Remembering a book from childhood. It’s a madeleine moment everyone can relate to, and it’s #47 of Daniel Gray’s ’50 eternal delights of books’, sandwiched between ‘Letting Poetry Tingle Your Spine’ and ‘Getting Waylaid Looking at a Dictionary’ (I’m with him there – how else would I have discovered the word galactophagist*?).
As Gray explains in his wispy new volume, the delight comes from hearing a mother in a furniture superstore, warning her child to stop swinging on a wardrobe lest he ‘end up like Flat Stanley’. Instantly, the book’s jacket pops into the author’s mind, and with it, the emotions that the story stirred in him decades ago.
It can happen in a cafe or at work – a fleeting reference and suddenly heroes and villains are dancing through the mind. ‘How remarkable and profound that the slightest of brushes against a memory should plunder such rich returns’, he muses.
Or maybe it’s a book not merely recalled, but held in his hands. ‘In the most jubilant instance this is the same copy first read, when gods and monsters first snuck into some beguiled corner of your mind. “This Books Belongs to…” reads its label, and the answer is “you”, both then and now’.
I don’t know about you, but for me, there’s an extra special thrill to be had from a book that’s first forgotten and then remembered. It happened the other day in a bookshop. My mum – queen of browsers with an eagle-eye for the best kids’ books – plucked from the shelf a green clothbound hardback whose large gilt-lettered title I didn’t at first recognise.
‘Borka!’ she said.
‘Borka?’ I replied.
I opened the book and of course… Borka, John Burningham’s story of the little goose who’s born without feathers, the jersey that his mama knits for him, the adventure he embarks upon come winter when he’s unable to migrate with the rest of the flock… How could I have forgotten? It all came rushing back to me, taking me back to my childhood as swiftly and surely as a whiff of the gaudy scent of collectible erasers.
Scribbles in the Margins by Daniel Gray is published by Bloomsbury (£9.99).
*I’d like to think you’ve picked up a dictionary and are already joyously lost somewhere in the Gs, but in case you’re pressed for time, a galactophagist is one who eats, or subsists on, milk. Make full use of it before weaning!