Mary Hoffman - My favourite books

Published on: 07 October 2013 Author: Mary Hoffman

For Children's Book Week, author Mary Hoffman tells us about the books that she loved best when she was growing up.

Mary Hoffman - photo by Jess Barber

I do like being asked about favourite books! How long have you got?

When I was a very little girl before I could read, I was obsessed with books featuring characters called Mary. My long-suffering parents and two much older sisters got tired of reading to my from Enid Blyton's Mary Mouse books and Gwyneth Rae's (actually far superior) Mary Plain series about a little bear cub from 'the bear pits at Berne'.

I quickly learned to read for myself and discovered the delights of Lavender Hill library near where we lived and there I took out books like P.L. Travers' Mary(!) Poppins and Hugh Lofting's Dr Dolittle – which were both series rather than one-off books. I loved series.

Mary Mouse

At the same time at home we had Worzel Gummidge, Sam Pig and Sally by Alison Uttley, and a precious copy of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with that wonderfully typographically presented poem of 'The Mouse's Tale/Tail' inset into it.

Funnily enough we didn't have Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There: that discovery had to wait until university, where it was popular with fellow undergraduates. I also remember being in stitches with my best friend over Winnie-the-Pooh in college – which just shows how innocent we were.

Mary PlainWhat I read growing up was determined by a/ what was in the house, b/ what I found for myself in the library and c/ (later) the demands of the curriculum, especially as I took A level English and read 'EngLit' at university.

So that was why I read Lorna Doone, Jane Eyre (alone of the Brontes) and Ivanhoe (alone of Sir Walter Scott)*, because that was what was in my parents' glass-fronted bookcase. Oh, and that bookcase also held the complete Dickens, in many volumes, which I hoovered up as soon as I was old enough (or probably before).

But I didn't read Peter Pan or Wind in the Willows, both of which I heartily disliked when I read them as a grown-up.

My next sister up was seven years older than me so I was constantly stealing 'her' books even though most of them came from the library too. So when she brought home The Fellowship of the Ring, I had it and the other two Tolkiens out of her hands as soon as she had finished them.

I read Biggles and Jennings and Derbyshire and all of Enid Blyton but not Just William. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but no other Narnias, surprisingly. What Katy Did but not Anne of Green Gables. And I loved Little Women, identifying with Jo as probably every female writer-to-be has always done, but being so cross with her for rejecting the romantic Laurie and marrying the dreadful Professor Bhaer. (I still feel that).

The Lord of the Rings

As my sister got older, I was reading wildly unsuitable books by authors like Ursula Bloom and Mazo de la Roche – writers no-one reads now. The only time it got me into trouble was when I begged to be allowed to read Valley of the Dolls and it was forbidden – the only case of censorship I remember from my childhood. (I read it eventually and hated it).

But my big sister also introduced me to Dorothy L. Sayers and Georgette Heyer and I duly fell in love with Lord Peter Wimsey and Dominic de Vidal.

Barchester TowersNo-one ever had to tell me to 'read round the subject' at school. Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope was one of my set books and I remember the thrill of discovering that it was the second in a series (remember how much I loved series?) It was a no-brainer to read the rest.

From pre-school to now I have been an avid reader and re-reader, so I couldn't wait for my three daughters to be old enough to share my love of books. And they do. I have written blogs about my best picture books, junior titles and YA novels, which are an amalgam of my favourites and my daughters' – and I'm delighted to find many of them on Booktrust's 100 best books list.

And it was such a pleasure to read to our girls, both individually and as a group when we had 'family reading' time - I read all of The Lord of the Rings to them this way. Highlights I remember include reading The Hobbit to middle daughter as she was waiting to go into theatre to have her appendix out, aged seven and not allowed to eat anything. I had to censor all the feasts as I went along.

It wasn't long before they were recommending books to me and I found Terry Pratchett through them. We now constantly recommend and swap books, one of the great pleasures of life.

And now I have a grand-daughter, born in July this year, and it can start all over again!

* I have read all of them since.

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