I thought about doing this as a video blog. I was going to take footage from this afternoon where Charley and I hung out in a bookshop in London, unexpectedly having been granted the opportunity to meet up during the interminable months between November, when we spent a weekend together, and August, when we plan to do a similar thing. However, I was so excited to see my co-writer again that I completely forgot I had a camera with me and left it in my bag the entire time. So I did what any blogger would do — abandoned the video idea, and decided to write it up. With WORDS.
Shocking, right? Absolutely appalling. How dare I, a writer, decide to use WORDS to tell a story?
Anyway, I’m sure even those of you who don’t watch Doctor Who (and I hope very much that you are few and far between, else much of my blog will not make sense to you) will have heard by now a quote from the Tenth Doctor in the second series since 2005:
“Books! The greatest weapons in the world!”
And, you know, the Doctor has a point. Books are a way of arming yourself against the world with knowledge and experience that you can’t get anywhere else. When you’re in a weak position, you can turn to books for advice, and they can help you.
But I don’t think that’s really what books are like or for. I think books aren’t weapons: they’re lovers. (And I’m not talking about the really nice edition of Lord of the Rings that you sensually finger every time you’re in a bookshop because of the way it looks at you from the shelves. Seriously. Don’t deny it. I’m not judging you. We’ve all been there. Those maps are sexy.)
People—especially children—turn to books when they’re hurting. Books are a way to make sense of a new place or experience, from moving house or school to falling in love for the first time. You turn to books to find characters who are going through the same thing. And you know what those characters do? You know what those books do?
They take your hand and they lead you through it.
Books are a support. In many cases, they’re a lifeline. Many months ago now there was a Twitter movement called #YAsaves, where people told their stories of what YA fiction meant to them, and how it had helped them. There was also a fantastic article on the subject about YA fiction and what it can mean to people whose lives are difficult and traumatic, which you can find here.
I didn’t have a difficult or traumatic childhood. While there are things about being a teenager that haven’t been a walk in the park (unless it’s the kind of walk where you fall in the pond and then get hit by somebody’s bike but aren’t seriously injured, in which case I’d say the metaphor was apt), I would definitely not say that I was one of the people described in this article, for whom books hold nothing new, and therefore turn to them to find people like themselves.
Nevertheless, in difficult times, books have been a comfort. When school gets boring, books are the friends that take you on wild adventures as soon as the bell rings. When you’re angry at your parents / society / the world, books lead you up onto the barricades to start the revolution—but guard you from the bullets. Books are the friend that movies made you believe you’d have but who never materialised through all your time at school, despite trying. Books are there to love you when you’re not sure if anybody else does.
Yes, books can be weapons. And books, if written in the right way and put in the hands of the right people, can turn humans into weapons too.
But books can teach you how to love. Books can teach you how to be loved. Books can love you.
Because when you’re different, it’s books about kids that are different which tell you it’s okay to be who you’re are, to tell you that you can be accepted. When you’re grieving, it’s books that show you other people going through loss so that you know how to overcome the emotions. When you’re seemingly lost in darkness, books are quite often the guiding light.
Books are lovers. Not weapons.
That’s why I write them. Because somewhere out there is a reader who needs to be loved.
But more to the point, that’s why I read them. Because that’s what we all need, really. Every little monster just wants to be loved. And aren’t we all monsters of a sort, in our own world? Don’t we all scare ourselves sometimes? (Please tell me that’s not me…)
So let me amend that quote.
“Books! The greatest lovers in the world!”