I like to think of life as a compilation of tiny moments, an almost infinite multitude of conversations, daydreams, sights, sounds and feelings that combine to make our existence unique. Every so often, among the mundane and the everyday, something comes along that will stand out in the memory or maybe give us a little nudge onto a slightly different path. These markers could be anything and everyone has their own; as this is a book blog of course I am going to be talking about the reading experiences that have become my milestones. There are books that I can still recall clearly years later, purely because they were somehow significant to my life at the time and I remember exactly where I was, literally and metaphorically, when they made their way into my hands. It would be an exaggeration to say that a book has ever changed my life – I’ve come across a number of people who feel that’s happened for them, but for me it’s always been a subtle influence rather than a revelation.
As a child I was excessively anxious about trying anything new in any area of my life, including books. I find it strange to think back on that nervousness now when as an adult I’m so keen to discover new things that I barely return to anything – but in my childhood I was (like many children I imagine) incredibly stubborn in my resolve to cling to the familiar. I stuck to reading series of books by authors that continually re-trod old ground: Enid Blyton’s seemingly never ending body of work was a particular favourite. Eventually my parents, frustrated by my refusal to venture into new territory, bought me “Mossflower” by Brian Jacques. I’d never read anything like it before, and I have a very vivid memory of planning to read a couple of chapters before declaring I didn’t like it so I’d be allowed to return to my beloved Famous Five! As it turned out, no such manipulation of my poor parents was required, as I fell in love with it as I’d almost never fallen in love with anything before. I still have the large collection of his books that I ended up amassing, and I look on “Mossflower” as the book that switched off my fear of the unknown. From then on I never looked back, and I think that’s where my desire to be as widely read as possible first started.
Despite being an avid reader by the time I reached secondary school, I remember finding the set texts in the early years pretty uninspiring (I loathed “Flambards” and “Moonfleet” with a passion!) yet I went on to study English literature all the way through university. The book that I think made me want to do that? “Middlemarch” – one of my mum’s favourite books and still one of mine today. I remember sitting in my bedroom squeezed into the space between the bed and the window, sun pouring in, and thinking that I had never come across anything this complex or elegantly written before. It was the first of many discoveries that led to some amazing years spent studying literature, a choice of subject I loved and have never regretted.
Life, however, is invariably full of ruts and the milestone book that shook me out of another one was “The Secret History”. I came across it when I first started working in the book trade in my early twenties, and discovered pretty quickly that this was the book my new colleagues raved about with complete unanimity. Up until that point I’d been primarily a classics sort of girl and contemporary fiction hadn’t held much appeal for me. Then Donna Tartt’s phenomenal novel blew my mind. I carried it around with me literally everywhere for two days, reading in the oddest places whenever I got a few minutes, and I will always hold it up as being the book that turned me onto modern fiction writing.
I would love to know if there are any books that you think of as being milestones in your life. Which book made you fall in love with reading? Is there a book that completely changed the way you thought about something? As always I would love you to share your thoughts here on Girl, Reading!