Some books are universally “good”. They remain timeless stories written by skilled authors. But other books are good, not necessarily to the world, but to me, because of the memories associated with them. Often, what makes a book stand out is the impact it has on you at the time you read it.
When I’m sick, I reread Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series, which I loved when I was younger. There is something clever about them even though they are children’s books. While her books are, to an extent, dated, there is so much goodness in them. Of course, Enid Blyton is one whose books are considered universally “good” – yet this series means so much more to me because of the comfort and familiarity they bring from childhood.
The last few years have been peppered with books for uni, and most of them I haven’t enjoyed. These days I am trying to get back into the rhythm of reading what I like to read. I am slowly going through the books on my shelf I haven’t read yet and added a few new ones in recent weeks. I finish uni in October, but next trimester is about children’s books, which means I will have much more free time to read what I want; we are so close!
Books I have recently adored are The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery and Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim. Both are novels in which the main characters open themselves up and discover joy and beauty and love for the first time in years and years. Both remind me of how I want to live. Both inspired me to seek what brings us joy and beauty and love, for without them life can become very dull and sad.
After completing a job interview a few weeks ago I bought myself Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, and after my first four days on the job I went out and bought myself the sequel, Olive, Again. It was such a treat to carry them home and allow myself time to buy and read a new book. I haven’t finished the first one yet, but the writing is so beautiful and the concept is one I wish I had thought of myself, so naturally I had to buy the sequel in preparation of completing the first.
Interestingly, these books are classics or have won awards, meaning they are good to the world and not just to me. But there is enjoyment in understanding what impacts our own hearts rather than for the simple reason of “the crowd loved it”, isn’t there? While popular books are usually popular for a reason, I want my bookshelves to be full of books that I love for special reasons, whether or not they are hyped up or trendy. Books mean so much to me, and I want to dig into why.
I can tell you the books I read in the six months after a breakup. Some are donated now, but they served their purpose at the time. It helped me, knowing others had experienced what I had, and was equally helpful to read of experiences I knew nothing about. Those books are so real to me, regardless of whether I will read them again or have allowed them to stay on my bookcase. The ones I have kept, I wonder when I will return to. I wonder what it will be like to mix those old feelings with new memories. A book may be about grief but that does not mean I want to associate it with my own sadness forever.
Some favourites from that time are The History of Love by Nicole Krauss and Levels of Life by Julian Barnes. I have since tried to read other books by Julian Barnes and found them lacking; Levels of Life is part memoir, and I think his novels lack the lived-in experience that the memoir offers. It was also very clever, and during heartbreak it was nice to feel smart and understood by a random author I had never heard of until that moment.
When I found out my Poppop died I was a third of the way through The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, a children’s classic. I have since read it when I was sick, for it is one of those books that is light to read yet holds a lot of depth beneath the surface. I suppose you can choose what to get out of it at the time of reading, and at different points I have needed different things.
I’m currently reading numerous books at the same time, which means I’m not really getting through any of them. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, The Path of Loneliness by Elisabeth Elliot, the previously mentioned Olive books, as well as a few for uni. I have enjoyed prioritising reading lately by reading before I go to bed. Again, it reminds me of what I used to do when I was younger, especially in the school holidays when I didn’t have to wake up at a certain time the next day. What a joy.