How Books Help Me Heal

Rosamund Lupton’s second novel Afterwards was released in paperback today.

Books are a necessity to me, just as knowing there’s food in the fridge and band aids in the medicine cabinet  I need to know there’s a good book on my nightstand. (I love that American word.) And I’m not talking metaphorically. When my sons were little, and frequently falling off bikes and getting into the scrapes small boys gets into, I had a bag of essentials ready to take if we had to go to the emergency room. Alongside a pair of pajamas and change of clothes, were children’s storybooks and a book of short stories for me (I was realistic about how much time I’d have to read). It meant that instead of the interminable waiting, the fractious misery of having to spend time in a place you don’t want to be, the time flew past as we hung out with the Wild Things or Lost Boys rather than fellow patients. I’d like to say it was my son who asked to read a book while he was given an injection, but truthfully it was me, quite recently, and the nurse to her credit took it completely in her stride, as if patients always took out a book when she got out her needle. (I recommend it by the way.)

Continuing briefly on the medical uses of books (and not as textbooks), a few years ago, while waiting for a biopsy result I read gripping novels back to back and will be forever grateful to the writers who could spring me from my own life and the terrors that briefly lurked there. I know it’s not very fair of me to use great books as if they are just some kind of painkiller – or in extremis an escape pod. Many people have written eloquently about the power of books, how they educate, elucidate, take you to new cultures, give you new experiences and vantage points, open your heart and mind and pierce your soul. But as readers we each have our own particular narrative to tell about books.

I think back to when I had my first baby, sitting up in the small hours of the night, the lights in the buildings around me all off,  feeling like the only person in London still awake. I was reading a wonderful novel about a family emigrating from Ireland to America in the 1840s. I’d started before my son was born, and that voyage to America carried me through from carefree young woman to a mother fretting over her new baby in the middle of the night. The book not only stopped me feeling alone, soothed my anxiety over a well-but-fretful baby but also provided continuity of who I was and am. I’d spent three years studying literature at Cambridge University, with some of the best professors in the land, but it was during those long dark nights that I discovered the real magic of reading. There’s a Chinese proverb I particularly like: A book is like a garden carried in the pocket. I pat mine occasionally, just to make sure that I have one there.

To learn more about Rosamund Lupton, visit rosamundlupton.com.


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Novels by Rosamund Lupton
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