It’s week five of my non-theatrical blog challenge to respond to my favourite columnist Caitlin Moran each week. And – thank goodness with tax return deadlines looming at the end of the week – this is one I didn’t have to think too hard about because it’s on a subject she and I have agreed on many times in the past.
You can read more about why I started doing this weekly blog here. As always, I encourage you to also read Caitlin’s original Times piece (summary and outtakes below, are her words, not mine).
Your column this week reminded me of one of the main reasons I am convinced we’d get on like a house on fire: from a very young age, we have shared a love of reading.
This has always been one of my immutable identities: before I was a Londoner or a theatregoer, before I was an ex-pat or a writer, before I was any number of things I now call myself, I was a reader. Of the lifelong identities I still retain, only ‘human’, ‘female’ and ‘daughter’ have stuck to me longer or more persistently than ‘reader’.
In your column, you share an exchange with a fellow book-loving friend about your worries for your children’s lack of interest:
“We have discovered, now, with our teenage children, that there is only one thing we truly fear: our children not reading. Reading being a thing you have to remind them to do – or even coerce them into.”
If I were you, I would worry too. I’m always a little suspicious of people who don’t read – or indeed, people whose homes don’t contain bulging bookshelves. I feel sorry for them and concerned for their mental health. And I’m naturally drawn to people who do read, even more so if they recommend a book I end up loving. One of my best first dates ever involved me and the man roaming around Waterstone’s in Hampstead for hours and leaving with a pile of must-reads – I ended up marrying (and, admittedly, divorcing) said man.
As for my own mental health, I discovered years ago that, in times in my life when I have felt most stressed, while there may any number of external factors, these are aggravated if it’s been too long since I last read a good book. I am one of those people who are reluctant to take medication and always worry about side effects, especially when it comes to antibiotics. That may be because I have a nervous stomach. Antibiotics I take now because of a persistent sinusitis and a flu infection for four days – three tablets a day! I received a pack of 20 both my ENT and other things.
In every flat I’ve lived in, one of the first things I’ve done is had floor to ceiling bookshelves built in (as above). It slightly pains me that, living in London as I do (with space for shelves at a premium), and with the march of technology, I now own more books on my Kindle than I do on my shelves. But it does make getting my fix for new books quicker and easier.
I love this quote of yours about readers, aka bookstore junkies, aka library loiterers:
“Every book you read, as a child, becomes a new room in your head – and I want [my children] to live in a mansion of people, universes, centuries, and phrases like ‘Runcible spoon’. There’s an air about someone who’s gallivanted, joyously, through a library in their early years that I revere – far more than I revere someone who has travelled the world, been born beautiful or wears a fur coat.”
If you or your children ever want a new load of reading recommendations, just give me a shout. In the meantime, I’ll just share some quotes about literary love that inspire me as much as yours does.
22 quotes about the joy of reading books
- “A house without books is like a room without windows.” – Heinrich Mann
- “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” – Mark Twain
- “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” – Oscar Wilde
- “A good book on your shelf is a friend that turns its back on you and remains a friend.” – Author Unknown
- “I’ve never known any trouble that an hour’s reading didn’t assuage.” – Charles de Secondat
- “Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book.” – Author Unknown
- “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” – Charles W Eliot
- “You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.” – Paul Sweeney
- “One of the joys of reading is the ability to plug into the shared wisdom of mankind.” – Ishmael Reed
- “Books are the bees which carry the quickening pollen from one to another mind.” – James Russell Lowell
- “Reading – the best state yet to keep absolute loneliness at bay.” – William Styron
- “We should read to give our souls a chance to luxuriate.” – Henry Miller
- “Reading well is one of the great pleasures that solitude can afford you.” – Harold Bloom
- “Books support us in our solitude and keep us from being a burden to ourselves.” – Jeremy Collier
- “Medicine for the soul.” – Inscription over the door at the Library at Thebes
- “No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting.” – Mary Wortley Montagu
- “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” – Richard Steele
- “Books are lighthouses erected in the great sea of time.” – E P Whipple
- “He fed his spirit with the bread of books.” – Edwin Markham
- “To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.” – W Somerset Maugham
- “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” – Stephen King
- “Book lovers never go to bed alone.” – Author Unknown
Back to the beginning: “Do books make us better people?” is your column’s headline question. My answer is, yes, they absolutely do – at the very least they make us feel better, and they help us read infinitely richer lives.
Happy reading – and good luck converting those digital native offspring of yours.
Until next week,