyce Lankester Brisley
A hand drawn map showing the fields, footpaths, the church, shops and houses in the village.
Milly Molly Mandy’s village

As I got a bit older I loved books about boarding schools, and had a secret yen to go to a boarding school with midnight feasts and adventures and success on the games fields. In reality I would probably have hated it, but again it sounded so exciting and an escape. I can remember reading Jane Eyre while I was still at Primary School, and that has remained one of my favourite Bronte books. That set the tone for more serious books for me for me.

When I was a child, one of the things I learned from the rather fierce children’s librarian was respect for books. Even today I hate to see books where the corner of the page has been turned down to mark a place.

I know that libraries have a much wider remit now as neighbourhood centres and places that offer activity groups, but there should always be a place for the library as a magical world of books and reading. I am always encouraged by the fact that there is so much new writing going on and new writers even in this technological age, and fabulous books being written for adults and young readers.

 I am in a book group now and enjoy the range of books that the other members suggest, often books that I would not have thought of for myself. My problem now is that if I read them too soon before the next group, I can’t always remember the intricacies of the story, even though I have enjoyed it at the time! One of the delights of age.

Margaret Kendall

It was a very thoughtful present from my brother, about ten years ago.   I loved the colour, design and feel of my handbag-sized lilac Book Journal, with its suede cover, ribbon page marker and elastic fastener. 

The Book Journal, showing the ribbon page marker, fastened together by the lilac elastic
Photograph by Rachel Bywater

I pasted in one of the book plates my Mum had given me many years before that, when she’d first retired and enjoyed learning calligraphy at an evening class.

The book plate, which features a painting of a Victorian girl in a frilly dress and mop cap, holding a bunch of flowers. There is a border of fuchsia flowers.  Under the painting are the words This book belongs to.. and Margaret Kendall written in fancy writing.

When I fished the journal out of my drawer of keepsakes, after hearing about the topic for the day, I was surprised to flick through from the back and not see any writing!  I knew I’d written about books I’d read in my book group for several years.  On closer inspection, I found that I hadn’t written in the “Books I want to read” or “Books on loan” sections at all, but in the “Books I’ve read” section at the beginning, I had written a couple of sentences about each book in the tiny space allowed on the formatting of each page. 

I wonder now, did I decide not to give a page for each author, as the creator of the journal intended, with a space for Author at the top of each page and space for four titles?   Was the limited space for each title what led me to abandon the project, or was it because my life became busier around then?  I still enjoy being a member of the same book group, reading and discussing books I might otherwise not have chosen for myself.  I don’t write about them though: memorable reads linger in my mind, others are more transient pleasures.  Maybe I’ve got better at enjoying things in the present moment or just lazier!  However, I still treasure my book journal present.

Lucy Stephens

It’s funny what springs to mind when different topics come up in the Stories of our Lives.  When Jolene mentioned the topic of reading and the book festival, the first thing that came to mind was my international bookmark collection!  Maybe because I am not the biggest reader, unlike most, I see it as a summer activity: reading in the garden or on a sunny beach is perfect.  In the winter, I’m much more likely to crochet in front of the telly than read! 

I used to have a bigger international bookmark collection, but I gave some away in a huge clearout last year.  They were given to me in my old job as an English Language Teacher in a big international school.  For some reason it was mainly Korean and Chinese students that gave us bookmarks.  Some teachers immediately discarded them and left them in the staff room, but I couldn’t do that.  I felt touched that they had given me something which has led to a strange array of international keyrings, bookmarks, magnets, spoons and other things.

It has been quite useful for me to have a lot of bookmarks as I generally prefer reading non-fiction and always have a good few books on the go at any one time, working my way through them slowly when the sun shines.  At the moment, the bookmarks are holding their places in a number of science, astronomy, meditation and self-help books. 

As I said before, when we were talking about this the other week, I thought of the students’ hopes and dreams in coming to study English in the UK and how they must have felt when they, with their bookmarks in tow, got to the airport in Korea or China. Or even when they were buying the bookmarks themselves – how scared / excited / apprehensive must they have been feeling then? Sometimes Stories of our Lives helps to see everyday things with another perspective! 

A selection of five bookmarks.  Two are very delicate-looking with cut out images of buildings, people and trees.  One is leather illustrated with Spanish dancers in brightly coloured clothes.  Another is parchment illustrated with Egyptian figures and the final one is wooden, illustrated with a mother and baby panda

Pauline Omoboye

Reflections on reading

This title makes me think about my children and how important it was as a family to read and write well.  I would send love letters to my children as they were growing up and would often send a letter to them when a surprise was planned, giving them clues.  I taught my children how to be in tune with their emotions and how, if they found things difficult to express, they should write it in a letter, poem or a song.

Letters and poetry would be written to me or one of their siblings: we wrote when we were happy, when we were sad and also to express our love.  We would often as a family gather round to talk about our letters and how we could help each other if needed.

I realise this may not work for everyone but I’m a great believer in finding ways to express yourself. It maybe through art, poetry, and other mediums. My children still write to each other now.

This works for my children.

Give it a go!

Read it and see

Don’t judge a book by its cover
I’m sure you’ve heard these words
Touch it, turn it over and discover
Go on now, just read the blurb.
This particular book tells the story of love and of mystery
I’ve read this type of book before
Quite intrigued by the plot and the history.

Don’t judge a book by its cover
Look at the synopsis imagine the scene
Meet the characters at the beginning
Paint a picture find out where they’ve been.
This is a story of love and betrayal
The words juicier by the minute
I’m convinced I know the culprit
I think I really know who did it.

So, grab your book, settle down and enjoy it
Flick the pages one by one
Make your journey through the story
Show how easily it can be done.
Then when you finally reach the ending
And everything falls into place
Give yourself a gentle pat on the back
For having impeccable taste.

©P. Omoboye   

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