I lost my love of books the day my daughter died.
I had a book on the go at the time, I can’t even remember what it was, back in February 2013, it was probably something I’d got for Christmas. But then with a family trauma and the deep and painful grief of the sudden death of my eldest child, all my energy and ‘headspace’ was needed to get through the days.
All of a sudden, reading a story of fiction seemed a completely pointless way to spend time. Why on earth do we waste our precious minutes alive absorbed in a made-up world, about made-up people, doing made-up things, when we have so much to appreciate in real life?
So that was it. I took my beloved book collection to the charity shop knowing I could never bring myself to look at them again. They reminded me all too painfully of the time when I lived carefree, of the time when I could just ‘pick up a book’ and get lost in the stories, to care about the characters and feel the ‘book grief’ as I finished a particularly good one. They reminded me that my life was now forever changed. My perspective smashed and put back together in a different pattern.
Going back to basics
I have always loved reading for pleasure. Some of my fondest memories of growing up were with my mum, sat on our washing machine in our tiny galley kitchen, reading a second-hand book by candlelight, keeping warm by the gas oven because there was no heating. We’d have candles lit on those particularly strapped nights, usually the weekends when the money had run out. But I don’t think back to how sad that all was (although it sounds rather Dickensian for the 1980s!), I didn’t know any different. I think back to sitting there listening to my mum laugh as she helped me read the thick dialect of a hilarious James Herriot novel. I could barely read it let alone get the humour, but with practice I began to enjoy them and read them to myself when I was alone. I read the Jane Austen books and romantic historical books such as Jean Plaidy and dramatic and epic stories such as Susan Howatch’s fabulous Cashelmara and Penmarric. I found a love for epics as I was able to escape to their world, distracting me from the cold air, boredom and the rumble in my tummy.
My mum was always reading. There were books all over the house. She loved her telly too and would stay up late watching it, then go to bed and read for hours. Maybe it was her way of coping as a single parent? On reflection, perhaps it was this early introduction to literary books by my mum that helped me develop a skill for writing myself. I haven’t done much in the way of fiction, but I do find writing for business or pleasure comes very easily (hence I love blogging!). My ability saw me progress quickly in my career and I eventually set up my own editing company, checking and editing other people’s text and books. Words have always been with me, and I’m now certain it was because of the exposure I had to them as a child.
Grieving the loss of a passion
Perhaps I hold off because I can’t bear to feel like I’m doing something for me, for the sheer joy of it, when there’s the washing to be done and children calling me … and after what happened. I don’t know. But after nearly four years of not reading much more than the Bible and apologetics, which are important to me, I’ve decided I really need to try to get my passion back for those books that offer escape, to enjoy the wonderful gift of literacy we have.
So, what is the point of reading?
We’ve always read to our children at bedtime, without fail, so they have a generally healthy relationship with books, but I have become worried about their preference for tv, screens, social media, anything but sitting down and reading. Today, we are so used to having everything immediately. If we want to know something, we look it up on Google. We read text messages and tweets, not swathes of detail and description. Having been ‘off’ books for some time, I have found myself falling into this trap, and I do feel it is having an effect on my creativity. I used to be quite poetic and could think of lots of words and descriptions easily, but now I struggle and thinking is an effort. Ok, so I’ve got four children (one of whom is a baby) to look after, so time and energy is very thin on the ground at the moment. But then, I do find time to check my social media pages, or read other people’s blogs on my phone so surely it’s about replacing one for the other sometimes? I love my phone and the way it helps my life, but I also hate the bloody thing because it robs me of that spare time I once had to just sit and think, or read. Now, if I find myself with a rare half hour of quiet time, I’m more likely to sit down with my phone or do some chores, there’s no time for clearing my head or deepening my mind with books.
At the weekend, I (accidentally) watched a programme on BBC 2 The School That Got Teens Reading; it was an eye-opener. Children don’t even have the exposure to reading that I had as a child. Reading is a bore, a chore and avoided at all costs. They have developed short attention spans and absorb themselves in social media stories. Yet it’s been proven that children who read for pleasure get better jobs, and that if a child is read to by his or her parents they are more likely to read when they are adults.
The BBC2 programme focused on the most resistant children at a school and at one point I felt quite emotional as the most reluctant boy finally found a way to engage with a book. This programme which is part of a series for #LovetoRead was enough for me to realise that I need to ‘teach’ myself how to read again, not just for my sake but for my children’s… so I went online (one of the positives!) and bought us all a new book to get us motivated.
I chose something I thought would engage them with the kind of stories they like:
a lift the flap book for my 2-year-old, who loves this style of book and likes to read the same one several times
a few young adult books for my 14-year-old, all about social media, online life and vlogging as well as all the real-life problems that go with that such as low-self-esteem and anxiety. Of the few I bought her, her first choice was a story about a mother blogging about her daughter and the daughter having to deal with everyone knowing about her… I don’t do that, but it looks like a good read!
a funny book for my husband, who has probably read about two ‘grown up’ books (not including all the books he’s read to our children) in our married life so needed to give him something light!
… and for me?
Well, I love detailed historic fiction novels – usually about monarchs or Egyptians or Romans – but I don’t want to throw myself in at the deep end as I will likely get tired and give up. I also want to be the kind of reader who can read the new stuff coming out and broaden my reading genres.
I did a quick search on literary bestsellers on Amazon and came across Graham Norton’s debut novel, Holding, which has recently been published to rave review. I like Graham Norton and enjoy his humour and wit, and while this book isn’t a comedy, I was intrigued that he’d written a darkly comic crime story. So it’s not too fluffy, yet not too deep.
I also want to get back into writing for my blog… I have countless blog drafts sitting waiting to be written up ‘when there’s time’ and I feel that reading will really help spur me on. So, one of my categories is ‘Mummy Writes … about books’. Here, I would love to develop a sort of journal about books I’m reading or about how my ‘reading resolution’ is going. No doubt the minute I hit publish, my children will start projectile vomiting (no thanks) or I’ll get landed with loads of work (would be nicer!) and I’ll not be able to pick my shiny new book up for weeks… but I sincerely hope not!
Have you read anything good lately? I’d love to hear your recommendations for books if you have any…?