Four Books I Loved While Growing Up

The Giant Jam Sandwich - Janet Burroway and John Vernon Lord

I was given this book for my 5th birthday, and I’ve read it again and again to all my three children. It is the perfect picture book: rhymes, pictures, story, humour – everything fits together perfectly. You’re never too young to become a lifetime book addict, and I think this is one of the best places to start. Like all the best picture books, it is one you can read again and again.

 

You’re never too young to become a lifetime book addict

Goalkeepers Are Different –  Brian Glanville

Pre-teen, I wasn’t a very bookish child. I was obsessed with football and though I simply cannot fathom the logic of it now, aged seven I was more interested in reading a league table than a novel. Crazy! What a waste of time! I do remember loving Brian Glanville’s football books, though. Particularly this one. I may have misremembered it, but I can still visualise a climactic scene in which an injured goalkeeper has to overcome the pain barrier to face one final corner in the dying seconds of an FA cup final. Aged nine, this was my Hamlet.

 

The Secret Dairy of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend and The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

It was humour that turned me into a reader, particularly these two books. “YA” didn’t exist as a book genre in the 1980s when I was a teenager, but if I think back it seems like the more esoteric concept of “crossover fiction” kind of did. These two books were read to you by adults and teenagers – copies would go back and forth from parents to their children – and nobody seemed too worried about what genre or age group these books were designed for. They were just funny. My twelve-year-old son has recently devoured them with as much enthusiasm as I did when I was his age.

Sue Townsend’s humour comes from closely observing and sending up the very real humiliations of life as an early teenager. Douglas Adams’s writing exists at the opposite end of the realism spectrum, starting, as it does, with planet Earth being demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Both of them are masters of prose. The sentences sing. If you sit down with either of these books intending to read for two minutes, you’ll still be there half an hour later.

There is a danger when you are young that books become associated with work. Novels like these are essential for reminding you that reading is something you do for fun.

There is a danger when you are young that books become associated with work. Novels like these are essential for reminding you that reading is something you do for fun.

 

The Cement Garden – Ian McEwan

If those are the books that definitively turned me into a reader, I think this is the novel that may have begun to turn me into a writer. It is the dark and twisted tale of a family whose father dies in the first chapter, and whose mother takes to her bed and finally dies, too. The teenage children, not wanting to be taken into care, tell nobody what has happened and bury her in cement in the basement. Aged sixteen, it blew my mind. Reading it kept me awake into the small hours, and it gripped me like nothing I had ever read before. I felt as if I hadn’t just read the book, I had momentarily lived the extraordinary life of its protagonist.

After that book, I was suddenly much less interested in TV. I wanted to read everything. I wanted to know how it was done. I wanted to know how a writer could conjure up places, people and events that seemed so utterly real to their readers. I wanted to write.

 

For more great reading recommendations, check out our themed book lists for kids and for teens, and keep an eye on our book of the month page for giveaways.

William Sutcliffe

William Sutcliffe is the author of a wide range of novels for adults, teens and young children. His latest YA novel, Concentr8, is a gripping and controversial story about teenagers who rally against the oppressive world of politics and social control.