By Alice Farrant
Realistically, I know searching for signs in the everyday is silly. Stepping over three drains in a row doesn’t cause bad luck, and if something bad happens there won’t be two more events before the bad luck cycle is complete. But I can’t help it, I enjoy the irrationality of my strange “logic”, the way things fit together in a way that only makes sense to me.
Which is why when I read books it’s as if subconsciously I am looking for myself, or something that resembles me, inside them. I’m looking for signs. Books, more often than people, reflect the parts of me I’m unable to articulate.
So, when Victoria asked me to share the books I feel were written just for me, I initially felt spoilt for choice. Yet, while there are books I have loved so much I’ve been overwhelmed, it’s rare that I’ve found a book that feels as though it was written especially for me.
The following is a short, but so very special list of books that have made an Alice.
Harry Potter – J. K. Rowling
I didn’t enjoy being me as a child, as a teenager, any age pre-Sixth Form really. A feeling I am sure is shared by many people. Harry Potter made me more happy and enthusiastic that anything else that was going on in my life at that time. I was beyond invested, I was obsessed. It gave me something to be excited about, to push aside my anxiety and friendship ups and downs. It was the best escape I could have asked for. I don’t really get the same pleasure reading it now, characters are different to me, but I will always love it for how happy it made me when not much else did.
And beyond that, J. K. Rowling gave me some of my first characters who weren’t like me, who weren’t all white, characters with power and agency that weren’t represented in real life. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a start.
The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
The Reader was the first book I read, post-university, that merged a pleasure of reading with a lesson, encouraging me think differently about the world and how I perceived it. I forever reference it as a ‘must-read’, even though it is 7 or so years since I last opened its pages. It even changed the way I approached reading, leading me to other books that have affected me similarly (How to be a Woman, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Colour Purple, Purple Hibiscus, Things Fall Apart, to name but a few).
Mansfield Park & Persuasion – Jane Austen
I was never Jo March, Elizabeth Bennet or Anne Shirley, I’ve never had the gumption. I’m the Anne Elliot, Cassandra Mortmain, Valancy Stirling or Fanny Price. In situations where I’m not the top of the food chain (see, all situations) I’ll follow the rules and do what is required of me. I don’t, or perhaps I didn’t, question authority.
Not a particularly admirable trait in this day an age, but reading Persuasion and Mansfield Park allowed me to wallow in my insecurities and desire to be accepted as I am. Reading these stories is like reading something that gives you hope, and like Quiet (see below), told me that slow and steady can win the race. Sometimes it’s better to follow a path that will make you happy, even if you feel like you’re being left behind. You need to love yourself before anyone else can. Eventually you’ll catch up.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain
Before Quiet, I felt as though being myself was an inconvenience to others, that my way of ‘being’ was a problem. Reading Quiet was as though Susan Cain personally wrote to me, validating my introversion. In a culture that values an extroverted personality often we are taught that you need to speak out, be more social, work in groups, whereas actually being introverted is not only okay but valuable. There is a power in being quiet, I can be successful even if I’m not the one shouting the loudest.
I’d also like to give honourable mentions to Beloved, Heroes and Villains, and Slouching Towards Bethlehem. I considered adding all these to my list, but frankly they are not books I consider written for me – they are totally different from me. The purpose of them was to make me think and/or consider my privilege in society, and that they did.
What interests me about my list, now I’ve finished writing it, is that these are books that have helped define who I am now – rather than reflecting who I am now. They defined me in the moment of reading, and then sent me off into the world a slightly different person. Reading has – I think – improved me.