When I was 6 years old my Family and I were heading to St Paul’s Cathedral for a service. Worried that I would be bored my father handed me a copy of “Five on a treasure Island” by Enid Blyton. This one, seemingly simple, act changed my life. I discovered a new world to explore and I’ve never looked back. Recently I’ve been thinking about why I read so much. What is it about books that has made them into such an integral part of who I am. My friends and family know me as a book nerd. Even my colleagues will turn to me in a conversation about books to verify facts for them like I’m a literary Wikipedia. How have different combinations of the same 26 letters become a cornerstone of my existence?
Reading is pure escapism. It doesn’t matter what is happening in my life, I know that I will find a safe place within the pages of a book. I had a pretty tough time at school and this was a way for me to disappear. The stories I read when I was 13 have huge significance for me because they provided me with a haven when I needed one most. When you ask people about the books that mean the most to them you’ll invariably find that they are those read at significant points in their lives. The death of a loved one, problems at work, betrayals and lies all cause us huge amounts of stress. The Books we rely on during this time will take us out of ourselves, even just for a moment. That’s why they have such power. Books like the Belgariad and Harry Potter got me through school whilst To kill a mockingbird took me away from my first Heartbreak. I found total peace in Catcher in the Rye when my Grandmother died and I reread Eragon when my Grandfather passed as the two of us had read and discussed it together. More recently when I was made redundant I read Laurie Lee and his descriptions and perceptions took me away from all humiliation and depression that I was feeling. These books become part of our memories of these times that define us making them part of who we are as people.
Reading brings you closer together with the people. There is a joy in finding someone who has read and enjoyed the same book as you. My sister and I both read Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials series and we spent ages talking about what we would want our Daemons to be when we grew up or which of the parallel world we would want to live in. My father and I have spent hours discussing T.S Elliot and the way that the yellow fog is made animalistic and cat like. More recently I spent twenty minutes on a tube talking to a complete stranger about George Orwell as we were both reading Down and Out in Paris and London. These connections give us whole new outlooks on the world as we all read things differently. A story is made up of a writer’s thoughts and experiences but it is interpreted through our own. Therefore hearing someone else’s ideas is to hear a different tale entirely. The greatest joy to be found though is when the writer or another reader have shared your thoughts. It’s best said in Alan Bennet’s the history boys “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met.. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”
These are just two of the reasons I read. I could list so many more but the simple fact is that I read because I love it. I love finding new characters and undiscovered lands. I love the smell and the feel of books, be they old or new. I love spending my Sunday mornings in my dressing gown with coffee and a paperback or an evening with wine and poetry. I read because there is no substitute in the world to letting my imagination run wild and divert my consciousness from the troubles of the day.
So that’s me. If you’ve come to the blog then I assume you are readers as well. People have probably asked you what you read or what your favourite books are. Have you ever asked yourself why you read? Have a think and let me know.