By Yusra Khan:
“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” –Anna Quindell
Growing up, I have always felt that there was something surreal in the art of book-writing. How mere words and sentences structured in a certain way were supposed to transport you from one world to another – how did a select few in the world gain the power to do that? Giving the mind a singularly distinctive function to adhere to, somewhere between the lines of Roald Dahl’s ‘Revolting Rhymes’, we realise books are a resource for limitless amounts of knowledge. Not just a medium of enjoyment, but pure treasure. Reading nourishes you in the way almond oil enriches dry roots, the way spinach soup soothes an upset stomach, the way a bowl of porridge gives you a fresh start in the morning; reading is supposed to infuse you with new ideas, and give freshness to your thought process.
As a child, I loved opening up a book and landing in a different world like the one with Sally and Darrell, returning to ‘Malory Towers’ with its soft grey stone standing high up on a cliff that fell steeply down to the sea. Each school term was full of vicarious joy, and a distant boarding school in an English countryside became an endless fantasy. Harry Potter was a childhood love, no, I wouldn’t say that. It remains essentially pivotal to everything I build myself on as I grew up and anyone who points out it’s all “magic and witchcraft” deserves to be housed with the Dursleys.
When I was reading, I didn’t notice people weren’t. I assumed my classmates must have stacks of books piled up in their own homes, with bookshelves that were much bigger and more grandiose than mine. I dreamt of owning a beautiful shelf, one resembling the magnificent furniture that filled Professor Kirk’s mansion in the Narnia stories. I truly believed I could step into a book; I had pictured myself do it, endless times. Once, on a particularly lonely afternoon when all I wanted was to escape the pile of unfinished holiday homework which was due the next day, I convinced myself I needed to run away and I swear I have felt the breeze of the Hogwarts grounds (even if for a just moment, and only if a whiff were enough for a lifetime). I have travelled with Bilbo on endangered roads, become wiser with Atticus Finch, been seated next to a shaky Elizabeth during the monthly school parliament meeting, battled the Dark Lord with Harry, known the thrill of endless puzzles with Professor Langdon, and even waged a war in Narnia.
I will never stop marvelling at the meditative trance-like effect that a good book produces that forces you to finish a 387-page novel overnight. How we fall in love with people we have never met and continue to long to meet them all our life. How you are a different person at the end of the book. How a different person at the end of another?
I never understood why people didn’t want to read – dive into worlds far more fantastical than ours. What special beauty did materialism hold, that was not momentary or alterable? Everything returns to dust, yes, but not books. Not the elation the end of its last page brings to you – not that. Not the fascination with a new author and the hungry urge to gorge on all of his works, not the mad thirst to meet him and kiss the hand that spelled such magic on print and brought to life inanimate words and sentences. Never that.
Lifetime readers will agree when I say reading good literature can be transformative. When you pick up a Jane Austen novel and submerge yourself in a world that consists of the most diverse characters that are capable of both good and bad, you find that perfectionism is not what we should strive for. Grey characters have worked all this time because they are the ones we can relate too. Reading gives you a sense of belonging. When you are a part of the experience, even if just as a mute spectator, you feel less lonely in your existence. You know your dreams and hopes and struggles are shared. That you are not alone in thinking what you’re thinking. You are part of a larger ecosystem.
Books affect our thinking in more ways than we think they do. And that is purely why, besides the pleasure of it, we need to delve into a wider variety of rich genres that the world offers us – and that can range from, Dr Seuss to Ayn Rand. Just pick any book you think you will love; remember, a book will always love you back.