Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Rances Spalding; READERS' LIVESF

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Rances Spalding; READERS' LIVESF

Article excerpt

Frances is professor of art history at the University of Newcastle and also a critic and biographer. She has written biographies of Bloomsbury Group artists Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. Her most recent book was about the artist Prunella Clough The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis (Geoffrey Bles, 1950) There were only two shelves of books in my childhood home and, for a child, they were not very appetising. But we lived in a village and every Tuesday afternoon a library opened up in a small building on the Glebe. It had three bookcases and one was entirely filled with books for children. Even better, every three months the entire collection changed, so every week I had five new books to read. Illustrations were a big draw, but the imaginative journey offered by reading soon took hold. Opening a book is like entering that cupboard door at the start of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I loved this story and went on and read all the Chronicles of Narnia, as this series is called.

Novel on Yellow Paper by Stevie Smith (Jonathan Cape, 1936) In my early teens, I outgrew the Glebe library and began buying paperbacks in a small bookshop in a nearby town. I still had no-one to advise me on what to read, but I quickly discovered that Penguins were a good buy. Browsing through the shelves one day, I saw the title Novel on Yellow Paper and wondered what on earth it was about. I pulled it off the shelf, read the first page and was completely beguiled by the gossipy, officegirl narrator who directly addresses the reader and has a onefoot-off-the-ground approach to life. I immediately bought the book, though I had no idea who Stevie Smith was. Nor did I for one moment think that I would one day become a biographer and write Stevie Smith's life.

The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas by Gertrude Stein (Bodley Head, 1933) Luckily, I scraped into university on a waiting-list place. My tutors were all men, aloof, distinguished and rather pompous. I had opted to do art history which, if not narrowed down by an overriding theory, is a wonderfully capacious subject. You can come at art from many angles and see so many things refracted in it. …

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