No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy

Memoirs of a Working-Class Reader

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Pub Date 3 Feb 2022 | Archive Date 12 Jul 2022

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Mark Hodkinson grew up among dark satanic mills in a house with just one book: Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain. His dad kept it on top of a wardrobe with other items of great worth - wedding photographs and Mark's National Cycling Proficiency certificate. If Mark wanted to read it, he was warned not to crease the pages or slam shut the covers.

Fast forward to today, and Mark still lives in Rochdale snugly ensconced (or is that buried?) in a 'book cave' surrounded by 3,500 titles - at the last count. He is an author, journalist and publisher.

So this is his story of growing up a working-class lad during the 1970s and 1980s. It's about schools (bad), music (good) and the people (some mad, a few sane), and pre-eminently and profoundly the books and authors (some bad, mostly good) that led the way, shaped a life. If only coincidentally, it relates how writing and reading has changed, as the Manor House novel gave way to the kitchen sink drama and working-class writers found the spotlight (if only briefly).

Mark also writes movingly about his troubled grandad who, much the same as books, taught him to wander, and wonder.

Mark Hodkinson grew up among dark satanic mills in a house with just one book: Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain. His dad kept it on top of a wardrobe with other items of great worth - wedding...

Advance Praise

‘Mark Hodkinson is one of the great unsung heroes of literature . . . With verve, insight and perfectly-captured period detail, he reminds us that not only are books sacred objects that should be available to everyone, but also that working-class voices remain more marginalised and underrepresented than ever. No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy redresses this imbalance beautifully, and in a just world will kickstart a long-overdue working class literary renaissance’

‘This is a book about the north; it is also about publishing, writing and music, but it transcends its subjects and meets the criterion Hodkinson sets out in his preface: “The best books, the same as the best days, skitter on the breeze. They go their own way”’

‘Deeply poignant . . . powerful’
Sunday Times         

‘Mark's journey into his own cocoon of books is a deeply personal tale but one with universal themes for all young lives shaped and transformed in some way by the written word . . . Thoughtful and engaging’

‘Moving . . . A work of triumphs’
Irish Times         

‘This is an impassioned hymn of praise and declaration of love for that complex cultural object, the book. Anyone who has ever read, written or published a book will find their heart’s pages turning as they sink joyfully into these craftsman-built paragraphs’
IAN McMILLAN         

‘Reading this memoir is to realise there is no better tool for social mobility than a book . . . lovely’
Daily Mail         

Financial Times         

‘Some kids grow up dreaming of fast cars and fancy clothes. Others just want books and records. If that was you, particularly if you grew up in a small northern town where people said the word "book" the way they said the word "voodoo", this is probably your story. Even if you didn't, chances are you’ll love it’

‘Effusive, entertaining’
Times Literary Supplement         

‘Written with verve . . . [Hodkinson} is a hero’
Daily Mail     

‘Mark Hodkinson is one of the great unsung heroes of literature . . . With verve, insight and perfectly-captured period detail, he reminds us that not only are books sacred objects that should be...

Available Editions

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ISBN 9781786899972
PRICE £16.99 (GBP)

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Average rating from 13 members

Featured Reviews

I liked No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy a lot. Mark Hodkinson writes very engagingly throughout and I found the whole thing very enjoyable.

The book - and its title especially – presents itself as a reading memoir, which to an extent it is, although there is much more here. Hodkinson grew up in an unliterary, and often anti-literary, working class family in Rochdale. From an early age he loved to read, which was viewed with great suspicion by most of his family and friends. The early section on his discovery of the joy of reading and of the books which brought him that joy is excellent. It is honest, straightforward and down-to-earth, and captures the excitement of books and – crucially – the sheer pleasure of time alone with a book without external demands, which chimed closely with my own experience.

Hodkinson manages to discuss books with no element of showing off or of demonstrating how well read he is, which is a relief. Indeed, later he has some trenchant and, I think, accurate criticisms of the way that a privileged elite still determine what is meant by “well read” and of how that same privileged elite dominates the publishing industry and the “literary” world.

