It happened on a slow morning during my university English literature class. We had just finished reading one of Roald Dahl's lesser-known short stories, "Skin", published in The New Yorker in 1952. The lecturer called upon the class to present their analyses of the short story. When it was my turn to speak, I became tongue-tied as my mind slowly went blank. It had been close to four years since I had picked up a book.
I can't really remember when it was that I'd fallen head over heels in love with books, and subsequently, literature. If my mother is to be believed, then I'd been reading since I was a toddler. Unlike most children, I wasn't a fan of picture books since my impatient young mind always considered the illustrations to get in the way of my imagination. I ended up rummaging through my sister's collection of plays, essays, and classic novels such as William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (1602) and Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905) in pursuit of more words.
But was it really the words I wanted? Off the top of my head, I can name about 50 people from different stages of my life who have told me why it's important to read books. Every single one of their reasons were different variations of "They'll help you get acquainted with new words and their usage". However, the words in a book were different, they opened up all kinds of portals, from those grounded in reality to the ones that let me dream. So it wasn't the words after all, it was the allure that the books possessed. Books are more than words. They're heavy with the souls of the authors who wrote them. They're people, their testimonies and love and struggles, and hope and comfort and magic.
Now picture a life devoid of that allure. That magnetism is gone and so are your magic portals. Under such circumstances, I imagine that people usually tend to gravitate towards television for some sense of escapism. Not me. As much as I enjoy watching films and TV shows, the escapism offered on the silver screen ultimately was no match for that found in the pages of books.
Experiencing reader's block for the first time was a painful experience for me. It set in slowly over time as the pressure to strive towards academic perfection took the front seat, leaving my love for reading to grow cold at the back. Soon enough, I was reading to pass a course at school, not out of curiosity. Texts that had once sparked intrigue, became a drag. My fascination with poets, researchers, and historians had begun to ebb. Regardless of how well-written the texts were, I simply could not bring myself to invest in them emotionally and intellectually as I once had, and thus chose to glance through only the excerpts assigned for reading in class. A chord somewhere had snapped, causing my curiosity to be replaced with an emotion I would never associate with books: frustration. I ended up finishing no books all throughout high school.
It's common for adults leading busy lives to experience a reading slump every now and then, due to a drop in energy, or an overall unwillingness to keep the mind occupied with the contents of a book. As an adolescent, I had to come to terms with the realisation that books were no longer a reprieve away from the materialistic world but had rather begun to embody materialism itself. I stepped back after graduating high-school and opted for a break away from trying to read entirely.
It was in 2019 that I decided to try my hand at something I had no prior experience of: book blogging. Being able to connect with so many readers from all over the world on a shared platform, Instagram, made me aware of all the different personal connections that these people had formed with the books they'd read. They offered the motivation I needed to once again bury my nose inside a book out of curiosity.
I reached for an old favourite—The Namesake (2003) by Jhumpa Lahiri. The nostalgia I found in those pages was enough to dispel any lingering disinterest. Like a vaccination procedure, however, there were side effects. I was unsure whether my relationship with books would ever be the same.
It wasn't. Instead, I began to see books in a new light, as more than "..uniquely portable magic", to use Stephen King's words. I began to see books as the driving force behind creative expression and multicultural conversations. I interacted with bloggers from different corners of the world and understood how the definition of "popular" books had changed over the years, from a millennial perspective to one better suited for generation z. There was so much to learn and discover about the mechanisms of book-blogging: photography, content writing, social influencing. But I felt comfortable about sharing my insecurities, my criticism and my experience with specific books. I had found my safe haven once more.
My grandmother used to say that her relationship with books was an addictive one, that all it took was a whiff of that typing ink, fresh or aged, and that allure would take over you, mind and soul. She wasn't wrong. About five months after joining the bookstagram community, I went out and bought myself a fresh copy of a recent release, These Witches Don't Burn (Razorbill, 2019) by Isabel Stirling and took in the smell of the smooth pages. I devoured the 280-page book in under four hours, and proceeded to look for more.
Rasha Jameel studies microbiology whilst pursuing her passion for writing. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.