Book talk: Things Books Have Taught Me

Ask any book lover what literature and reading means to them and they'll tell you that it's so much more than just a leisurely activity that transports you to another time and place.

Oh, there's no doubt that this is indeed what books, depending on how good they are, often manage to do, but  more than that, it's also all about what the journey teaches us along the way.

Regardless of whether the book is set in a fantasy world or a more contemporary background -  the truth is that books that we can relate to have a bigger impact on us than we think.

Just take a few minutes to think about it.  Why is it that so many of our favourite quotes are from books?

And not just that, but why do so many of them stay with us even though years have passed since we've read them?

I can't speak for all bibliophiles out there, but I do have a general theory about this.

It's because those thoughts resonate within us; they connect and speak to us in ways that often confound us - and usually – somehow, at the right moment and the right time.

I know this all sounds rather twee, but I think that many literature lovers will agree when I say that there's usually always a line or two in a book that makes us all go, "That. That right there, is a feeling I've known all my life."

It's not just all pretty words and lyrical prose - there are details in the plot and in the development of the characters that have us drawing from and relating to their experiences, and whether it's just the act of reading or holding a physical book in your hand, one thing's for sure - books  will change your life.

Here's some of the most important lessons I've learnt from and about books.

Imagination trumps reality.

Because reading the news on a daily basis would be soul-crushing if we didn't have book worlds we could escape to.

Believing in fairy tales is a necessary ingredient to life.

Although some of them may be dark, many of them teach us that hope is a powerful force that prevails even in the midst of darkness.

To quote Neil Gaiman:

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

There's no friend more constant and non-judgmental than that of a book.

For every character that screws up, there'll always be a reader who says: "Oh my gosh, I did that too. I'm so glad I'm not the only one."

Because, as a quote from my favourite book, The Sky is Everywhere, says:

“Life's a freaking mess. In fact, I'm going to tell Sarah we need to start a new philosophical movement: messessentialism instead of existentialism: For those who revel in the essential mess that is life."

Besides, perfection's overrated - and it doesn't exist.

Underdogs do win. And they even get the girl/guy.

It may take you longer to get where you need to be than it does for others, but with a little perseverance, you'll eventually get to your intended destination.

Characters like these have taught me that life's not a race and making a competition out of it invariably only results in jealousy and insecurity.

You've got to die a little before you can live.

Yeah that character who goes to hell and back? That's both you and me. Our messes and troubles may not be as easily solvable or as quickly resolved as those of the heroes and heroines in our favourite books, but they do provide one hell of a learning curve.

And if they can tough it out, then so can we.

Libraries are the best kind of refuge (sometimes the only kind) you need when everything goes to hell.

There's no better place that offers you the choice of comforts from a wide collection of books, each begging to be the one to soothe that raw and gaping wound.

Armchair travelling is just as awesome, if not better, than physical travelling.

It's also cheaper, has no time limit and can be experienced over and over again, at your own leisure.

There is such a thing as happily-ever-after.

Well there is if you stop looking for it, keep believing in it and, most of all, actually wait for it to find you. 

In the meantime, while you're waiting, just keep reading. Why do you think so many of us love reading books with happy endings?  It keeps the hope alive (Not that books with bittersweet / sad endings aren't worth reading too).

I could go on and on - but the truth is that as long as I'm reading books, I'll always be learning something new; and the feeble list above, is but a brief glimpse into the psyche of a bibliophile whose life has been altered by her love of books and reading.

What have books taught you? I’d love it if you shared yours.

Disclaimer: This originally appeared as a column on Women24, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.


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