When I was younger, up to about age fifteen, I devoured books indiscriminately. It didn’t matter what they were – as long as they were in reach, I’d pick them up for a quick nose and come to my senses about three hours later with the book finished, or when someone forcibly pried it off me. I wasn’t a big reader just because I read everything I found. I was a big reader because I loved everything I read. It all bought so much joy, even when the plot was flimsy and the characters shallow. It was enough to simply immerse myself in their world.
I don’t know when or why that stopped. It just did. Everything I read felt flat and uninteresting. I thought maybe I’d just grown out of Young Adult and children’s books, or finally developed taste, but even the adult fiction I read didn’t speak to me. I kept reading, but it was the same old things – Lee Child thrillers, Terry Pratchett and childhood favourites like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter. Comfort reads. Nothing wrong with that maybe, but a writer needs new influences to grow.
Ironically enough, my passion for writing really started to blossom around the time my interest in most books diminished. My way of thinking was if I couldn’t find new books to love, I’d have to write them myself. It’s a principle that still guides me now, no matter what I’m writing. With my mind made up to create the stories I could have the connection with I was craving, I started to research the details of how stories are constructed. I learnt better grammar. I practised. And I read more. At the time, it just seemed to make things worse. Not only were books turning me off with their predictable plotlines and boring characters, but I could see the faulty scaffolding holding them all up as well. The smoke and mirrors had been whisked away by research and everything that was left was stark and ugly. Even so, I didn’t stop reading. I can’t imagine not reading.
I also don’t know when or why things changed again. I grew up. I got used to it. At some point, I learnt to juggle seeing a book from the perspectives of both a writer and a reader. I learnt to sink back into a story world and enjoy myself. I learnt to fall in love again.
Falling in love with a book is special. People talk about how much they love their favourite characters and yes, sometimes you do get those special individual characters, but I prefer when I fall for the whole book. It’s magical. You know within the first few chapters, or at least I always do. It’s a feeling that grows with every page and you know you hold in your hands something special. You smile. You laugh. You react to every little twist and turn. There’s a desperate longing to reach the end and find out everything and experience as much of this wonderful feeling as possible, but there’s also the fear that once you reach the last page there won’t be any more and you’re not ready to give it up yet.
Books like that are rare and touch your heart. You treasure them.
I didn’t plan this blog post. It wasn’t even in my mind until I noticed a review at the start of my latest read. It was from John Green, and it was talking about a different book, but the words have stuck with me all day. He said the book “reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.” I’ve never read Elenor and Park, but that quote spoke to me because that’s how I feel about Carry On, the book I’ve devoured all day.
There’s no one thing that made me fall in love with Carry On, though there are plenty of options: the witty, heartfelt characters, the loving Harry Potter parody, the complex questions raised, the diversity, the beautiful magic system… It can’t be explained. It just made me happy. That’s what good books do, even the sad ones. I wasn’t expecting much of it, not having been a huge fan of Fangirl, but when the friend who lent it to me said when she first finished it, she immediately started again, I could understand why. It made me remember what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.
I want to write books like that. I want to write books people devour. I want to write books that recapture and rekindle a love for stories. I want to write books that inspire others the way I’ve been inspired so many times in my life. It feels a little ridiculous, stating such bold aims like that when I’m nowhere near there yet, but that’s how the books I love make me feel. They make me feel happy and safe and emotional and then when I’m done with that, they make me want to issue a challenge. I’ll do this. But better.