The healing power of books

If you’re a bibliophile, there’s no doubt that in times of stress or sadness, you’ve turned to books for solace.

Of course, there’s that obvious bit of reassurance you’ll get from reading about someone who’s been through what you’re going through, but it’s so much more than that.

When you’ve had an extremely shitty day and your life sucks beyond the telling of it, revisiting an old favourite and living awhile in that world you’ve loved for years is the ultimate form of escapism. For that short time, your problems are put to one side. You almost forget about finding that job, or that you’ve been single since the dawn of time. You can forget about your boss giving you a hard time, or that idiotic thing you said in a professional setting. Life gets a tiny bit easier; you’re with old friends now, who won’t judge you, who’ve known you all your life. Your problems might still be there when the book is finished, but you’re stronger for having read it, and maybe you’ll be better equipped to deal with them now.

Books are the ultimate refuge when other humans just won’t cut it.

I have a rotation of refuge books that help me, right across a spectrum of emotions.  They live on the bookshelf closest to my bed, right near where I lay my head at night. I have no idea if I thought I’d absorb the goodness by osmosis as I slept, or if I just wanted them within easy reach, but they’re all there, nice and tidy. Going into all of them would take probably a full decade, so here’s just a tiny snippet of them, in no particular order.

The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling.

I’m betting this one is on a lot of lists of books people read when they’re undergoing some kind of emotional issue. The world of Harry Potter is just pure escapism. The drudgery of everyday life can really wear a person down, especially when you’re the type who loves a bit of magic, and has been searching for a source of it their whole life. Hogwarts was there for me as a teenager, which on its own is difficult enough. It’s been there through breakups, the end of friendships, problems with uni or job seeking, and just plain awful days. It’s also been responsible for the development of some of the best friendships I’ve ever had. I know I’m going to continue to revisit Harry and his wonderful, beautiful world well into my dotage.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

The Book Thief never fails to make me cry. It’s such a beautifully written book, full of gorgeous imagery and wonderful similes involving colour. Cloud-spat blue, for example, or the lemon of Rudy’s hair, or the silver-grey of Liesel’s papa’s eyes. You can lose yourself in the language, the unique perspective, or you can marvel at the bravery and resilience of a young girl who loves books and lives in Nazi Germany. That, or you can feel your heart break for the umpteenth time for Rudy, the best friend a girl could have. Plus, having a good cry sometimes can just be cathartic!

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will forever hold the title of funniest book ever written for me. Douglas Adams had a truly wonderful sense of humour – his writing was whimsical and ridiculous, but also incredibly intelligent. If ever I needed a laugh, the Hitchhiker’s Guide was there to provide smiles or just a witty, hilarious escape.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

The ultimate old favourite, about a plain girl who works hard and does actually get her happy ending. It’s a comforting book – there’s a lot of injustice to relate to and rile against, and a lot of insight into the life of a poor female in Victorian times. Jane herself is a wonderful character – despite her upbringing and her circumstances, she’s strong in the face of people of higher social standing who want to bring her down. She knows her own mind, and she has worked hard to better herself and put her mind to use. She knows her limitations and her strengths – she’s not beautiful, but she is smart, and she is willing to put in the work to make a decent life for herself. It’s admirable, and it definitely helps when inner strength is something you’re striving for yourself.

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier.

Juliet Marillier is a writer of retold fairytales, and this version of Beauty and the Beast is one of my favourites. Caitrin is flawed but strong and smart, and running from her recent past when she meets Anulan, the supposed beast. He’s been isolated for so long due to a physical deformity and some supernatural goings on that he has no idea how to act around her, but the two form a friendship based on honesty and books, and eventually something more. It’s a powerful tale when you need to feel hope.

Which books do you feel the need to revisit when you’re sad, angry, or depressed? I’d love to know – I’m always after new recommendations!