Because books have the power to change your life, teach you lessons and inspire you.
With your back against the plush chair and your legs crossed beneath you, the soft murmurs from the other students in the library, and a gentle noise in the background, you finally open up to the first page of that book. Finally. Your break times and lunchtimes are usually spent the same way: holed up in the library, devouring book after book.
The girls in your class think it’s a bit weird how you read so much and make fun of you for being a bookworm, but you chuckle to yourself. That’s exactly what you are! You recall the first time you fell in love with reading: finding a piece of your heart nestled between the pages of each story you stumbled into.
But as time goes by, a part of you might wish to have someone — maybe a friend who can actually reply to you — in your life. Someone that’s a real, breathing person; not a witch or a mermaid or a hero or a demi-god. Not a boy you find yourself relating to, wallflowers and brownies and all. It’s not an overpowering feeling and passes just as quickly as it comes, because truthfully, in books, you’re happier anyway.
The worlds you are transported to are ones that feel like home and family, of friendships that will last for infinity, because unlike people, books can’t hurt you. (Even if they make you cry — looking at you, My Sister’s Keeper!) But nobody in school takes notice of the fact that books are your friends; they’re there to comfort you when you need cheering up, make you laugh when you want to cry.
They make you feel every human emotion, unfurling in the pit of your stomach like a honey-kissed velvet flower. Harry Potter is your friend, you grew up together, and Percy Jackson makes you laugh and cry, and Tracy Beaker makes you understand the heartache from neglect and the desire for a family. You learn to empathise. With Charlie, you go to your first party, and with Charlie, you come to terms with your past. You learn the art of kissing and how to date and stand up to bullies with Georgia and learn how not to act around boys you deem to be Sex Gods, or whatever the equivalent is in reality.
Everyone around you, from family to the girls at school, tells you it’s weird to just be reading so much and to make more of an effort. “Stop being such a loner,” they tell you, and you sigh. Does having books as friends make you weird?
This little story may be familiar to you, or it may not. Rather than spending your breaks at school with the people in your classes, you, like me, probably preferred to hang out in the library, perusing the shelves for a book you haven’t already read, or reread at least ten times.
The comfort I got from reading and that fresh book smell gave me the kind of joy nothing else ever did. And though a small (minuscule, really) part of me wanted to stand in line with Yvonne*, someone I knew since year 7, and the rest of the girls at lunch and have that hot, sometimes soggy pasta with the mince that wasn’t as delicious as it smelled, it was nothing compared to the feeling I got from settling in with a good book.
When I Fell in Love with Reading
My earliest memory of reading is The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain, a book I began reading with my cousin, Nahima, to get better at it. This was the start of something magical, a world of dreams and magic and every crisis somehow resolving itself in the end. In the years that followed, Nahima and I, with her younger sister, Shajjy, would spend the majority of our days reading whenever we were together during the summer holidays.
From books by Jacqueline Wilson (My Sister Jodie made me sob uncontrollably, I had to run out of the room to cry, and they laughed at me), to older teen romances by Simone Elkeles which led to inside jokes and wishing for dreamy love interests of our own who would be exact replicas of Alex Fuentes, and giving into the fallen angel hype and falling in love with the Hush, Hush series, we read and talked about them all.
These books became the foundation of my love for reading, the sharpest memories staying with me, all these years later.
They taught me lessons about friendship and the importance of seeking help, such as the Girls series by Jacqueline Wilson and The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, about how love and the power of healthy relationships can help you to heal in A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J Maas and how to keep a relationship alive in the face of heartbreak and devastation in All Your Perfects by Colleen Hoover. Books have the ultimate power to change your life, teach you valuable lessons and inspire you.
I fell in love with reading at a young age. This love was only intensified because my family and I didn’t have a TV when I was growing up as we moved around a lot. Having access to the local, and school, library was where I got my entertainment and cure for boredom: in the pages of endless books. I’d borrow ten at a time and return not even a week later, to get another ten. Two summers in a row, I remember winning the Summer Reading Challenge in just under three weeks, being an avid reader and always keeping my head buried between the pages.
Comfort in Books
Finding emotional comfort in reading is because books are a healthy form of escapism, from the stress and trauma of reality and the ongoings of current events. This escapism relaxes our mental defences, allowing us to feel comfort, in a way so the stress doesn’t overwhelm us. Reading is an art form familiar to us, recalling the happy memories attached to it, of when we first read our favourite book or had that delicious cookie whilst reading in our favourite spot.
One of the main reasons we find comfort in books is due to the sense of not being alone; often, we read books of people who may be dealing with similar problems, in similar situations: being bullied, going through a massive transitional period such divorces, moving homes, family problems, relationship problems and bereavement. Reading books allows us to work through our own dilemmas, often finding answers we didn’t even realise we were looking for in the stories unfolding. Finding resolutions to the situations faced by characters helps us to find inspiration and pleasure in everything working out; it allows for comfort in difficult times.
The comfort we receive from books is something that often cannot be achieved elsewhere; we are able to experience various realities, remember important memories to do with a favourite time, place, people — through reading we can reflect on who we are, where we come from and the kind of people we want to be. Books have the power to shape us and change us as people, inspiring our daily lives.
By reading, we are able to safely and productively focus on something else, in lieu of facing the obstacles in life until we’re ready to. Through reading about the hoops some of our favourite characters have to jump through in order to get their happy ending, we’re able to find courage in the words and have a place to let our minds rest, if only for a while. Whilst escapism may not be an entirely suitable coping mechanism, reading is a healthy method to cope and can prevent negativity.
As far as friends go, books are some of the very best.
Lessons From Books
Books allow us to open up as people and move through the barriers of self-absorption and selfishness into empathy and connection towards other people. We’re able to take a deeper look into other viewpoints, see how the world changes through the eyes of another person. For example, by reading Akala’s Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, I learnt about the impact of stereotypical threats and the way race affects many people in Britain, even to this day, especially in academia.
The promise of having books as friends is never having to worry about abandonment, but also knowing, each time you reread a book, it will teach you something new — you will always be able to uncover a new, fresh layer, peeling it back like the skin of an orange, that citrus smell full of assurances and the understanding of what it means to read. This ability will never dissipate and will only strengthen with time, reminding you of that first book, that first moment when you realised I love reading.
Does having books as friends make you weird?
No, not at all.
Whilst, sure, it’s great to have friends and people in your life who you can speak to and spend quality time with (there’s no denying that), and as we get older we’ll crave intimacy. People are made for connections with people. That’s human. But the thing about books is that, in those times when you had nobody else and nothing else, they were there.
Books may be your first friend, they may have been full of magic and lessons and inspiration, of the kind of wisdom you couldn’t find anywhere else, and they will always be there, waiting for your return, even if you give up reading for a while because reality gets in the way.
Having books as friends doesn’t make you weird, it doesn’t make you normal — because really, how do we define what normal even is? And who decides what normalcy is? The truth is, we’re all trying to get by in a world where we’re governed by a set of rules in every society. Having an escape from it all, in other worlds, living vicariously through every character, is needed sometimes.
So read to your heart’s content, because in the end? Books have the power to change your life.
Please note, this was originally published on January 13, 2021 at Medium.com