Books and me: On my Shelves with Vicky Duffell

Parenting poetry, picture books, and memoirs on mental health, Eastleigh Library Team Manager Vicky Duffell tells us about her favourite reads.

Where’s your favourite place to read?

I like to read on the train, it gives you a nice time out from the world. I’m often on the train with my son though so we read a lot of picture books. Sometimes when I’ve been reading aloud to him, the story has brought over other children on the train who were listening, and they want to look at the pictures too! I have dyspraxia so I don’t drive and there’s a lot of waiting for public transport. I always have a book with me in case there are delays, reading is a great way to reclaim that time.

Whenever I go on holiday, I always like to read a book that’s set in the place I’m visiting. I read Elena Ferrante’s novels while on my honeymoon in Italy, the books have a really strong sense of place so they were perfect. I also read Tales of the City when I visited San Francisco, it was really interesting to see the city through the eyes of someone coming to the city for the first time just when I was doing the same.

How do you read?

I prefer traditional print books; I do have an e-reader, but I like the physicality of a book. You don’t get that new book smell with an e-reader. That’s a great thing about working at the library, we get to check through all the crisp new books that come in.

I usually only read one book for myself at a time, but I read to my son every night. We went through a phase of constantly reading Zog and the Flying Doctors because it’s one of his favourites, though I vary it as much as I can because it gets a little boring. Reading for my own pleasure is quite sporadic, I would love to sit down and finish a book in one sitting but that’s quite a luxury when you’re a parent. I try to find books with shorter chapters that don’t require long periods of reading to really get into, poetry’s great for that too.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m currently reading Nobody Told Me by Hollie McNish, it’s a book of poetry about the small things you never thought about until you become a parent. I don’t often read poetry but it’s a brilliant way to look at something we don’t often talk about. For example, one of the poems is about having to hide in the toilets while you’re breastfeeding, and I think the condensed language makes it really impactful. It’s a book I would recommend to everyone, even if you don’t have children or never want children, it offers a very real and honest insight into the ups and downs of parenthood.

Reading Patterns – Do you follow any specific authors or genre?

I do follow some authors, but I mainly like to read based on subject matter and I really like books that look at mental health. When I had my son I suffered from post-partum psychosis, a rare illness that only affects about 1 in 1,000 mums. One of my favourites is Inferno by Catherine Cho which is amazingly written. It’s interesting to read about someone who went through an experience that you’ve had. Being able to compare how it was similar and different to my experience, I felt very connected to the book.

I also recently read David Harewood’s book Maybe I Don’t Belong Here. I saw his documentary Psychosis and Me on the BBC about his experience of psychosis in his 20s. I’d never really seen anyone talk about psychosis on TV before, so I was really looking forward to reading his biography. He talks about how race and gender can come into your experience with mental health

First loves, best loves

I remember reading a lot of Roald Dahl when I was younger, but it wasn’t really until I was a teenager that I properly got into reading. I remember at the turn of the millennium we had the Everyman’s Library collection in my school, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to read so I just worked my way through all of those. They were lovely hardbacks with quite plain covers, and I think I liked that I was going into the books without any expectations.

I read so many picture books that I’ve really grown to love them. Nadia Shireen’s books are some of the best ones and I particularly loved The Bumblebear. It’s about a bear who dresses up as a bee to sneak into the bees’ school. It’s just such an adorable book and the illustrations are lovely too. Sometimes I think I enjoy the picture book more than my son does and I think some of them are written to be enjoyed by the parents as much as the children.

One of my favourite authors is Elif Shafak, she wrote The Forty Rules of Love which I really enjoyed but her memoir Black Milk is about her experience of post-partum depression and about how she struggled with writing after having a child.

Vicky manages the team at Eastleigh Library, which is located at the top of the Swan Centre. Vicky was speaking with Isaac Fravashi.

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