As a lifelong lover of literature, I have always cherished the ability to pick up a book and disappear into it. To make sense of the world around me through stories. To try on situations and characters for size, within the safe confines of someone else’s words and the expanse of my own imagination.
So when I lost the ability to pick up a book and disappear into it I knew for sure that something was wrong. New parent tiredness, perhaps. Pick up any top tips article on ‘things you should do’ before your first child arrives and reading is always on there – “read books!” they say, for you won’t have the time nor the inclination once you have a newborn.
How true this was. So after Bea was born I stepped away from the bookshelves in the confidence that one day, when life was less baby armageddon, my reading mojo would return.
But just as I was coming out the side of baby armageddon round one and starting to feel like a trip to Foyles to browse for something wonderful to disappear into, Orange arrived.
A gentle and unassuming little soul, Orange arrived into the world as a sweet natured baby who slept well, fed well and demanded not very much at all. There was no baby armageddon this time. But just as we started to find our stride as parents of two, and the newborn haze began to lift, the foundations of our lives shifted.
It wasn’t a sudden shift. It wasn’t even definite. In fact there were many times when I persuaded myself that our lives hadn’t changed at all, and that I was panicking unnecessarily about Orange’s stiff neck and floppy little body. Because no-one knew what they meant or even wanted to hazard a guess. But the uncertainty grew over me like a mushroom cloud and before long it had consumed my every thought.
I wanted so much to distract myself from the fear that had cuckoo nested itself into my head. To pick up a book and transport myself into someone else’s thoughts, emotions and dreams.
But I could not.
Since those early days of uncertainty with Orange, I have had many a false start in trying to put a light back under my reading mojo. For me, for whom great literature is pretty much up there as my greatest passion, this reading roadblock was like losing a large part of myself. I had both lost and found myself in books, always, and now I found myself totally lost inside my own head. Locked in by puzzles I could not solve and fears I could not quell.
I had always believed that I would relish finding both adventure and comfort in books, no matter what life threw at me. Reading was both a joy and a refuge and yet here I was unable to even pick up a book beyond the smallest collection of well-thumbed and dog-eared Murakami and Fitzgerald favourites. Familiar territory.
Looking back now I know that these three or four books held me in a place where I felt safe at a time when everything else felt dangerous. Where emotions would not spring out at me, unexpected.
So I knew that when my Christmas list this year consisted almost entirely of new reads, that I had turned a corner. A most definite shift.
I had just finished reading ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close‘ by Jonathan Saffron Foer about a little boy’s quest to solve a mystery left after his father’s death. A tenderly written story that cleverly interweaved personal tragedy with the enormity of world events, both recent and historical.
For the first time in years I had been able to allow myself to be filled up by the lives and emotions of the people in the pages I held in my hands. To live their lives in my head. Because my head was no longer full solely of my own.
And so I did what I love to do almost as much as reading. I started a list.
And a Pinterest Board…
I feel confident in saying now that my reading mojo is most definitely back. But also that I know now the books I can turn to for comfort when life is a little too ‘full’.
And now I’ve got the bug back, I’d love to know what’s on your reading lists for 2016. What have you loved or hated? And what are your go-to comfort reads when you are in the trenches?
“Books are the mirrors of the soul”