Reading was always a thing I did. Like eating three meals a day. Like break times or the last day of term when we’d all bring a game in and go outside for classes if it was sunny, on the grassy mound overlooking the play area
I can’t remember where it started. With Spot the Dog, maybe. Or Peter and Jane. I never thought about it. It was an activity in itself, much like the television. On any given afternoon, after school, the bottoms of my black trousers soaked with British rain, I might lie on the sofa and read for a few hours. Drina Ballerina, sometimes. Later, The Babysitter’s Club. Sweet Valley High (and Twins). But now, on my commute, everyone’s face is aglow with a smart phone, like we have become bioluminescent.
There are places to me that are as familiar to me as the landmarks of my small childhood – the lamppost on our front garden that used to pop on, red, before slowly bronzing amber during summer evenings; the airing cupboard I thought might lead to Narnia if only I looked hard enough – and they look just as large, just as realistically. A small town in Connecticut where the babysitters met in Claudia’s bedroom where she used to hide chocolate and wear insane clothing combinations, led by bossy Kristy from a blended family. I always skipped the part where Ann M. Martin explained how the club worked. Or Southern California. Another small town, where the twins with their perfect size 6 figures and aquamarine eyes went to school, with Todd and Lila and Winston and their older brother Steven. Where occasional brutal murders happened, but by the next book, everybody was fine again.
They’re indistinguishable, these memories. I was both in my bedroom, overlooking that lamppost, and in R L Stine’s books, freaking the hell out. Sometimes, even now, I will empathise especially with someone, and wonder how I know exactly how they feel. And the answer is always books. How does it feel to inherit your father’s mobster business? Well, I have some idea, thanks to The Godfather. What does it feel like to be stalked? Elizabeth Haynes told me, in Into The Darkest Corner, a book that had me so gripped I read it while the kettle boiled. How does it feel to be married to a republican president when you yourself are privately a democrat? American Wife told me that.
Books. The answer is always books. Reading was always a thing I did, and it still is. Now I’m reading Black Rabbit Hall. By day, I’m in Birmingham, by night, I’m in a old house, full of secrets and sisters and trauma. It’s always been this way. It will always be this way.