Where Mark Hodkinson grew up, books were only for geeks
BOOK OF THE WEEK
NO ONE HERE READS TOLSTOI: MEMOIRS OF A WORKING CLASS READER
by Mark Hodkinson (Canongate £16.99, 368pp)
Anyone who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s and is, like me, uncommon will appreciate the period details in Mark Hodkinson’s gripping memoir, set in prickly Manchester and Rochdale – places, like my own southern Industrial Wales, not penetrated at any time. time with flower power, free love, olives, lasagna, garlic, asparagus or avocado.
The closest thing to working-class pasta was a box of spaghetti hoops.
Mark Hodkinson has written a captivating memoir about his labor education in Manchester. Pictured: Mark Hodkinson as a child
“My parents drank tea,” Hodkinson says, because coffee was “considered hoity-toity,” wine was unknown, and his mother couldn’t believe cheesecake was dessert, so he served it with it. fries. Dinner was at noon, tea was the evening meal, and no one dreamed of eating out, as it was a pretentious waste of money and not for people like us.
There were no pictures on the walls, the television was never turned off, and vacations abroad were the preserve of movie stars and Pools winners. Torquay was as far as Hodkinson traveled, but at least there were allegedly palm trees. His talk about used clothes, making mixes on C90 tapes and driving Raleigh Choppers made me nostalgic.
There was rarely tactile affection between family members, only blows. In the last century, husbands never did the shopping, cooking or cleaning. The man’s job was to keep a roof over people’s heads, pay rent, fix cars, and hang out at the pub with his buddies.
If this all sounds rather Neanderthal, it was. Hodkinson says, “Nobody I knew owned or played a musical instrument”, and there was as much chance of catching his parents reading as of finding them “trampolining in the back garden.
Indeed, the books were anathema. Hodkinson’s father thought reading was a girl thing, like sewing or netball. His mother was also not very supportive: “It’s not normal, a boy your age all alone.”
Her father went so far as to imply that the bookworms were gay: “If you’re stuck here day in and day out reading, you’ll never find yourself a girlfriend.” It’s if it’s a girlfriend you want.
Hodkinson was told never to aim higher than becoming a trainee manager at Marks & Spencer. Pictured: Mark Hodkinson as a child
The sad lesson of No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy, echoing my own experience in Rhymney Valley, is that the working class is its own worst enemy, quick to crush and deride anyone who aspires: “If you get smart , you go away. , leave them behind’, in a betrayal of the tribe.
In high school days, passing the 11-Plus could qualify you as a snob — just as Hodkinson was labeled a snob for opening a John Updike novel. Hodkinson’s descriptions of her understanding are heartbreaking. In class, “the children shouted, answered and provoked easy arguments”. If a student showed interest in a lesson or submitted homework, they were laughed at like creeps. More often the cry went up: “Let’s find a cat and kill it!”
Physical education lessons were notable horrors. To be “sent out on a chilly February morning in flimsy nylon shorts and shirts, shivering, skin turning red” was only equaled in joy by the thought of double reckoning.
Many teachers were sullen and apathetic and had given up thinking that they could do anything about their students’ “low self-esteem” except rub it. & Spencer, where there was a staff podiatry program.
He was saved by a bout of asthma, which kept him at home. “That bad period was when I discovered my love of reading.”
Hodkinson particularly enjoyed James Herriot’s Vet Stories. Pictured: James Herriot’s vets could fly
Hodkinson particularly enjoyed James Herriot’s veterinary stories and Tolkien’s sagas of wizards, dwarves, trolls and dragons. Next came Jerome K. Jerome, The Diary Of A Nobody and Catcher In The Rye. He re-reads the Salinger every year because ‘he’s always smart with a lust for life… I had forged a union with millions of others around the world just by reading a book’.
Barry Hines’ A Kestrel For A Knave, which formed the basis of the classic film Kes, struck a chord – a working-class boy from the North finding something he’s passionate about.
Hodkinson bought his books from a wheelbarrow in the market, where he was told, “No one here reads Tolstoy. The merchant also mentioned authors who he said were called Dotsandeffski and Mario Vases Lager. Before the Internet, out-of-print titles were hard to find and second-hand bookstores were dark, seedy “claustrophobic taverns”. For my part, I’m happy enough to feed my own book addiction with the “Buy Now” button on Amazon, even if it means contributing to the $230,000 that Hodkinson says Jeff Bezos earns every minute.
Preston Polytechnic was no better than Hodkinson’s school. His journalism course is equivalent to diplomas in hairdressing and dry stone masonry. He began to work—and it’s funny—in provincial newspapers, where the embittered old editors savored the overwhelming “enthusiasm and initiative.”
Hodkinson was able to edit amateur dramas and cover inquests and board meetings. Once upon a time there was a scoop on a fryer fire.
In the meantime, reading was more than a hobby. The books were “a portal to a new world or a new version of the world,” which left Hodkinson lively and excited, “illuminated by these characters” and their locations.
Over time he had amassed a collection of 3,500 volumes and was a structural liability for any house he inhabited. Sagging shelves were reinforced with wooden blocks.
Although the books became “crucial in cementing my position as an underdog, getting me through and forging my personality”, Hodkinson’s mother still said, with a edge, “You’re not going to read all that!” Working-class distrust of the written word was entrenched. His father continued to nurture real men who worked with their hands, played sports outdoors, and strolled the towers.
Even library books were banned from Hodkinson’s house, as the pages were believed to contain germs. Pictured: Mark Hodkinson as a child
Hodkinson, who became a best-selling author of stories about football teams and pop groups, spent his life fighting against an upbringing and an environment where “books were objects of scorn.” Even library books were banned from his home, as the pages were believed to harbor germs.
Whether or not that is the reason, it is tragic to hear only five percent of the population bother to use public libraries today; 800 branches closed in the decade after 2005.
Allen Lane, co-founder of Penguin Books, was a firm believer in the existence of a “vast audience of low-cost smart book readers.”
He had moved millions of paperbacks by 1961. Where did those general readers go?
I was alarmed to discover that being a bookworm is now a pathological syndrome called book hoarding beyond life expectancy, for which guidance is available. Still, it’s good to text, tweet, and have the attention span of a goldfish.
Everyone is against literature, not just the working class. As Hodkinson puts it, ethnicity and “gender lines” matter more to universities and publishers than whether something is good.
Fair play for Hodkinson, he tried to be a publisher himself, which turned into a nightmare of “treason, impecuniosity, bureaucracy and disappointment”. A JD Salinger biography failed and 3,000 copies were dumped in dumpsters or donated to charity shops. A movie was made starring Nicholas Hoult, but Kevin Spacey was also in the cast, meaning distributors went a mile when it was “canceled.”
Do not mistake yourself. This is not a tearful book. It’s brilliantly written. Hodkinson is sticking to his guns. I think he’s a hero.