I have recently had some interesting book-related conversations on Twitter re: favourite childhood reads, and about the lure of the book as a physical object over an e-book. I have nothing against Kindles, etc, and have contemplated buying one, but it is hard to imagine giving up the pleasures of handling a paper book. The discussions have prompted me to write about the books that influenced me as a child; not just the content, but the actual copy of the book, and the experience of reading it, starting with number 1: Through the Looking Glass.
I was well known for being a big fan of Alice. Over the years, parents and friends gave me various editions, including a complete works of Carroll; the facsimile of the manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Underground; and a rather beautiful pop-up version of Alice in Wonderland. But I remained staunchly loyal to my “proper” copy, which contained both Wonderland and Looking Glass, complete with the Tenniel illustrations. It was a 1971 OUP edition which contained an introduction, notes, chronology, and other background materials. As I grew older, I began to enjoy using the explanatory notes to supplement my reading of the stories with historical and biographical context. How wonderful to be informed that a teetotum is “a top spun with the fingers, particularly one shaped like a cube with letters on its four flat sides”; that the rose and the violet in the garden of live flowers were named for Alice’s sisters Rhoda Caroline Anne Liddell and Violet Constance Liddell; and that Beautiful Soup parodied a popular song, Beautiful Star, which Alice Liddell used to sing! The Looking Glass section also included a list and diagram of Alice’s moves across the chessboard, and Carroll’s 1896 preface which provides further explanation of the chess problem.
I think my mother probably bought this copy for me, although I’m not sure when; certainly I can’t remember a time when it was ever not on the bookshelf in my bedroom. I can picture myself reading it in bed and in the old horse-hair armchair we had in the living room, and expect it also went out with me from time to time. Handling the copy now, I see that I did not take great care of it. Substantial parts of the cover are missing around the spine; there are various splash marks on the front cover suggesting something dripped from a height, as well as a ring mark left by a cup. There has been some sort of horrific spillage on pages 122-123, which happens to be the beginning of chapter 1 of Through the Looking Glass (although luckily the illustration of Dinah the kitten has just escaped the stain). My name and address is written on the flyleaf in middle school ink pen rather carelessly, including an emphatic, underlined U.K. which suggests I may have taken it on holiday and been fearful of losing it.
Brought up in a Radio 4-listening household, I used to worry a lot about which book I would take with me if ever left on a Desert Island (if only I could ditch the Bible and the Shakespeare, I used to think, and take three really great books!). This edition of Alice seemed the obvious choice – not only did it contain two brilliant stories, but it also contained logic problems, a chess problem, and poems that I could learn by heart. It still seems an excellent way of keeping me entertained if marooned.