On Books


A book is a dream that you hold in your hand.

Neil Gaiman


When I was younger I wanted to be Matilda. Maybe I even thought I was Matilda. She was plucky, mischievous and had an insatiable love for books that rivalled my own.

Like my favourite child heroine, I devoured stories. No amount of pocket money would have been enough to keep me stocked in reading material. I read a book a day, sometimes more. Often I had four, five or even six books on the go at the same time. A different setting for every mood. I ended up reading each Harry Potter twelve times over, delving into Great Expectations at nine years old and braving my mother’s Danielle Steels at the tender age of eleven. My nose was hidden in the spines of so many books; I walked into walls, drifted in and out of conversations and spent hours reading by torchlight after lights out.


Some children had comfort blankets and favourite teddy bears. I had dog-eared novels. I never went anywhere without one tucked inside my bag or clutched tightly in my greedy-for-words fists. I read A Little Princess outside matron’s office while I waited for my mum to pick me up from school, Pride and Prejudice on a Petrol Station wall while I waited for my friends and Crime and Punishment on the bus to college. Thanks to books I’ve been to places that don’t even exist, walked the streets in ages already gone and put myself inside the shoes of innumerable weird and wonderful people.


Then, after finishing university, my reading slowed to a stop. I was all read out. My brain needed a break so I returned to my childhood favourites. They were a palate cleanser of sorts for my mind, which had been buzzing with so many difficult words for so long.


These days I’m picking up the pace again, but it’s nowhere near what it once was. Where I would once have read sixty, seventy books a year, these days I’m lucky if I make it to twenty five. This is partly because some of the books I read now are much longer and more intense than they used to be, but also, it comes part and parcel with the fact that adulthood and full time employment places much higher demand on your time than childhood ever did.


But even though I’m not reading half as much, books still hold a huge importance in my life. If I’m stressed out I’ll reorganise my bookshelves alphabetically, or by genre or even by the colours of their spines. Now I’m earning I also buy books at an alarming rate. Nothing makes me happier than an afternoon perusing second hand bookshops, unearthing hidden treasures, even if I know they’ll just be joining my ever-increasing to-get-round-to-reading-one-day list. I don’t just buy books to read any more, I buy them as a collector. I curate my shelves carefully.


And embedded most deeply with my love of books is the fact that it’s no longer just the story inside the book that’s important, but also the story of the book. Books bought from charity shops with birthday notes scrawled on the inside page, or letters buried within their yellowed pages. Books borrowed from friends with post-it notes and marginalia. The books passed down to me from my maternal Granddad still smell of his pipe smoke seven years on. The bits of paper pushed inside the pages and asterisks spidered next to his favourite quotes are more important to me than any of the printed text inside. 


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