When I was a child, I would read books to teleport out of my life. One moment I would be lying in bed staring at the white ceiling, anxiety clawing at my throat, and the next I would be visiting prickly Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, or laughing at Dogmatix and his fondness for trees. My introduction to reading was a steady and consistent diet of Beatrix Potter, Goscinny and Uderzo, Hergé, Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss and Enid Blyton. I read compulsively, almost obsessively.
As soon as I was able to read by myself, it became a fixation; whether we were out for a walk or it was after dark, I would have a book in my hand. I became adept at reading while also watching where I was going. I would fall asleep with my cheek pressed against the page.
My mother made us members of the public library and each week she would drive there and let me check out seven books, since that was the most that was allowed at the time. I still remember carrying my wobbly pile to the counter and watching the lady methodically stamp each one before handing them back to me with a smile. If I close my eyes I can still smell the ink and paper.
For a time, Enid Blyton was my crack; Wikipedia tells me Enid Blyton published 762 books and I’d say I’ve read the vast majority. My addiction was so intense that my mother actually forbade me to borrow any more of them. There were multiple trips to the library where I would have to engage in serious subterfuge to get my fix. I would pick out my books, wait patiently for my mother to go out of the room, and then rush the counter in a blind panic to get them stamped before she returned. I would hide them under my jumper or tuck them into the waistband of my highly fashionable corduroy trousers. I could carefully conceal two Enid Blytons (three if I was wearing a jacket). Of course, to avoid suspicion, I would have to then borrow four or five books just for show. When my mother inevitably wondered why I hadn’t checked out the usual seven, I would have to pretend I couldn’t find anything else that interested me.
In hindsight, I wonder what the librarian made of us…
After Enid Blyton I got hooked on Nina Bawden, R.L. Stine, Bill Watterson, K.A. Applegate, Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, Garth Nix and eventually just a broad scope of authors from all different genres. As I grew up, I continued to see books as an escape route to other worlds. Anytime I was feeling too much stress or anxiety or discomfort or worry, I would open a book and disappear into it head-first. It was like a wormhole to another life; a sort of body-swap, if you will. I would slip into the shoes of the main character and do what they were doing, feel what they were feeling. I was Sabriel learning to ring the bells, I was Lyra leaving Pantalaimon on the shore. When I finished a book I always felt bereft, like I’d been kicked out of a temporary home.
I think that all of my time spent inside stories – looking through the eyes of different characters and experiencing their adventures, loves, heartbreaks, successes and betrayals – has made me a more empathetic person. I think it taught me so much more about life than what I could ever learn from my own experiences. I won’t say reading makes someone a better person but I do think it makes them a more rounded one. Books have taught me so much more about people than I could ever have learned otherwise. It gave and still gives me insight into lives completely different to my own, motivations I could never share, and realities I could never imagine. In a way, reading other people’s blogs is an extension of that. Reading other people’s blog posts lets me share in their feelings and inhabit their world for a minute or two.
I have a clear and vivid memory of sitting on the windowsill in my 4th class classroom, reading during lunch hour, when a friend saw me and said, “Quinn, when you grow up you’re probably going to marry a book!” At the time I was upset by the comment because I wasn’t an overly sociable child and my interests were pretty much restricted to hanging upside-down from trees and reading. Sometimes I combined the two and hung upside-down from trees while reading. I remember wondering if that would be my life as an adult; just me and my books. I wondered if I would die crushed under a tower of heavy hardbacks that had just been a little too precariously placed.
Now that I am an adult, I am in a much better place. I live a happier, less stressful life. I no longer feel the need to body-swap with fictional characters. These days I read because I enjoy it, not because I need it. I no longer desperately try to make out words by the light of the moon (terrible for your eyes, by the way), or escape into stories like I’m using them as a hiding place. I’m glad to say that now that I am a bona fide grown-up, it’s not just me and my books, and my heavy hardbacks are tidily stacked on a sturdy bookcase where they pose no danger to anyone.
[Just a quick note to say that (astonishingly) I am getting closer to 1000 readers and if I do reach that number I will be doing a weird but fun little giveaway!
… Well. Even if I don’t ever reach that number I’ll probably do the giveaway. Basically, I am planning a giveaway and writing it here so I don’t forget because although I’m excellent at compiling things I always slack on actually going to the post office! I mean, I have three things that I’ve been meaning to post out for about a month now, so might as well add this to the list. It’s happening! Don’t let me forget!]