Originally published in the Bridport News. I write for them, each week, as a guest columnist.
Authors possess an incredible skill: the ability to remind readers that they are not alone, that their feelings are important, to transport a reader out of reality, into a great fantasy. This magic is then placed on wooden shelves, on shiny tables, finding me just when I need it most, the discovery seems magical. It feels as though authors make their work available just as I need it.
However, maybe it is not that romantic; the authors do not know me. It is far more likely that our emotions at that point in our lives, even emotions that we cannot fully realise we are experiencing, guide our reading habits. The apparently coincidental find as fingers run along spines and titles are excitedly whispered, are orchestrated by ourselves. Unknowingly drawn to books that reflect how we are feeling, these are the stories that we remove from their waiting place and into which we become immersed. I have experienced this more than once: It is kind of a funny story by Ned Vizzini as I struggled with the transition from GCSEs where I had been triumphant and proud, to A-Levels where I felt immediately out of my depth. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee as I fumed about the events in Ferguson and racism in America, Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon as I was feeling trapped, bored and frustrated with the claustrophobia of my then situation at university. It is amazing to me how an author can say so much to us, readers with potentially no or limited understanding of the protagonist’s situation, while the topic of the novel is something else entirely – are they aware of this achievement? Sometimes, the between-the-lines is just as powerful as the primary plotline.
Books make us feel less alone; they are individual pieces of magic. A single book, with its unique characters while available to more than just ourselves, becomes a personal adventure – only I shall understand why I identified with Eponine (Les Miserables) so strongly, only I shall truly appreciate my love for Harry Potter. Others may feel similarly, but never the same.