The hardest part of coming to university was deciding which books to take. A Year Three teacher once convinced me that every time I folded a page, the book would cry, and somehow I’ve never quite shaken the possibility of my books being sentient out of my head. I know this isn’t true, really. But in a sense, my haphazard, piled up books have taken on lives of their own; the particularly well thumbed volumes contain ticket stubs, scribbled notes, shopping lists; all things that I have used as bookmarks in order to avoid having to fold over the page. These aren’t just visual reminders of where I was and what I was doing when I picked them up, but in the thumbprints still discernible on some of the pages are memories of how I felt, what I did, who I was. How on earth could I decide which of those memories to pick up and cart halfway across the country with me?
There have been so many phases defined by what I’ve read; the pre-teen Jacqueline Wilson phase, the Roald Dahl fling, a dalliance with PG Wodehouse that then turned into a full blown love-affair. I like to immerse myself in my books, and if anyone was to walk into my room, it tends to resemble a bad modern art collection, with lots of stacks of books that will never quite make their way onto the shelf, just in the eventuality that I’ll want to read them one more time.
How on earth could I decide which of those memories to pick up and cart halfway across the country with me?
If I (as I must) have to pick one book to define my childhood, it would, stereotypically, be Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Not only because it features a little girl who likes books, but because of the effect it had on my imagination. I never just liked Matilda. I quite frankly thought I was Matilda, and because she liked books and could move things with her eyes, I figured that because I liked books I (you guessed it) could also move things with my eyes. I would sit for hours, cross legged, staring at objects and just willing them to move. As you can guess, I was incredibly unsuccessful. But I realised just how powerfully words could resonate with me, and it’s inspired me to keep reading ever since.
Today, my tastes are perhaps more refined, and when I originally thought of picking a book that would summarise my current situation, my mind turned to Brideshead Revisited for its heady, deeply romanticised portrayal of university life that seems to summarise how I feel about Durham. But then I looked up, and saw The Odyssey staring at me.
there is something so powerful about how much it resonated with me
Until the summer, it has gathered dust on the ‘should probably read’ list. Then I took a module that forced me to read it, and it has stuck with me for a number of reasons ever since. One – it depicts an incredibly difficult, fantastical journey, and sometimes my degree feels like a cyclops threatening to eat me. Two – before I went travelling last year, my grandma presented me with a copy of ‘Ithaca’ by CP Cavafy, which is inspired by The Odyssey. It’s a beautiful poem; it’s about the value of the journey, and travelling, and coming home. Three – I read the whole thing in one day, lying on a beach on the hottest day of the year, and I still have the sunburn mark on my back from it; Homer has quite literally scarred me. Joking aside, however, I may not be Odysseus, and I don’t have any aspirations to go head to head with some Lastrigonians, but there is something so powerful about how much it resonated with me, and how surprised I was that I loved it so much.
Looking forward, I’d really like to read Helene Hanff’s ‘84, Charing Cross Road’. It was recommended to me years ago, and I haven’t put it off for any particular reason, but because the person who suggested it told me that they had it on audiobook while they were packing up their life to move from Scotland to London. I think I’ll save it for my next big trip.
Image: Vladimir Mokry via Unsplash