I was that child with their nose always in a book. Until I turned eight, we moved around the world because of my dad’s work. From the home counties to Birmingham to Singapore and back again, I lived with the regular awkwardness of arriving in new schools mid-way through a term. So, I found my solace by escaping into stories. Whatever happened during the day, I lived hundreds of glorious parallel lives at night. Curled up in bed, I solved adventures with The Famous Five, navigated Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches with Mildred Hubble or imagined myself, with my identical auburn pigtails, running wild as Anne of Green Gables.
Childhood events lodge in my mind through whatever book I was caught up in at the time. A small hospital trip will forever be when my mum gave me The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, and I sat in a ward bed wide-eyed at Adrian measuring his ‘thing’. Lifts to the shops were less about shopping but an excuse to race into Woking Library and grab a new stack of books, which I would read through as fast as I could before they all had to be returned. That is, except for the one library book I accidentally dropped during a bath and then set on fire whilst trying to discreetly dry it in the microwave. Not my finest moment, as my family often like to remind me!
But, somewhere in the transition to adulthood, I stopped calling myself a reader. During my corporate career in healthcare, I had to read a lot for work. I squeezed in endless emails, company documents, NHS policies, clinical papers, you name it, and reading stopped being something I did for pleasure. Then, I quit my job to start Martha Brook and had a baby. Time to myself became pretty much non-existent! Sure, I still read on holiday, but I was much ‘too busy’ to read regularly. I mean, who on earth has the time?! The pile of books on my bedside table sat gathering dust. They were all bought with the best of intentions, but there never seemed to be the right moment to pick one up.
Then at the start of this year, everything changed. I’d like to tell you it was one thing, but often in life, it never is, is it? Looking back, it was probably three things that seemed to happen all at once. Firstly, I was going through a brutal sixth round of IVF, and my mental health had taken quite a beating. Anyone who has been through IVF will tell you it is all-consuming, and following three miscarriages in a row, it also brought with it a horrible, constant fear of having to live through the grief of a fourth. On top of that, my dad, who has been extremely ill for some time, came very close to dying. My anxiety was through the roof, I had trouble sleeping, and nothing seemed to help me switch off at all.
Secondly, Christie came along. Christie is our lovely Marketing Manager here at Martha Brook and is, in her own words, book obsessed. There is nothing quite like hearing someone else talk about reading to make you want to read again, is there? Add to that the third factor of the influence of #bookstagram and #booktok. Oh yes, the niche corner of the internet for book lovers! If you don’t ‘do’ social media, you might be immune to what has happened over the last couple of years, where there has been an explosion in young people talking with a passion about books online. Reading is suddenly cool again.
So, I picked up a book. It was an ordinary weekday evening in February, and I couldn’t sleep, so I reached for one of the books that had sat languishing next to my alarm clock and started reading. I became friends with Christie on Goodreads, and seeing her reading rate, I didn’t stop at one book. I kept going. When that book finished, I picked up another, and then another, and then another. I’ve read everything from romance to classics, non-fiction, historical fiction, business books, mystery, and a load of crime thrillers, which will forever remain my weakness (I blame my teenage years hooked on the entire works of Agatha Christie). So far, in 2022, I’ve read 34 books, approximately one a week from when I started. I am on track for my secret (although now not so secret!) end-of-year target of 50.
I am a reader! I feel proud to say that. I have rediscovered a marvellous part of me that somehow I lost along the way.
Now, I can hear you thinking, ‘Martha, where did you suddenly get all that time from’?! 34 books?! And here’s the thing. Once I fell back in love with reading, the time seemed to inexplicably find itself. I brought a new, roomier bag that I could fit my latest book in, which now goes everywhere with me. I find myself reading in stolen moments, wherever I am and whatever I am doing. On the tube or bus, in cafés, whilst cooking, and almost always before bedtime. The only thing that has changed is I probably watch less TV. Don’t get me wrong, I still watch television. I was as hooked on Stranger Things Series 4 as the next person (obsessed and cannot wait for Series 5!)! However, I don’t do what I used to, which is watching something totally pointless late into the evening while also scrolling on my phone or attempting to work on my laptop.
I’ve realised that one of the blissful things about reading is that it forces you to stop. You cannot physically do anything else when you have your nose in a book. (Except drink tea, of course, which is not something I can say I have done less of!). I admit I haven’t been very good at stopping, but I discovered a lovely quote by Joseph Addison: “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.”. It feels like that to me. Like part of my brain has been turned back on. I can honestly say that rediscovering my love of literature has been the most life-changing and life-saving escape this year.
Predictably, I have ended up with endless notebook pages filled with scribbles of books I want to read next and quotes from books I’ve read. So, when it came to planning our Christmas range, I just knew we had to introduce a Book Journal. It is something you have been asking us to create for a while, and I am so excited to let you know (drum roll!) that it launches for preorder tomorrow! Written by me, Christie and the team, with loads of input from you, our lovely community, it is a personalised Book Journal for book lovers created by book lovers! I genuinely believe that a love of reading is the best thing you can gift someone, so could there be a more splendid gift?! We are so proud of it and hope many of you will put it on your Christmas lists this year or give it to friends and family.
I know I am not alone in falling back in love with books. Book sales last year in the UK were at their highest in a decade, with purchases of physical books leading the way. In an increasingly digital world, isn’t it magnificent that there is still nothing as magical as picking up a bundle of pages bound together and getting lost amongst them? I think back to eight-year-old me, and although the books have changed, I am still that girl, finding meaning and comfort in someone else’s lines. I’ll leave you with the words of Annie Dillard, “She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.”
P.S. Do you read? Have you got into a reading slump? What got you out of it? I’d love to know in the comments if this resonates! And do keep your eyes peeled on our newsletter and social channels tomorrow for our new Book Journal!