As people, we love to talk – to other people, to ourselves, to the mirror (don’t lie, everyone does it!) We all have opinions and that’s fun. We can leave comments and choose to like and dislike things for the world to see, with emojis to help. We can smile, shed a tear, gift a flower, hug someone dear. But I believe that despite our self proclaimed greatness as a human race, there are some things a book can say or do that we simply cannot.
A blanket draped over my bunk bed, in the darkness with a torch in her hand, my mum would read fairy tales to me. Hansel and Gretel and the gingerbread house, Red Riding Hood and her wicker basket, all from the same book passed down thirty years from my father’s childhood. Tattered edges and a big shiny painting of Goldilocks eating the perfect porridge connected me and my mum through tales of magic and kindness and a shared appreciation for Cinderella’s gorgeous glass slippers. Cue to my best friend from second grade forcing me to read Harry Potter. The feeling of excitedly anticipating a letter in the mail, chocolate frogs and binge-watching movie nights was exhilarating (we all know the books are better) and a shared grief for Dumbledore’s death brought us together in a way that nothing else could.
From exploring feminism through the eyes of Austen and Woolf to feeling accepted in the world of Walker and Camus, books took me through a journey through time and the lives of people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Being gifted All the light you cannot see by Anthony Doerr let me experience the world of a blind girl through descriptions of tactility and olfactory perception; I was with her as she found joy in a city struck by bombs during World War Two, and met a boy that liked birds more than bullets when he wasn’t supposed to. In turn, gifting one of my favorite books, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, allowed me to share my love for the freedom and happiness found by an African-American girl in circumstances that weren’t aligned for her joy. The scene of running through a meadow, perhaps a meadow of hope, filled me with an appreciation for friendship that I have now passed on to my friend.
Feeling the angst of Orwell and Plath and the audacity of Nabokov and Miller was transformative and challenging, leaving me brimming with enough questions to make me rethink my own rationality and beliefs. I embraced the idea that there are things more important than money, love or fame. Things of interest beyond what we see, so fundamentally human yet perplexing and impossible to comprehend, some that made me smile and others that caused confusion. And yet, while I’ve got books, I’ll never see the world the same.
A game of numbers and sleuths, I devoured Agatha Christie’s books as a race to the suspect before the pages would dwindle to an end. Raymond Chandler and Sam Spade showed me who was cool and what was real, and that a book of great one-liners was enough to make a good book great. Under a tree on a windy day, on a picnic by the river engulfed by stress for a collection we didn’t study for, sharing Before the coffee gets cold with my best friend taught me love when you’ve got no time or reason.
With a book, a line of poetry or even a word that perfectly encapsulates how you feel, you are alive, understood, and have discovered something that only exists here.