Monday, 6 August 2012

Stop What You're Doing And Read This!

Have you ever read something and thought 'Yes, that's exactly how it is'? One of those rare moments when a writer captures one of your half-imagined thoughts, and articulates it so perfectly?

That's exactly how I felt reading Jeanette Winterson's essay 'A Bed. A Book. A Mountain.' in Stop What You're Doing And Read This! This book is a wonderful collection of essays about the benefits of reading. Winterson's piece, in particular, struck a chord.

She begins with an account of reading Nan Shepherd's The Cairngorms in bed - hence the title - and the capacity of books to transport you to different places.
To cross the threshold of a book is to make a journey in total time. I don't think of reading as leisure time or wasted time. The total time of a book is more like uptime than downtime, in the way that salmon swim upstream to get home.
We have lost all sense of home - whether it's the natural world, our only planet, or our bodies, now sites of anxiety and dissatisfaction, or our scrabble for property in vast alienated cities where few can afford safety, peace, quiet, even a garden.
How can a book get me home? It reminds me of where home is - by which I mean I am remapped by the book. My internal geography shifts, my values shift. I remember myself, my world, my body, who I am.
The remapping is sometimes overwhelming - the wow factor of those books that we know have changed our territory - but usually it is much more subtle, and more of a reorienting. I feel settled in myself. To put it another way, I am a settler in myself. I inhabit my own space.'
I've often thought of reading as a journey.  Books can take us to different times, countries or even fantasy worlds.  They allow us to experience wonderful - and sometimes awful - human situations, to become another person without of the pain of living it for ourselves. Winterson's argument goes further than this though. In the same way that travelling and staying with friends and family brings us back to ourselves and our own identity, so does reading. In learning about other people and other worlds, we learn about ourselves. It reminds us of who we are.


  1. I love this collection. I have it on my Kindle and whenever I find myself waiting somewhere open it up and read another essay. This one is very special.

  2. I can certainly believe that reading Nan Shepherd's book made Jeanette Winterson write this. I have it and although I can think those thoughts I could only wish I could write like Winterson.

  3. What a wonderful quote! I've got this collection, and really must read it. Winterson is spot on.


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