Dear book friends,
Spoiler alert (I know you hate spoilers, sorry): this letter to you is really just one massive thank you. I may gush, and I apologise in advance, but it’s been a while we’ve had this thing and I need to speak from my heart right now and tell you just how much you’ve been there for me, over the years.
When I was at school, with my plait-pigtails and bright red cardigan, I was rather awkward. I went from bossy and loud at home, to shy and quiet in the classroom. I wasn’t sure of anything or anyone, and I let myself disappear most days. I wasn’t unhappy, I just wasn’t sure. Then I started reading. I came across the school library – literally just a series of bean bags and a couple of box shelves, but at the time it was a magical space for young me! Books, everywhere! I could choose what I read, I didn’t have to stick with what my teachers would always pick for the class (almost always war time children with families torn apart or kids on the streets in the nineties, hating everyone and all of them somehow with misdiagnosed dyslexia, there was no other literature?!) and…I could take the books home. Suddenly, I was Matilda.
I would keep my borrowed books – and bought books, thanks to those parents of mine who were delighted when they saw me reading – in pride of place on my desk. I would binge on various series; I couldn’t get enough unfortunate events, I volunteered with those angels on their unlimited missions, I hung out with the Casson family in their colourful kitchen, Tracey Beaker showed me around the Dumping Ground, and of course I attended Hogwarts. That was quite special, actually – all my classmates seemed to board the train bound for Hogwarts around the same time. Suddenly we all had our house colours showing, we pretended to fly in the playground and we practised charms with chopsticks. I was one of many Hermiones on World Book Day, Year 4. But nobody else brought a stack or books or a Crookshanks, so…
Secondary school…that place proved tricky from the start. I wasn’t deemed cool and thus was frequently picked on for various physical features that I had no control over, and cleverness that for a while I tried desperately to hide, in order to achieve maximum coolness. It didn’t work, and eventually I gave up. Then, as the misery built considerably and led to me searching for somewhere to go at break times, I discovered the library. Much bigger than the one I’d found at primary school – this was a whole room of books! And a desk, and a librarian, and a computer system, and organised shelving! It was warm and friendly and comforting, and it smelled so beautifully of books. I spent many rainy days in there from then on, and eventually I even became a student librarian – I had a badge and everything. I will be eternally grateful to the staff in that library for making me feel so welcome – but also to you, books, for being in there in the first place. Soon I was dipping into teen fiction, learning about other schools and their abundance of misfits and uncool kids and bullies – and popular girls who secretly yearned to be invisible, and cute boys who were actually really shy…who knew these people existed?!
I continued to hang out with Hermione, but also I spent some time with Lyra, and soon the Bindi Babes were my sassy idols – then at one point I even attempted to fall for Edward Cullen, because everyone else seemed to be (not for me, in the end. Too pale and generally sickening).
At college, I found myself confined somewhat to the books I was instructed to read for my English Lit A Level, and then when I’d get the train home each day, all I’d want to do was switch my brain off and listen to some music, so yeah, my personal recreational reading was at a minimum for those 2 years. Having said that, I still found some solace and some warmth in the classics – Jane was a bit of a babe, let’s be honest, and Rochester was lucky to have her.
Uni was tricky for recreational reading as well because whenever I wasn’t in lectures or doing the reading required for lectures or writing the essays assigned by lecturers, I was doing new adult things such as drinking, partying, buying groceries, drinking, doing laundry, cleaning the house, drinking…but in the holidays between semesters I went nuts reading for myself. I met Emma and Dexter and they made me cry, I wondered where Bernadette was, I danced in the rain with Stargirl, and yes, I grieved for Alaska.
Now, as a graduate getting to grips with actual real life, I find I’m making new friends almost every day. I have endless time for reading, for finding myself and others in books. So thank you, my friends in books and my books who have become friends. You have infinitely enriched my life for many years – but also, quite simply, made me feel less alone.
Happy World Book Day, my friends.
Yours, bookishly and always,