World Book Day – How books and reading have shaped my life

It’s World Book Day today and I have sent my daughter off in a witch costume, her father plaited her hair and fastened a big bow – Room on the Broom is one of Julia Donaldson’s stories that we keep coming back to over and over again. The rhymes are glorious and catchy, the story so sweet and memorable. I feel very lucky that both my children are bookworms. My oldest, now she can read herself, grabs one book after the other and sits in a corner, reading to herself or to her little brother. He can’t read himself yet, but one of his favourite things is to get out his books from the shelf and just sit there, flicking through them, muttering to himself and then, eventually, asking me to read him a story. Reading is magical, it is wonderful and so good for our brains and, dare I say, for our souls.

My own journey of reading and discovering books is one I always remember. I could read before I went to school and, once I had discovered the school library, there was no stopping me. I borrowed as many books as I could carry home in my school bag and an additional tote. I didn’t care that my way home was an endless hill and I was sweating to get up there. Those stories, those magical, fabulous stories were absolutely worth it.

One of my favourite authors as a child was Enid Blyton. Her stories of the Famous Five kept me hooked and occupied for hours after I had finished my homework. I remember sitting at my desk in my room, a small packet of raspberry sherbet to keep me company as I escaped into the adventures that always included Timothy the dog and lots of fabulous picnics. I loved Georgina, who wanted to be called George and dressed like a boy. I am not sure whether I loved her so much because I myself was usually dressed in jeans and jumpers and had very short hair, or whether I really admired her fiery character and stubbornness. Losing myself in that world, and in the worlds of many other books was a sanctuary that kept me safe and sane and certainly helped me through some very difficult times as a child.

As a teenager I discovered the Harry Potter books and, always a fan of magic and the mystical, I felt as if they had been written for me. I spent hours after bedtime sitting on the floor, pressed against the radiator of my room so I could keep warm, and drink in every single word of those glorious stories. What joy, what utter bliss to be part of this world where so many things were possible but to realise that even magic didn’t make your life easier. I never forget pre-ordering the fifth book in my twenties and again, sitting in bed until the early hours of the morning, because I could not stop reading. I recently bought some illustrated copies of the Harry Potter series, because I want to introduce my children to them. I hope they will, just like me, adore the narrative and recognise themselves in some of the protagonists.

As an adult, reading has become somewhat of a luxury, with lots of commitments, work, study, social life and now also a family of my own. Whilst, for many years, the reading of academic books became my daily reading habit, it also sadly introduced speed reading to me – frantically scanning page after page, taking in as much information as possible in the shortest space of time, noting it down and then moving on to the next book. It messed with my ability to read for joy, to just lose myself in a book and only resurface for some food or to sleep. Luckily, after a few years of devoting my life to academia, I decided I never wanted to live without the lust for reading again, and so I made books and reading a constant companion in my life once more.

I still don’t read half as much as I would love to and I still buy too many books when I have too many I haven’t read yet, but I am able to totally immerse myself in reading once more, the way I used to as a child. So much so, that, whilst recently reading American Dirt, I had sleepless nights and carried the burden of the story with me for days, unable to put the book down and using every spare minute I had to turn page after page – feeling incredible sadness once the story concluded.

World Book Day is a wonderful occasion to celebrate a medium of communication and storytelling that has existed for so many years and also to reflect on our own reading practices and habits. As a new author, I am obviously keen to make sure that my stories get out there, too, and this year’s World Book Day has felt really special. I hope I never have a break from reading for joy again and I hope that I will publish my first whole book soon. World Book Day has certainly given me the drive and inspiration to carry on.

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