When I first moved to Canada I lived in my own little world for a solid two years. I spent most of my lunch hours hidden in the library, most of my time with my nose in a book. I read so much that I got to a point where I could read 800 pages in a day comfortably. (That could be one big book or two smaller books.)
Sometimes when people ask me how I’m doing, I’ll tell them I’m doing well because I read a book. (Or that I’m stressed because I read a book instead of my homework.. Oops.) When their polite questions lead them to realize I meant an entire book in a matter of hours, they often look at me like I’ve grown two heads. Here in the academic world of university, my friends usually tell me how jealous they are of me. ‘It must be so handy to read so fast with the amount of homework we’re assigned!’
I never know quite how to tell them that I would rather read slowly than be able to read fast because I put my life on hold for two years to live in fictional worlds.
Grade nine was probably the worst year of my life, and it was when this particular pastime grew beyond a casual hobby into an addiction. Once a week the library at my school closed for the library club to meet, which meant I couldn’t hide there for the lunch hour. Every week the librarian would invite me to stay, and every week I would decline, terrified to leave the safety of my book even for a moment. So instead of staying with the librarian (who, let’s be real, knew me better than anyone at that godforsaken school), I would tuck myself away in other corners of the school and hope no one would bother me as I hid behind literature to protect myself from my increasingly frightening world yet again.
And that’s why anyone becomes addicted to anything, right? To escape. To get away.
Books became my refuge in a time when I felt I had nowhere else to turn. Fiction was my friend when I had no others. Books were the remedy to a mind that doesn’t know how to stop thinking and a heart that feels things too deeply for me to bear at times.
One of my favourite movies is “About Time,” which is a British romantic comedy that is actually quite precious, and you should really watch it if you haven’t seen it. In the movie, the main character can time travel, as can all the men in his family. The protagonist asks his father, “What have you done with it?” (“It” being their ability to time travel.) “For me, its books, books, books,” he tells his son. “I’ve read everything a man could wish to read twice – Dickens, three times!”
As you can imagine, I immediately resonated with this character. I’ve now moved onto a much healthier place in life (praise. the. Lord.) and though I have to hold my love of books within reason (it’s impractical to read a book everyday, as I’m sure you can imagine. it’s also no good to avoid the real world – severely stunts human development, I’ve found.), I still love to run away from time to time.
When I read, I can be anyone. I can live in the past, present, or future. I can live in our world, or on the moon (shoutout to my homegirl Winter). I can be an assassin who grows a conscience and takes down a corrupt king (hollaback Aelin), a talented witch who fears expulsion more than death (hey Hermione), or a girl who tumbles through a wardrobe into a world in desperate need of her help (how could you think I would forget you, Luce?). I know everyone wants to be in Taylor Swift’s squad or whatever, but trust me, my fictional girl squad would put Taylor’s to absolute shame.
And the ring leader would be my favourite character of all time, Queen Raisa. She lives in the Seven Realms. If you can have “second homes” that technically do not exist, the Seven Realms are my second home. I read the first novel in the series in grade nine and I think I reread it three times while I impatiently awaited the next instalment.
Raisa came to me at an important time in my life. When I (severely) lacked courage, here was this fearless young queen trying to save her queendom and learning to lead her people. When I hated school, she ran away to study more so that she could lead well in the future, and reminded me that education is important. Even when her life was in imminent danger, she made friends with the women around her, and taught me that strength grows in community, not in isolation. Even in the face of incredible challenges (including, but not limited: to the death of her mother, a brewing civil war, and a coup de tat) she remained focused and worked hard, which encouraged me to do so as well.
Despite all her fears she just kept putting one foot in front of the other, which helped me to keep taking scary steps. They were little baby steps, but at least she got me moving.
So tonight, I grabbed my polka dotted umbrella (my mum knows me so well) and strode out into the rainy Chicago streets. I love Chicago in the rain, especially at night. I love to watch the reflection of the city lights dancing in the puddles on the sidewalks, I think the sound of the cars on the wet streets is weirdly soothing, and I like how the whole city gets reborn into this new, shiny place that I feel spoiled to live in.
I walked my favourite walk: to Barnes and Noble. (For my Canadians, this is the American version of Chapters.) It’s about a 15 minute walk from campus, and I kid you not, I go sit in this bookstore, at minimum, once every two weeks. I like the table in the corner, because I can watch the traffic on State and Elm, and because I know how to sit so that my foot balances the table at just the right angle to read my textbook or write a paper, or whatever insane torture Moody has dreamt up for me on that day. (I’m kidding, I’m a total nerd and I love my homework.)
More than this though, the familiar ambience of bookstores comforts me after a long day. I like to think I know bookstores like mums know grocery stores. Mums somehow ALWAYS know where the milk will be located even if they’ve never set foot in that store before – it’s like a superpower! Respectively, bookstores are my superpower (or weakness, depending on your vantage point).
So anyway, I walked to Barnes and Noble (which is my favourite walk), in the rain (which is my favourite version of Chicago), to the tune of Louis Armstrong’s “C’est Si Bon,” and John Mayer’s “Neon” (which I have listened to a million times, and I swear to you, it sounds better on a rainy night than under any other circumstances). Needless to say, I was basically walking on clouds.
And I waltzed through the revolving door and smiled at the security guard (we’re pals) and walked up the winding staircase like I was freaking Cinderella to where I knew my book was waiting for me.
What book, you ask? The author of the Seven Realms novels released the first novel in a spin off series today, featuring Raisa’s son. This event has been on my computer calendar.. for over a year.. or two…… Guys, I have really been looking forward to this book.
I was so happy that when I saw it, I just stared at the book on the shelf for a minute before greedily snatching it. And yes, I smelled it. And then I took a selfie with it, because this was a moment that needed commemorating. I gleefully took it to the cashier, who double bagged it and stapled it shut to protect it from the rain. (These are my people.)
This whole rambling blog is really just to tell you how much I love books, and how happy I was to buy this particular book tonight. I was so happy that I wrote this whole blog post so that I can remember how this felt a year from now, because I am in fact, that nerdy.
I wish I could somehow convey the joy of returning to a world you dearly love in the most secret place of your imagination. I wish I could explain that seeing Raisa’s name on the back of the cover felt like bumping into an old friend unexpectedly. I wish there was someway to let you see what I see while I’m reading, and how it is more vivid than any movie. But I don’t really know how to put that feeling into words, so this is the end of my blog. (Sheesh, that was anticlimactic.)
Also though, I REALLY have to finish my homework and go to bed.
Hope you read something phenomenal sometime in the near future. Hope you fall in love with a character that inspires you along the way… Because reading is the best thing.