How Growing Up With Books Changed My Life
And what I hope my daughter can learn from it.
Back in 2007, they released one of the biggest bestsellers of modern times — Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Fans had been waiting years for this last book of the series. Pre-ordering options had been available for several weeks. On the day of the release, people had camped outside the bookstores the prior night, and still copies ran out. Everyone wanted to be early in the race to read the ultimate book before others could. Of course, it smashed all publishing records in history and was an instant bestseller.
Flashback to my personal life in that year.
When this book released, I was in the final year of my Bachelor’s degree. We were a couple of months away from the mid-term exams, and I fell ill with typhoid. During those 2–3 weeks, I could barely get out of bed, let alone study.
Though exams were still months away, this was a huge stressor for me. Well you see, I used to be a proud nerd back then!
I was that friend who would revise the syllabus twice, an entire week before the scheduled exams, and still panic on the D-day. So being sick and unable to attend classes or study was my worst nightmare. I even remember being in tears over the fact that I might not score well in my exams since I could not attend classes.
Coincidentally, the book released in this same week. And to my utmost surprise, my older sister gifted it to me on the day it released. She had secretly pre-ordered it weeks earlier.
It was such a big deal for me back then, since the book costed more than my weekly allowance. Over the years, she has given me way more expensive gifts, but that’s the one I remember the most.
Over the next few days, I recuperated with my beloved book at my bedside. For the few moments that I would read every day, it would transport me to a completely alternate universe. I had grown up with this series since the first book released in 1997 and I needed closure for the story. So I read slowly, savoring each chapter, living the lives of the characters, laughing and crying with them. I still revisit this book occasionally and every time the book takes me to my happy-place.
Over the years, I have moved on from reading YA fiction to other genres as well as non-fiction, but my deep reverence and fascination with books has remained.
Books helped me through some really tough times. Like when my father had his first heart attack, needed multiple surgeries over the years and when we finally lost him. Like when my mother was constantly in and out of hospitals because of medical issues. And even when we were on the verge of losing my mother to a horrific case of medical negligence. Books saved my sanity during those hard times.
In fact, you can still find closets and boxes overflowing with books at my parent’s home. Now, I have mostly graduated to reading on a kindle, and you can always find 2–3 books paused at different page numbers. Even now, people close to me know that the best present I appreciate is books.
If you couldn’t tell by now, yes, I love books.
A Strange New World for Our Kids
But I am also worried that we are in a strange-new-technology driven world today. My little one who turns three this year is growing up amidst shiny apps, video games, instagram stories and instant gratification.
Yes, she is growing up in a world very different from the one I grew up in!
I am secretly glad that she already has her little toy closet filled with picture books. When we go to the gift shop, she too enjoys picking up books for herself. She has self-imposed a dedicated reading time too, right before her nap when she goes through her giant stack of books.
I don’t know if this fascination would continue as she grows up, but I genuinely hope that she can discover for herself the same love for books that I grew up with. In a few years, I hope to find her stealthily reading under the bedcovers instead of fiddling with the phone.
I hope as she grows up, she can discover the magic of books for herself, since they can add immense value to our lives in so many unseen ways.
Books Can Build Character
Research shows that reading fiction and being able to identify with characters helps build empathy in us. Being able to imagine the characters as ourselves in uncomfortable situations helps us see points of view which we normally do not see. The right books can actually help us build tolerance, compassion and determination. In fact for children, we can see remarkable differences once they identify with stories — there is a reason they taught us lessons with morals in them. Even as adults, reading about contrarian views on teams, managers and leaders helps us in continuing to build our character so we can work better together.
Books Can Transform Our Thinking
It is incredible how books can actually expand our mind and transform our thinking. Atomic Habits is my most recent transformative book. Some colleagues gifted it and I can truly say it expanded the way I think about my personal habits. It transformed the way I think about my time and mindset now and have been able to see personal changes within a matter of weeks. I have seen a similar change in others around me when my friends, colleagues (and my little niece) started reading about climate change. They started making smaller lifestyle changes and made conscious choices.
Books Can Help Us Detach
Studies show that excessive use of social media aggravates mental health problems. So sometimes books are not just a great way to learn, but just an amazing way to detach as well. After facing grief and loss, or prolonged sickness, or even a stressful week, books can act as ultimate stress busters. Harry Potter is one such detachment book for me. Losing ourselves in alternate universes with made up characters can momentarily transport us and help us deal with anxiety.
This list of what books can do for us can actually be endless. In fact, each person who reads derives their own personal value from books — and that is the beauty of it. So here are some thoughts as I close -
- Books shape our thinking. So it is important to choose the right books that can help us to learn and grow.
- Books have no expiration date. So it is never too late to start the journey of reading.
- Books can transform us. If you think you are not a reader, start small, start with the right book, and then think again.
- And lastly, the next time you are wondering what to get me for a present, gift me a book!
Books truly changed the way I grew up and I cannot imagine it being any other way. Books can be our best friend to help take a pause in this constant battle of life. Books can help us in different ways and make us think, feel and act better.
A good book has the true power to change us, if only we would let it!
Roselin has 12+ years of experience working in the sustainable development and impact space in India. She currently leads partnerships at an international non-profit working on sustainability. When she is not juggling PowerPoints and parenting, she enjoys being a librocubicularist. Say hello at www.roselinminj.com.