This tag was created by Emma Reads over on booktube. I cannot remember how I stumbled across it (I’m thinking that maybe it popped up in my sidebar?), but it’s such a good idea. She describes the tag as an opportunity to talk about books that make us feel less alone in the world–the magic that happens when a book “gets” you; a chance to counter the loneliness and depression that a lot of people suffer from, especially in the winter. This is relevant to my life, not because I suffer from depression (I am very blessed not to suffer from long-term mental health issues), but because I definitely threw myself into reading as a child, primarily because I was lonely. In fact, with a year’s worth of distance and perspective, I will readily admit that I started this blog because I was going through a pretty miserable season in my life, and one thing that has always helped me to deal with periods of loneliness is the reading, consumption and discussion of stories.
(Note: this is going to be pretty long, so in order to break it up, expect gifs. Lots of gifs).
1) A classic that seemed to “get” you
Mansfield Park. I know this isn’t a popular choice. I know that a lot of people don’t like Fanny Price, and that basically no-one has ever liked Edmund Bertram (except me). I even know that I recently reread it, and didn’t enjoy it half as much as I did when I was a teenager. The fact remains that when I was a teenager, it was wonderful to have a highly introverted, socially awkward victim of bullying become a heroine–and without abandoning her highly introverted personality. Fanny Price isn’t heroic because she shakes off her shackles and starts a revolution, she is heroic because she nervously does what is right in the face of extraordinary opposition. She stays quiet and shy, she continues to mope feebly in a corner, but she is heroic anyway. I cannot express how much of a big deal this was to me when I was a socially anxious 15-year-old who was scared of pretty much everyone.
2) A book that surprised you (a book that you didn’t expect to become so important to you)
The first book that sprang to mind when I heard this question was Man at the Helm, simply because it said so many true and difficult things about living with a parent with mental health issues, but there’s nothing I can say about it that I didn’t already say in my review, so I’ll go for another one instead.
I spent ages trying to come up with a completely new answer, because I feel like I always talk about the same handful of books in these lists, but the thing is, I just really love Bridget Jones’ Diary. It was definitely an unexpected love. I don’t often read romantic comedies, or anything classed as “chick-lit”, and when I try (with an open mind), I generally find myself giving up halfway through. However, I absolutely loved Bridget Jones’ Diary. I recommend it to people. All people, regardless of who they are. I keep trying to lend my copy to my grumpy, misogynistic, slightly homophobic dad, because I think he would love it in spite of himself. Bridget’s neuroses, anxieties, gaffes and heartaches jump right off the page, and invite the reader to feel warmed and welcomed. I particularly remember a scene in which Bridget’s best friend Tom goes missing for about a day–and half a dozen of his friends comb the streets of London looking for him, even (if I remember rightly) calling the police. It’s an unexpectedly moving depiction of friendship, and the fact that not being in a romantic relationship doesn’t actually mean that you’re alone.
Anyway, in a tag about literature and loneliness, how could I not mention the book that spawned this immortal scene?
3) A book you read at just the right time
I know I talk about Middlemarch quite a lot on this blog, but it really is the most honest answer I can give to this question. I read Middlemarch shortly after graduating from my undergrad degree, at a time in my life when I was–for maybe the first time ever–doing something that people hadn’t expected of me. I love being a researcher, I love being a scientist, I (mostly) love doing a PhD–but I received quite a lot of negative feedback from people I love very much, ranging from “no man wants to marry a woman who’s cleverer than him” to “but you can’t just be a student forever”, taking in some slightly more offensive statements along the way. In addition to that, I had lost the companionship of a close friend, and I was really struggling with living alone (my friends had moved away or moved on, and I hadn’t made new ones yet).
When I read Middlemarch, both those issues were addressed, if not resolved. I watched Tertius Lydgate try to pursue his ambitions in a sleepy little backwater, surrounded largely by people who were suspicious of science and progress, all with the intent of reforming healthcare. It was oddly heartening to see my own little dramas writ large in a famous classic–I felt that it legitimised my frustrations, and reassured me that I was right to be annoyed with people’s responses. It also showed what would happen if I gave up on my research, which was encouragement to persevere coming at just the right time. Secondly, in Dorothea Brooke, I found something I hadn’t encountered for perhaps fifteen years, since I first read the Anne of Green Gables books: a book-friend to hang around with until I could make some in-real-life friends of my own. There is a lot of sneering directed at people who want to be friends with fictional characters, but sometimes it’s definitely necessary.
Oh, and I have a really good response to the “men won’t marry clever women” criticism, you guys:
4) A book that inspires you
This has to be Radioactive: A Tale of Love and Fallout, which is a completely stunning graphic memoir about Marie and Pierre Curie. Of course, Marie Curie is the easy answer for any scientist to give when asked about inspiration, and she’s an especially obvious choice for a female researcher, but this book is so encouraging. Marie Curie suffered from constant setbacks in her research and her professional life, and this book is honest about both the astonishing highs and the incredible lows of her life. Also, the pictures look like this:
5) A book that calms you
There are dozens of childhood favourites that I could list here, particularly The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but I think I’ll go for a book I haven’t discussed on this blog before:
I find the act of reading poetry, especially aloud, to be incredibly soothing. When I was a teenager (geeky anecdote alert!), I used to learn angst-ridden passages of Shakespeare and recite them dramatically in my bedroom, in order to help me deal with my emotions. This book is absolutely chockful of poems that I love, and particularly ones that I love to read aloud, from those that constructed the fabric of my childhood (Macavity’s a Mystery Cat/he’s called the Hidden Paw!) to those I have come to as an adult, such as Christina Rossetti’s A Birthday or WS Gilbert’s The Nightmare. Not all of the poems included are cheerful or soothing–some are very far from that, in fact–but something about the act of reading them aloud, and giving voice to those thoughts in someone else’s words… I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s somehow reassuring; it makes the stresses and anxieties and sadnesses concrete, and that enables me to deal with them a bit better. I don’t know? I mean, I just really, really love poetry.
That’s all, really. I think this is a brilliant tag, and I’d love to see it hit the book blogger community, so if you are you’re reading this, I TAG YOU. You don’t have to include as many overly personal anecdotes as I did–you can just answer the questions in single sentences if you want–but I’d love to read your responses, so let me know if you do it! I’m on twitter @LouLouReads, or tell me in comments 🙂