I didn’t feel safe with my parents – so I bonded with books instead
I’VE BEEN THINKING about books a lot lately.
It started when my fellow blogger FracturedFaith put out a post asking: “Are You A Book Addict?”
I thought: Hmmn. Sounds like me….
Then, there was a psychology podcast* on Attachment Theory, which discussed how we can form emotional connections to objects when we don’t bond well with our parents .
I’ve seen this in action myself: a boy with special needs that I once taught began an obsession with washing machines, of all things, right after his Dad walked out.
But the pod also explained that many ‘normal’ people also bond with gadgets like mobile phones, because they make them feel safe and in control.
And then it dawned on me why I’ve never been able to live without books.
There’s anxiety and stress swirling around our family at the moment: due to Sandwich Generation stuff, jobs, parenting conundrums and expensive renovations that need doing on the house.
We’re coping, but we’re a bit worn down and stressed by it all.
I try to be strong at times like this but – in truth – it’s not usually long before I get into a low and anxious state.
And that’s when I tend to reach for a book… or an armful of them.
Over time, I’ve built a nest of sorts around my bedside table, comprised of books and magazines that spill onto the floor and get under my wife’s feet when she needs to get into her wardrobe.
There are several more on the mantelpiece awaiting my attention, and scores piled up all over the bookcase just outside our room, as well as hundreds actually sitting on shelves.
All of them are evidence of my longing for words and stories; of how I get twitchy if I haven’t got more than three unread books in reserve, or if the ones I have don’t look like they’re going to be sufficiently transporting.
So yes, I’m a book addict. I can’t live without them.
Books became my safe place because I didn’t attach properly to my mum”
Each evening – unless I’m perfectly drunk, quite ill or thoroughly knackered – I need to finish the day with at least 20 minutes of reading.
Often, it’s just about resetting pleasantly before nodding off but – on bad days – it’s wanting to live for a while in a space that’s completely safe.
I’ll try to explain what I mean: I think that books became my safe place because I didn’t attach properly to my mum.
She was a volatile, angry woman who gave birth to me just two days after her own 18th birthday.
She did her best, but I don’t think she was ever in a position to bond with me well – coping as she was with a hasty marriage, 1960s social and parental opprobrium, and the realisation that she had made her life much, much harder, if not fucked it up entirely.
As a kid, I was shouted at in relays: first by Mum after school, and then by Dad when he arrived from work and Mum told him I needed a bit more aggro.
And, in between the bouts of yelling, I’d sit alone in my room and read for hours, finding out that there’s a lot more to be said for books than angry parents.
Books aren’t going to lash out at you, nor make you fear for your safety and self-respect”
For a start, books have rules. They’re understandable, and reasonably predictable.
Although some are avant garde, or contain shocking plot twists and horrific scenes, they’re not suddenly going to lash out at you, nor make you fear for your safety and self-respect.
Read a couple of books and you understand how they work: they’re spelt accurately, grouped in logical sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. Some even have illustrations, indexes, maps to ensure that they make sense.
This tends to make them comforting, unlike hostile parents, whose outbursts are frequently upsetting and incomprehensible (Where did that come from? What did I do? Am I a fucking little bastard?)
I need books like a junkie needs his needle”
I also think this need for comfort explains the rather childish, gluttonous way that I still consume words.
I read fast and widely – literary novels, genre fiction, history, sports – but my tastes are often middlebrow, and sometimes I don’t take in the key passages and important events of stories.
While I was good at Eng. Lit. at school and read broadsheet reviews now, I’m not overly concerned with literary style, or novels that try out new ideas. It’s all about comfort… I need books like a junkie needs his needle.
Of course, I’m a man in his 50s now and I’m not a frightened child any more.
Books are still an instinctive source of comfort and stress relief for me, but one of the consolations of ageing is that I’ve already lived with thousands of brilliant books, and I know there could be thousands more to come…
I may no longer read them fearfully, or in secret, with a torch under the covers – these days, it’s with strong specs, and often a glass of wine and some chocolate – but books remain as essential to my life now as they were when I was struggling to grow up.
* The fantastic Richard Nicholls Podcast