My mother taught me how to read. Home schooled until my teens, our kitchen was my classroom and my back-to-school photographs show a lone child sitting at her desk, sporting a wide grin.
Those were wonderful years. I had a strict timetable of lessons, but the freedom to work that little bit harder in exchange for an early minute, or more. Perfect for a horse-mad child who wanted to spend every possible moment with her pony.
When I wasn’t riding, I was reading. I would lose myself in a story. I loved books and exploring foreign places. Books were where I found some of my best friends. I went back to the 1800s, walked the streets of London and, in my mind, I offered comfort to poor Black Beauty. I joined Anne in all sorts of mischief at Green Gables, and I solved ‘mysteries’ alongside Trixie Belden and her loyal sidekick, Honey.
Reading kept my loneliness at bay, at least up to a point.
I still love to read, and at the end of last summer, I attended a book festival in London. I went specifically for the keynote event called, “The Books That Built Me”. At the time I didn’t think too much about the title. I was interested in a particular speaker. In the end, it was the concept of The Books That Built Me which really caught my imagination.
The idea is that behind every writer there is a long list of beloved stories that have shaped their life, from childhood favorites to grown-up classics. The event was an exploration with a writer, discussing the books that had influenced and inspired her life and work from her earliest memory, up until that day, and what had been going on in her life at the time that may have made that book resonate so deeply.
I was so taken with this idea that I took some time to consider the books I’ve not only loved, but to think about how the stories had actually shaped me and whether or not any had impacted me specifically because of what I was experiencing at the time. Looking back, I can see a long line of books that made me the woman I am now.
A year on and I still regularly ask friends and people I meet whether they’ve ever read a book that’s made a lasting impression on them, and what relation that might have to what was happening in their life at that point. The result has been animated conversations over coffee and passionate discussions at dinner parties. Nearly everyone I’ve talked to has enjoyed looking at books in an entirely new light as plots and personal stories become intertwined.
We all love a good story, to momentarily forget the world and disappear into another one through the pages of a book. What have you read that’s actually become woven into your own history, because it’s shaped the woman you are today?