books · discussions · shanti · Shar

When I need books

Hi Virtually Readers! A few days ago, I finished reading Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills (I will post a review eventually, so you have that to look forward to). I immediately started reading it again, because it was just that good (to be clear, I was reading like three other books as well, because that’s how I roll. This meant that I could make a personal record and finish four books in one day). Anyway, I think part of the reason I liked Foolish Hearts so much is that I read it when I needed it. Many of the books I like most I appreciate because I read them when I needed them.

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Let’s look at some examples. I read Radio Silence while in the middle of applying to university and worrying about prestige and grades and all that, and coming to understand that there weren’t many people at my school who I liked or felt close to. The friendship of Aled and Frances, and the way Frances learned to be kind to herself, was a lovely reminder. Then there’s Untidy Towns, which I adored in November. At that time, I was feeling uncertain and anxious about various things coming up in my life (such as moving to New Zealand, which I’ve done already, and starting university, which I have not). The main character, Addie, grapples with uncertainty in her own life as she contemplates the future. Both of these books are good on their own, and maybe particularly good because they have stories that will resonate with lots of people; but they were especially powerful because it felt like the character’s story echoed mine, just a little.

And then we come to Foolish Hearts. Foolish Hearts is a story about needing the people around you—but not taking them for granted, about putting yourself out of your comfort zone to get to know others. I needed it, because my life has just changed somewhat, what with moving from India. Foolish Hearts reminded me that making new friends and finding new routines will be hard, and I need to be actively involved in doing it. (It also reminded me that I need a Gideon Prewitt in my life, but that is of less importance.)

When I feel like I need a book, I love it especially. And while I am able to enjoy TV shows and movies and YouTube, I rarely feel that exquisite sensation that they were created especially for me. There’s something about the written world that proves to me, over and over, that I am not alone. (and that, wonderful people, is why I’m a book blogger *exit stage left*)

To be clear, there is a human tendency towards empathy. When I need to hear something, I probably subconsciously search it out in the books I read, and then try to find it in the stories I choose. (I mean, I’m extrapolating here. I only did one year of very basic psychology, thank you very much, but I like to think that I’m quite a self aware person.) Until someone writes a book about my life (it would be a lot of random panicky thoughts and reading and not much else lol) there will be no book that perfectly describes me. But that makes the fact that there are stories so potent that they shimmer and enfold me in the wonder of being understood is nothing short of a miracle.

In some ways, whenever I read a book, I’m looking for something in it to call to me, to be needed. I read books for a lot of reasons: entertainment, curiousity, information, and (least importantly, but still) because they help me look and be more intelligent. All books which are even the slightest bit ‘needed’ are marked as ‘made me think’ on goodreads. All books that help me to understand the world and my place in it make me think (gosh, ‘my place in it’. This really is a post of cliché’s. But that’s okay. I’m trying to get better at not using parentheses as a way to criticize my writing as I write, but alas…). To make me think, is to be needed, though there are various degrees of this. Sometimes made me think just means ‘the character had truly excellent hair, and I need to be more creative with my hairstyles’.

And so I find books, and often I need them; a big piece of them, or a small one. I continue to look for books that will call to me. These days, not all of those books are YA, or even fiction. I make my peace with that. I keep reading. For it is not just me who needs books; the books need me, to make sense of them, to give them meaning and potency.

Dang, this post turned out more philosophical than I expected. What is a book you have needed to help you in your life? I’d love to hear about that experience in the comments!

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15 thoughts on “When I need books

  1. I hear you! I really like books that bring me away from my circumstances when I’m really stressed, but at the same time, I also really really like books that I can relate to when I need them. (Good Enough by Paula Yoo is one especially that I read when my life was nearly the same as the narrator. It was amazing, maybe not so much the book, as the circumstances under which I read them)

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  2. Yes to all of this! I think that books encourage us to search for a greater understanding of ourselves and the world around us, and that’s the best thing about them.

    I love it when sometimes you’ve had a book on your shelf forever that you haven’t picked up yet for whatever reason, and then, when you do, you’re going through a particular thing that the book speaks to so strongly, and it’s like the book was waiting for the right time to be read.

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  3. Oh I so love this and I agree!! I think books can mean so so much more to me if I read them at a time when I particularly relate? I’ve had this for a few books but can I think of which they were right now?😂😂 Of course not. (Curse my terrible memory! AGH.) I also think it’s awesome that you look for your needs to be met in like all kinds of books. ❤ That's really important too and I'm so glad you find so many!!

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    1. Books are like this weird popular collective hallucination and a way to care and I LOVE IT. I’m sure your books will be the same (not for me though my life is not that tragic). I don’t necesserily look for my needs to be me in a book, but when I find that reassurance, it’s magical.

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  4. Ah! Amazing post, Shanti!!! First of all, thank you for reminding me to add Foolish Hearts to my TBR! I will get to it at some point, if the first thing you wanted to do when you finished it was read it again then it must have been pretty amazing.

    I love reading books that I feel a connection to. I think that’s why I like Radio Silence so much because when you read a book about a character who’s experiencing something similar to what you are, you immediately feel less alone. Sometimes when I read the connection is as small as, I want to be more like a certain character or there are small traits in a character that I see in myself and I think I’ve honestly learned so much about myself just from reading…. I hope that made sense…

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    1. That’s exactly it, Lara! when you feel like you’re the only one who thinks about something or worries about something and the book is this exquisite reminder that yo’re not, and you never were the only one and you are understood.

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  5. Ahh! It’s been so long since we talked. Just recently been getting back into the swing of things after the craziness of second quarter and college applications. Your comments about Radio Silence make me want a book that talk about applying to college in a realistic way. Fingers crossed until March!

    I recently read a book that your post really reminded me of. It’s The Names You Gave Us by Emery Lord, and I think it was exactly what I needed. It’s contemporary romance, but it has a huge faith theme that the protag has to grapple with in the midst of the struggles and transitions of growing up. My full review went up a few days ago, and I’ve been thinking about it on and off ever since. Loved this post ^-^

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    1. I’m sure you’re so busy, Eli! I was where you were this time last year, but you can do it! Oh, I utterly adored The Names They Gave it. It’s so piquant and compassionate and wonderful and I could totally imagine it changing people’s lives.

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  6. Wow, I love this post! I think that in a sense books exist because as humans we need them, and the core of what makes a book “good” is indeed that empathetic connection, that ability to resonate with the characters or events within the pages. Those books give us a better understanding of ourselves and of the people around us. It is a truly remarkable and beautiful process, and that is why I love books so much.
    A book that I needed was Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis. The main character of that book is a Orual, who has an obsessive love for her sister. She is manipulative and controlling but she doesn’t realize how harmful she is being. She is doing it all out of what she thinks is love. My relationship with my sister has never been that extreme, but the book helped open my eyes to the little things that I did that reminded me of Orual. I saw parts of myself reflected in the story, and it gave me a desire to make sure that I never let myself become that way. It reminded me how easy it is to become destructive in the name of something good.
    I love the way that books can resonate so deeply with us. We project ourselves into them and learn so much from stories that may or may not have ever happened. What would we do without books?
    Again, wonderful post!

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