We all have places we retreat to when we’re not feeling ourselves. Cosy, comforting places that warm our hearts and sooth our souls. I have lots of them. They’re called bookshops and libraries. Inside, they offer thousands of escape routes, places to disappear to for a while, a chance to focus on something other than what is troubling me.
Books have always been my escape route, since childhood. When my mum was ill, and I’d opened her pill bottles and brushed her hair, we’d snuggle up and read a story. It was normal and comforting and made her seem well again.
It’s something I’ve passed on to my son. His favourite place is Waterstones Birmingham, with it’s dedicated children’s floor, with cosy seats and independent café. We can spend hours in there, literally. Last December, on his 13th birthday, I’d promised to take him to the German Market. It was so busy! We were constantly being jostled, it was cold and drizzling, and we were both miserable. He’d had a big fallout with his Dad the night before, and my back was causing me so much pain I was struggling to walk. “Can we just go to Waterstones Mum, it will make us both feel better. You buy the hot chocolate, I’ll buy the books.” And he was right, it did. We left feeling a lot happier than we’d been when we walked (hobbled) in, and not just because he got a free birthday cookie.
One of the children in one of my book clubs, when asked what he had enjoyed most about being in the group wrote this:
“Books are not just reading.” Such wise words from a 7 year old.
On Thursday, something happened that has really upset me. It’s left me reeling from hurt to confused to angry and back again.
On Friday, I cried; proper waterfalls down cheeks crying, while explaining to a friend at school why I was so upset. And then something funny happened. She said, “I know it’s hard but try not to worry. By the way, I had some lovely comments from parents last night about your book clubs. One of them has asked if you could recommend some books as they’re struggling to find any more that she likes.” Well, the tears stopped, and book talk started. I felt it spreading through me, soothing, comforting, uplifting. How to cheer Miss Cleveland up, step 1: talk about books.
Yesterday, after another sleepless night, I needed to retreat. I went to Waterstones Coventry. I got both of the books I’d gone in for, and somehow, managed to resist the temptation to buy an awful lot more. I had a lovely chat with a few of the staff about the books I was buying. “Have you seen this one?” “Oh yes, seen read, loved and already on loan at school.” I left feeling lighter and less troubled. I had two new escape routes in my hands.
So what I want to say is this: thank you to all the book sellers, librarians, authors, illustrators and everyone in publishing who provide my escape routes. I’ll be disappearing into a lot of them this week.