Love is in the air – it’s the month of Romance and here at Booka our hearts are aflutter with ‘Book Love’. Of course, for us, ‘a passion for books’ is not just for Valentines, we spend every day falling deeply and passionately in love with books. We can be quite fickle – out with the old and in with the new as we welcome deliveries of the latest that publishing has to offer. They feed our hearts, body and soul in ways that chocolate can’t.
There will be no heartbreak at Booka this Valentines, because a book won’t let you down.
At Booka we are firm believers that books are good for you – they can change your life in so many ways by enhancing who we are and what we do.
Books are extensions of self – through them we can inhabit worlds and experiences that are not our own. This can be for escapism, adventure, excitement, thrills and knowledge.
In this blog we want to explore the reading journey and find out about the books that have changed people’s lives. Over the next twelve months we plan to feature Guest authors too, so keep checking back.
My own experience was not so straightforward.
I remember that learning to read was not such an easy process. At Primary School I had to have some extra lessons, but once I got the hang of it there was no stopping me. What was this magic contained in the pages of a book that could help me transcend the everyday?
Words, ideas, thoughts that I recognised or experienced for the first time through stories. Reading became a pleasure rather than a chore and my life began to change.
My sister and I loved Nancy Drew books – I just remember feeling such a thrill every time I started a new mystery. There was a comfort in the predictability of the story arc, like re-visiting an old friend.
I still have a vivid memory of one of my teachers, Mrs Newson, reading ‘The Hobbit’ to us at the end of the school day. The joy of listening to this incredible story which was beyond my reading ability at that time has stayed with me throughout my reading life and influenced my own practice as a Primary School Teacher. I remember Mrs Newson’s voice and how she brought each character sparklingly to life – particularly memorable was her rendition of ‘Gollum’ which sent shivers up my spine. It was a cherished moment of my school day.
My English teacher at Secondary School had a huge influence on me and my passion for literature: Mrs Atkinson, infused all her students with enthusiasm and eagerness. She made classics and poetry accessible and meaningful in a way I had never experienced before.
Ted Hughes’ Animal Poetry was a particular revelation and one of my all-time favourites is ‘The Horses’ – years later I would hear it again read aloud by Roger McGough on Poetry Please and it took me back to those GCE years (yes I am that old) and the classroom where my love of reading was nurtured and allowed to flourish.
Inevitably, I took English Literature at A Level and continued to revel in the worlds it opened up for me. Small group discussions of texts such as Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (who knew it was so much more than it seemed), Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope, King Lear and Othello were highlights of my day and week.
I began to understand the joy of owning my own collection of books and started visiting my local bookshop in Ambleside, Fred Holdsworth (still in existence). I bought and read every Jane Austen and fell into her Regency novels – falling in love with her heroines, historical settings, plotting and incredible wit that brought both characters and social situations of the time vibrantly to life. These are books that I still have sitting on my shelf and still think about – I want to re-read them and see if I feel the same 30 plus years later.
I also became obsessed with DH Lawrence -intrigued to read ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ to consume its solacious content and discover why it had been a banned book and caused such a stir. I thought it beautiful and tragic. It pulled at my heart-strings and gave me my first insight into the intensity of a love affair.
Both these books, feel like my coming of age reads.
A bit serious perhaps? No Judy Bloom for me, but on the lighter side I do remember consuming vast quantities of Mills & Boon, loaned from my local Ambleside Library. I quickly became bored and moved on to other things, but I had developed a fiction addiction.
In hindsight, one early choice feels particularly significant. I picked up (as if by chance, but perhaps not) a copy of ‘A Quartet in Autumn’ by Barbara Pym. I remember that it was quite different from what I had been reading, portraying the preoccupations of four older, lonely characters and the minutiae of their daily existence. At the time I didn’t realise that I would be opening a bookshop in the town where Barbara Pym was born – how serendipitous is that?
Moving on, I went to Sheffield Poly and think that my reading was subjugated by the excitement and social whirl of student life and no I didn’t study English Literature at Degree Level. A choice I regret in some ways but now have decided to save this for my retirement!!!
I do remember reading everything that Maeve Binchy wrote. I also read nearly everything Dick Francis wrote – inhaling book after book until once again I became disenchanted with the predictability of the plots.
Perhaps these books taught me that we read for lots of different purposes and to feed different emotional needs. We certainly shouldn’t be snobby about what people enjoy but unfortunately, we do judge books by their cover and people by what they read.
Becoming a bookseller was not on my radar until I fell out with teaching, realising that I had lost my passion and purpose in life.
I needed something to excite, ignite and challenge me again and guess what – I found the answer in books. I embarked on a Bookselling course and found my tribe and haven’t looked back since.
Reading as a Bookseller is a completely different experience. There is pressure to get through as many books as possible and there are times when I get ‘readers block’ and find it hard to settle to any book.
Yet when I find a book that I can sink into, a book that keeps me up all night, a book that scares me, a book that makes me feel better or a book that I connect with, I am reminded again of my passion for books and the incredibly privileged position that I find myself in.
Everyday I live a life made better through books. My team and I press our passions into the hands of others and pass on what makes life better.
In recent years my book passions have been:
The Life of Rebecca Jones by Angharad Price – reflecting the changing lives of a farming family throughout the 20th Century – a small, quiet, lyrical novel and a true Booka Classic.
Excellent Women by Barbara Pym – reading Barbara in the town she grew up in and having read so much about her brings a heightened pleasure and understanding.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo – incredible vignettes of 12 black women whose life experiences are very different but all connected in some way. It spans generations and locations across the world but the highs and lows experienced by each character all feel very recognisable. It is a lyrical delight.
These are the books I hand sell and those I hold close to my reading heart.
We would love to know what your #BookPassions are? The books that made you who you are today.
If you would like any more ideas to indulge your ‘Passion for Books’ further, please click here to view recommendations from the rest of the Booka Team as published in February’s edition of ‘Shropshire Living’ magazine.
Sending you all ‘Booka Love’