A Love Letter to Books

There are many things I love about reading, but the one that I never tire of is starting a new book.

Once I’ve gone through the usually difficult task of selecting my next world to delve into, my favourite thing is carefully opening it up and turning that first page. I love to look down at the title page, as if I’m preparing for battle, before turning to page 1. Really, it’s less preparing and more bracing myself for what is to come – because at that stage, I don’t know anything. I don’t know what is going to unfold – be it greatness in plot, exquisite prose, characters that will steal my heart, a narrator who manages to have a conversation with me (one in which I do not have to say a word) or even be it terrible plot twists and poorly thought out scenes where all I want to do is rewrite every single line.

Books are possibilities. They are portals and windows, keys to someone else’s thoughts and imagination. They are their own entities, ready to transport your mind somewhere else, and the only part of your body you have to move is your eyes. Well, that’s a bit of a lie. The only things that don’t stay still are your eyes and your mind, as someone else’s words filter into your imagination and paint a picture. Books are where you yourself feature as co-director. The author may say that their world is made of blues and greens and pinks, but you are the one to pick the shades. The author could tell you about a man with brown hair, green eyes, and an oddly proportioned body, but your imagined version of this man could look nothing like the author’s.

I’ve been inactive on my blogs the past few weeks (excuses range from moving house to starting full-time at work), and this particular piece of writing starting as a late night note on my phone. This was meant to be a love letter to starting new books, but it’s turned into a love letter to all books – and I suppose in essence that that is what this blog is all about. Not just a place where I talk about what I’m reading and enjoying, but also one of the many spaces that show how incredible reading is – how incredible books are. Where books are sources of inspiration for so many, authors are the magicians who conjure up ideas as one might pull a rabbit from a hat. And those ideas are not just confined to pages, but spark to life emotions throughout every single reader.

It reminds me of something we think about at work when recommending books – that, whilst you may not like one book for one reason or another, it may well be someone else’s favourite. That’s the truly marvellous thing about books – there really is something for everyone. Where one person may not like a mainstream thriller because of it’s predictable nature and heavy influence from old classic crime writers, someone else may adore it because it let them to those classics, and gave them access to a genre they never before considered.

Every book is important in one way or another, from picture books all the way to those frightening looking tomes on law or business or history. And this little blog post is one of the many love letters I’ll write to try and put into words what each new book makes me feel.

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Ban Reading Shame

There are certain genres of books that people just don’t want to admit that they like, usually because of the people they’re around or their own crippling self-doubt and anxiety about being liked (ahem, go read my post about this here on my other blog). It ties in with the concept of the ‘guilty pleasure’, the books/music/films that you have to label as something you’re not proud of, often due to the fact that others don’t deem it as high brow or intellectual enough to worthy being acceptable pieces of content to enjoy.

I, for one, admit that I have often lied, or more often haven’t admitted, what it is that I really like to read – in the real world, at least. And it varies depending on where I am. For the most part in university, I felt ashamed to admit that I could never really get into the ‘classics’ canon like Dickens or Bronte, so usually I’d just smile and nod. Almost everyone uses the line ‘But you’re an English student, how can you not like ___’ and let me tell you, it pisses me off every single time. Just because my degree is Classics with English does not mean that in my free time I read War and Peace for fun, or during parties I debate the use of pathetic fallacy within Little Dorrit. The stigma that is attached to certain books is sometimes just too high, and it’s a lot of pressure to be under. I am happy to admit with no trace of lie or sarcasm that there are a few ‘classics’ that I have enjoyed, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. I’m currently listening to Bleak House on audible to change up how I receive these types of texts, and I’m hoping to slowly plug away at them – but not because other people think I should read them, and instead only because I have an interest to. It seems the more you feel like you have to read a book, be it for school/work/social pressures, the more likely you won’t enjoy it as much.

The same thing happened to me at work when I first started as a bookseller. I felt the need to say that I read popular literary fiction, and all the upcoming ‘high brow’ titles some customers would ask for with their cuttings from the Sunday Times. Though for some reason, and it’s only just come to me, nobody really cares – or, at least, nobody that matters at least. Especially in an environment like a bookshop, it’s so important to have people who are passionate about all kinds of books. Sure, one colleague could be a huge fan of reading biographies and the other devours one thriller after the next, but if a customer comes in asking for something romantic that includes people turning into animals, they’re going to be a bit stumped. The same as I am when someone comes in asking for a certain poet’s work, when I don’t really have a clue about poetry in the slightest (something I’m trying to change). Whilst I want to be a bookseller who reads diversely, which is what I’m aiming to do with my reading challenge that includes reading from genres I don’t normally pick up, it’s important to embrace what I enjoy reading – and it will come to no surprise to you if you’ve read this blog before, that I am a hardcore fantasy fanatic. Add in a dragon, and it’ll be tricky for you to make me dislike it.

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I love pure escapism, and fantasy is the genre that delivers that to me every single time. In between studying and work, I want to consume something completely different, and if it’s got wizards or dragons or flying purple squirrels what should it matter? There’s a stigma attached to genres like fantasy, dictating who should enjoy them and who should be ashamed about enjoying them, and there’s a similar attitude with genres such as Young Adult. Some seem to think that you can only be a certain age to be allowed to read YA, and that age is usually confined to teenagers not yet out of school, despite the fact that YA is usually aimed generally at 16-25 year olds, but is more than happy to appeal to everyone. So what if you find pleasure in reading something that isn’t specifically within your ‘age range’? Reading is about enjoyment, and if you don’t find it in one genre then you might as well go find it in another. Don’t let others stop you from doing what you love and, hey, you’re reading. You’re already a lot better off than most people.

So, just enjoy what you love and don’t think about everyone else. You do you, that’s all any of us can really do. Whether you love romances that are so cheesy you almost feel cheesed out, or whether you like to read children’s books because they’re fun. After all, Harry Potter is technically classed as 5-8, yet hundreds of thousands of people read it all the time – often there’s more shame if you haven’t read them. So don’t worry about what everyone else thinks, and just go forth and read whatever you damn please.