I spend hours in bookshops, browsing the shelves, reading the blurbs, sometimes sitting down and reading whole chapters before placing the book back where it belongs.
I buy books frequently. But not as frequently as I frequent bookshops. That would bankrupt me.
For me, books are a form of therapy.
Some of the most cathartic books I’ve read have tackled the subject of mental illness head on, and I’ve usually read them when I’m coming out of a depression – just when my concentration has decided to saunter back.
When I was nineteen, trapped in the inertia of that stupid illness, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Mother Night” wrote how I felt, word for word:
“It was not the thought that I was so unloved that froze me. I had taught myself to do without love.
It was not the thought that God was cruel that froze me. I had taught myself never to expect anything from Him.
What froze me was the fact that I had absolutely no reason to move in any direction. What had made me move through so many dead and pointless years was curiosity.
Now even that had flickered out.
How long I stood frozen there, I cannot say. If I was ever going to move again, someone else was going to have to furnish the reason for moving.
A policeman watched me for a while, and then he came over to me, and he said, “You alright?”
“Yes,” I said.
“You’ve been standing here a long time,” he said.
“I know,” I said.
“You waiting for somebody?” he said.
“No,” I said.
“Better move on, don’t you think?” he said.
“Yes, sir,” I said.
And I moved on.”
I read this passage over and over again, amazed that a dead American man knew exactly how I was feeling. In my blackest days, I would find myself anywhere: in a supermarket, in a shop, at work in the pub, and find myself frozen, unable to move, energy sapped out of me entirely. It was exactly like the protagonist in Mother Night. I was experiencing what medics would dryly call “a lack of motivation”, or what I would call a total absence of anything.
In secondary school, we are told to stop saying that we like a book because we can relate to it, or dislike a book because we can’t relate to it. That, apparently, is beside the point. It isn’t academic. It isn’t literary.
I ardently disagree. Seeing your experiences, the best and worst, written down on a page by a person who never knew you, is a wonderful feeling. It’s like someone is reaching out their hand, grasping yours, telling you that you are not alone. It gives you hope.