I like Hodkinson’s assessments of many of the books he’s read, too. I don’t agree with all of them, of course – that’s just how it is with books – but he is insightful, thoughtful and independent. He refuses to be cowed by orthodoxy, so when he writes of The Catcher In The Rye (which had a tremendous effect on him when young, as it did on so many of us) he resists the “agenda of cultural revisionism” which deems Holden to be “too male, too white, too privileged, too American, too heterosexual...flagrantly misogynistic…” Hodkinson says, “ mores drawn predominantly from the 1940sare bound to jar in a modern context; it’s one of the reasons why we read: to understand and interpret the present through the past, how we got here.” Spot on, Mark!

There is a good deal more here, including Hodkinson’s training and career as a journalist, then freelance writer, amateur musician, publisher and editor, with reflections on the state of newspapers, publishing and related matters and a good deal of personal history, most notably the story of his grandfather’s decline into mental illness after a head injury and its effect on the whole family. This is intercut throughout the book and, once I got used to switching in and out of the story, I found it touching and humane.

So, not just a book memoir, but a fine, enjoyable and informative read all round. Warmly recommended.

(My thanks to Canongate for an ARC via NetGalley.)

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This is a tremendous book. A gem. Part autobiography, part confessions of a book addict, part social history, and part recent publishing trends.

I was already a fan of Mark Hodkinson, having loved his novel The Last Mad Surge Of Youth (2009). Off the back of that I bought a few more of his books but have yet to read them yet. This is something Mark could readily identify with as he now realises he owns more unread books than time left in his life to read them.

No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy (2022) is initially concerned with Mark’s childhood in the mid 1970s. Educated in a brutal comprehensive school where any sign of braininess had to be carefully concealed. No one in his family read books (excepting the one book in the house, Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain) and so it was a surprise when he became obsessively drawn to books. This is the starting point for a wonderful tale which embraces lots of inspirational and classic books, punk rock, Mark’s career, how he started his own publishing house Ponoma, the books he has written, journalism, and which ends with his musing on 21st century reading and publishing trends.

Mark Hodkinson's publishing company Pomona Books has published titles by Simon Armitage, Bob Stanley, Barry Hines, Ian McMillan, Hunter Davies, Ray Gosling, David Gedge, Stuart Murdoch (of Belle and Sebastian) and many more.

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Many readers will doubtless relate to Mark Hodkinson's memoir of growing up in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
Today, he is a journalist, publisher and author. He has always loved books and has a vast collection. But as a child his voracious book-reading habit was treated with suspicion by his working-class parents. His parents worried that there was something unwholesome or antisocial about always "having your nose in a book." His mother even treated his teenaged visit to an optician's to get a pair of glasses with outright scepticism, even though this development probably had nothing to do with his reading habit anyway.
At home, his family owned just one book, Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain, which they kept on top of a wardrobe. Oddly, although I grew up in a very different household in the 1980s and 90s, in a family which was no more interested in the occult than Hodkinson's was, my family owned this physically striking tome too (along with many other books)..
This is more than a book about books. It is a memoir and amongst other things provides many disturbing insights into the mental health of Hodkinson's grandfather.
There are, indeed, many, many books in the world already, perhaps too many. Despite this, No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy, is undeniably a worthy addition to their number..

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I was drawn to this book firstly because I am a bibliophile and secondly because I have always been a great fan of Mark Hodkinson's writing - particularly his memories of supporting Rochdale - as I too support a lower division team.

This book certainly ticked all the boxes, It is partly an autobiography with a detailed account of drawing up in the North West of England in household where reading books was certainly treated with suspicion.

The accounts of the books he read and his impressions of them also captured my attention.

All in all this was an original and exemplary book which I thoroughly enjoyed.

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This is one of those books I know I will read again and again: a memoir linked to the books the author has read (or at least bought!) I have great empathy. My home is also full of books. There are many layers in this text, not just the love of books. There's the whole growing up experience, and Rochdale and Middleton (where I used to own the cinema) in the 1970s and 1980s are captured with more accuracy than any photo album could convey. There's also the interludes of a young boy coping with his grandfather's failing mental health. And the trials and tribulations of getting published and being a publisher. I absolutely love this book. No bibliophile should be without it

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This is a very good memoir, light language, balance between good moments and the dark ones, a lot of books and honesty. I would recommend this book as a pill against prolonged melancholy and dark mood.

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As a working class boy who grew up in the North midlands, I was immediately drawn to this book- and I absolutely loved it. Clever, touching, funny, and filled with a clear love and passion for reading and just how life-changing it can be, this is an absolute joy of a book

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