I recently became aware of a funny phenomenon. That is, I can draw clear lines around the seasons of my life based on what I was reading when. And in a pretty impacting way, the books I read have shaped my life.
Sounds a little hokey put like that, so let me explain it with my story.
As a small child (& as an older child), I loved Winnie-the-Pooh. The whimsical language, the innocent beauty, something about it captivated me and made me yearn to find and put down my roots in the Hundred Acre Wood.
Something similar happened to me when my family read The Chronicles of Narnia together one year. It was more than entertainment… it pulled at my heartstrings, almost like a calling home.
Flash forward a few years. When I was around eleven years old, my big sister introduced me to an author who would forever change my life, that being the one and only Jane Austen. I fell head-over-hills and read everything she’d written (and watched the films), as well as everything written about her I could get my hands on. In those days, I lived in a constant Jane Austen world in my own mind. To live in her actual world in England became my burning desire.
Then came Tolkien. Still in my middle school years, I took my first journey to Middle Earth and never recovered (in a good way). The story combined for me the old world Britain I’d come to love along with the ancient, foresty, far away magic of Narnia. Once again, all roads seemed to point to England.
My high school years are pretty much summed up by the stacks of books still collecting dust in my old bedroom, and the one thing they have in common: Classics. I had no time for modern literature, and certainly not teen literature as a teenager. I couldn’t get enough of the old stuff, and especially if it was English. The books I read continued to shape my dreams of a future in another, more ancient and quirky culture. And, let’s face it, I was a bit of a literature snob. I still remember brining Oliver Twist to school and Bri snatching it out of my hand and finishing it in a day. *Yes, she was that annoyingly quick at reading, even then!
The books I read as a kid shaped and chiselled and fuelled my dreams so much, that, at the ripe old age of 21, I actually moved to England! Those early days of immigrating to a new land–even though it was my soul home!–were trying, and I can’t imagine having got through them without the guiding light of books by C.S. Lewis, G.K.Chesterton, George MacDonald and the like. Those authors spoke Truth, made good sense and came off the page like old friends sharing a cup of tea in the next chair. Just what I needed that season of change!
Now, eight years later, that far-off land of my childhood dreams is simply home. In many ways, it’s just become ordinary. But it hasn’t disappointed. I’ve visited the actual Hundred Acre Wood, spent a year in Tolkien & Lewis’s Oxford haunts, and even dressed up in regency attire for the Jane Austen Festival in Bath (oh yea, & I’ve totally had butter beer and ridden a broom at Harry Potter Studios). And I still catch myself frequently observing about some place or other, “It’s just like in Pooh/Jane Austen/Middle Earth/etc.!” It’s like Kathleen Kelly says in “You’ve Got Mail”,
So much of what I see in life reminds me of something I read in a book, when… shouldn’t it be the other way around?
I don’t know, Kathleen. For me, the books have been the catalyst for the real-life adventures, and I’m just fine with that.
So what about now?
Well, these days books play as vital a role in my life as ever… in fact, now that I’m writing them, I’d say they’ve become my bread & butter!
But the books on the shelves in my little London flat are rather different than those in my childhood bedroom. Ironically, they’re mostly contemporary kids books!
It’s as if, having missed out on all the young, new literature in my youth, I’m making up for it now as an adult. And I’m enjoying every minute of it! Sure, I still make time for little reunions with Dickens, Austen and the like, but I’m also discovering new worlds in Middle Grade literature I’ve never yet visited. And who knows where they’ll lead me next?
Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without books. Good Story is not only a gift from God, but a tool he’s used to shape me & direct me… to write my own story! And I think that’s pretty brilliant.