Like a kid in a bookstore

Keeper of the Lost Cities is a fantasy book series, written by Shannon Messenger. With 8 books published so far, it has quite the following among middle graders but it’s also causing quite a stir among readers who have left school a good while ago. I first came across it on the Peruse Project You Tube channel, Regan is a big fan. Her endorphins level seem to go up any time she discusses a new installment. Keeper of the Lost Cities makes grown ups very happy, as in “hugging the book and swooning like a 13 year old” kind of happy.

I read the first book, to see what this was all about. Many times, as a reader, I hoped to recover the pure joy of reading like a kid. This book was my one way ticket to those days, when I was 8 years old, so entranced in a book that the conversations of the adults around me became distant and muffled. Keeper of the Lost Cities transported me to a magical world, I forgot about everything else. I genuinely felt like this book kept my anxiety levels low that week, it was like going home to a world which I once believed in wholeheartedly. A world where magic is real, where knowledge, courage and tolerance are values our heroes live by.

Sadly such values are often bent in our current world for the benefit of personal gain. Reading Keeper of the Lost Cities is like applying a soothing balm to one’s little heart. No harm in toning down all the craziness around us for a little while. With 7 more published books to devour, the last few weeks of winter don’t seem too bad anymore.

Reader, 20 years later

It has now been a year since I started reading again, in a way which makes me feel like I could not imagine living a good life without reading.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my reading life was interrupted when I started a new life abroad. Over the years, I still read a book here and there but this was nothing compared to the total glee I feel now, as a new born reader.

As a teenager in the late 90’s, being a reader was very much a solitary occupation. I remember reading literary magazines and staying up late to watch literary talk shows. Although I enjoyed the book reviews and discussions, there was a sense a elitism in those medias which made it hard for a 16 year old reader to relate.

I recently joined the Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club. The book pick for the month of December was How reading changed my life by Anna Quindlen published by Ballantine Books in 1998. In this book, the author articulates what the literary discussions in the media were missing at the time.

’There was certainly no talk of comfort and joy, of the lively subculture of those of us who forever fell asleep with a book open on our bedside tables, whether bought or borrowed. Of those of us who comprise the real clan of the book, who read not to judge the reading of others but to take the measure of ourselves. Of those of us who read because we love it more than anything, who feel about bookstores the way some people feel about jewellers. The silence about this was odd, both because there are so many of us and because we are what the world of books is really about. We are the people who once waited for the newest installment of Dickens’s latest novel and who kept battered copies of Catcher in the Rye in our back pockets and our backpacks. We are the ones who saw to it that Pride and Prejudice never went out of print […] Reading is like so much else in our culture, in all cultures: the truth of it is found in its people and not in its pundits and its professionals.’’ (Anna Quindlen – How reading changed my life – Ballantine Books, 1998, p15)

Today, with Booktube, Bookstagram and websites such as Bookriot or Goodreads, the reader’s perspective is part of the discussion. We talk about how we feel about a book, how much we liked a scene or character, we share our anticipation for a new book coming out, we rejoice when we see ourselves represented in a novel. When a few years ago, conversations about books were led by critics, journalists, academics, now it has been taken over by readers. It was a very joyful experience for me to discover all this chatter, and through this blog, it is my hope to share my own experiences too.

Later, Anna Quindlen highlights another important point, when she says that ‘’reading has as many functions as the human body, and that not all of them are cerebral. One is mere entertainment, the pleasurable whiling away of time; another is more important, not intellectual but serious just the same. “She had learned something comforting,” Roald Dahl wrote in Matilda of his ever-reading protagonist, “that we are not alone.” ‘’ (Anna Quindlen – How reading changed my life – Ballantine Books, 1998, p33)

In the past, literary value would be the first criteria I would use to select a book. One of the reasons I read over 100 books this year is that I took on a voracious approach to reading and decided to read what I thought would make me happy. This year I read to be comforted, to be entertained, I read not to feel alone. And it worked wonders!

Reader, interrupted

As a child and teenager, books were my whole life. They breathed life into me, they shaped me, they comforted me. I moved from France to Ireland in my early 20’s and multiple factors led me to being a non-reader for a few years. Living in an English speaking country, I was not as comfy with the language as I am now, I was constantly hopping from English to French in my attempts at reading books. Online book shopping and the Kindle were not as popular back then; reading in French meant having books sent from France. The cost was so high that I quickly gave up.

As an only child, I had a very solitary upbringing. In Ireland, I was house sharing and our never ending group of friends was constantly visiting, partying, staying over. It was a whirlwind of a time for me as those good friends helped shape the adult I was becoming, they supported me, entertained me and loved me. They were my new books, my new stories. Together, we created our own lives and as a young adult, this was all I could ever ask for, I was surrounded by a wonderful group of people who made me feel safe and secure.

Many years have passed since then, some friends now live far away, some are still close by. We all moved on from our life on top of each other. Friendship turned into love as I married my favourite of them all and we now live in a cottage in the countryside. We are all grown-ups now. I stopped reading early in my adulthood, life caught up with me, my career kept me busy, slowly my reading life was a distant memory.

Some other time, I may share with you what led me back to reading with a childlike wonder, while in my thirties. Suddenly I remembered how important books were to me as a child. Although I had read a few books over the years, it was not in the way that I do now: devouring, seeking, loving, being rescued, being taught and loving it so much that I cannot imagine a good life without reading.

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