The Books That Saved Me

It has been a long time since I have written anything for this blog. But last night, as I was about to make a start on my latest book, I started instead thinking about all those books I have read before, and how, over the past year, they have become more important to me than ever. 

I have always considered myself a keen reader, and sought comfort in books from a young age. As a shy, somewhat awkward child (not much has changed there now I’ve reached my thirties!) I loved being immersed in stories. I loved making up my own stories, and writing about others, creating whole, vivid worlds inside my head. I remember the joy I felt as a kid when I painted my bookshelf purple to match my new bedroom, decorating it with various figurines and groovy chick stickers (ah, the 90’s). The shelves were crammed full of books by Dick King Smith, Roald Dahl, Jill Murphy and Jacqueline Wilson. My collections of Goosebumps and the Babysitters Club all in pristine condition and well organised (ah, the 90’s Part 2) I would save my pocket money to see what W. H. Smith had to offer on the weekend shopping trips with my parents, and clutch tightly to my book token to spend at the school book fair. This childhood excitement over new books is something that has stayed with me for most of my life, and my enthusiasm for discovering new stories also formed a significant part of my time at secondary school and college. 

I have never been the most naturally academic person. As an anxious person I do not thrive in exam settings and often felt overwhelmed by the pressure of proving myself in these situations. But just like childhood me, it was through books that I found my home as a teenager. English Literature, History and Drama were where I felt most at peace. The ability to consume new stories and knowledge, and in the case of drama, a chance for me to step into another person’s shoes, and forget who I was for a time, was where I was happiest. And at college I continued to study literature, and relished the challenge of finding the meaning in the works of Chaucer and Shakespeare. My A Levels also introduced me to the work of Iain Banks, with The Wasp Factory remaining one of the most memorable books of my reading life, and perhaps influencing my ability to tolerate the bleaker, more unusual books that have graced my shelves over the years. 

But after those formative years, aside from a period in my late teens and early twenties where my reading dipped as I was finding my feet in life, moving out, looking for jobs and going back to college again (accounting, exciting I know) books have become my savior once again. And for the last decade, particularly the last 7 or 8 years, I have read more than ever before. As I mentioned previously, my shyness and awkwardness in social surroundings is something that I have struggled with for a while. Additionally, as an overthinker, I often find my mind swirling with concerns and thoughts of various levels of importance. This can include my current worries about missing family or the impact of the pandemic, through to the wording of a WhatsApp message I sent 6 months ago and whether small animals get scared in a thunderstorm and should I invite them in like Snow White? But I have found through reading that when I can become immersed in a good book, I can shut out all of these concerns and anxieties, and instead find myself enclosed in a place where I can relax, uncover stories, and absorb new information and knowledge. When I read, I feel safe, and the worries that I have drift away for a little while. I read books that entertain me, make me laugh and cry, make me think about myself and the world around me, and open my eyes to things I may not have known before. For that they will always be valuable to me, and I am always grateful for the happiness and comfort they bring, particularly in the most turbulent of times. This year in particular, they have given me stability and hope in a year in which I have often felt lost. 

Now, if you thought any of what I have written so far is cringeworthy, you have been warned, it gets even more sentimental. 

In 2017, almost two decades on from my Dad helping me paint my childhood bookshelf, he was back again to help me wrestle five Billy bookcases onto the wall of my new house. These shelves are my pride and joy, and each of the books forms part of a collection that has been a decade in the making. I have talked before about the importance of reading in helping me manage my mental health and keeping me entertained. But as well as that the books represent something much bigger for me. I can look at my books and remember when and where I got a particular book (most of them are from Nottingham Waterstones so this isn’t too hard to work out, but still) but they remind me of particular points in my life, and experiences. When I started to read more intensely in my mid-twenties I decided to try and get more involved and see if I could meet more like-minded people, to ‘come out of my shell a bit’ as us introverts are often told. I decided to try and find a book club. I checked out all the events that the local Waterstones had to offer. And it is through this that I have met some lovely people, and have had the privilege to meet some incredible authors with whom to have a limited, awkward conversation with when I inevitably forget my intelligent question or observation (I was particularly nervous when I got to meet Margaret Atwood, but luckily, she knew how to deal with an awkward woman who sheepishly presented a copy of her book to her like she’d been summoned to present her work to the headmistress) 

2020 has been, without question, a challenging year for everyone. And I am sure I am not alone in turning to books more than ever this year, to provide some comfort and company in a time when we are isolated. And that is why I decided to randomly write an essay on why I like books in the middle of December when I should be wrapping Christmas presents. I am not really sure what this was going to be, or how it will come across as I can only describe it as a mixture of the ramblings of an awkward thirty-something, and a love letter to books and reading, and the joy it can bring when we need it most.  

I feel immensely grateful to all the authors and their work that has helped me through some tough times. And to all the booksellers and fellow book lovers I have met over the years who I hopefully don’t irritate too much. I have had the good fortune to share my love of books with many people over the years through my time at events, blogging, working with publishers and sharing pictures of my latest purchases over Twitter and Instagram as I joke about how much I must annoy the postman with my lockdown book hauls. So here is a thank you to everyone who I have interacted with over the years, I hope the book community continues to be a place where we can all discover new books, and encourage each other to buy more, ignoring that giant pile of unread books we all seem to have. 

As is evident from my ramblings, books have become more important to me than ever before. To me, reading has become more than a hobby, and is something that continues to provide comfort as it helps shape me as a person. Times are uncertain at the moment, but I cannot wait for the days when we get back to a book launch in person, or to stroll around our favourite bookshop stress free. But until then I will curl up under a blanket on my sofa, open the pages, and start a new beginning. 

2 thoughts on “The Books That Saved Me

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Books can be so important in so many ways can’t they? And of course can be associated with so many memories. Hope you get a good pile to add to those bookcases at Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

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