I started my love of reading at an early age of about 6 or 7. I would come home from school with my book and sit down to read. At that age it was the normal Harry Potter or the like that was popular. Mainly, it was the fantasy books. I would read a couple of books here and there and it was alright, I'd enjoy what I was reading. And then, I thought I would just go and enjoy it some more.
When I was around 10 years' old, my reading developed almost overnight. I began reading books aimed at children around 15 years' of age and was still able to understand what was going on. By this time as well, that meant opening up a whole new world of reading. There was adventure, magic realism, historical and dramatic fictions that I had no clue existed. It was a grand experience that I would never feel again until I hit secondary school.
When I was in the school library at about eleven years' old, I was returning a novel and naturally, when I went to put it back - I would go on to the one next to it in order to read as much as possible. I would work through a particular shelf. I took the book out and began reading the blurb to which, I can honestly say, I was deadly excited because it sounded absolutely magical. I went down the staircase to give it in to be scanned only to be told I was too young to read it and that particular book was only for 15 years and up. "But I can read it...It's not hard...My reading age is 17!" I was argumentative and slightly violent at this time and it didn't work in my favour. She placed it behind the desk and sent me and my combat boots on my way.
I came back to the school library around 4pm (because in that day, my school day didn't finish until 5pm after starting around 8:30am-9am). I knew where the book was and I took it straight out from under the desk whilst the librarian wasn't there. Running off, I sensed she was returning and hid behind various corners of the old building and then, darted for the gates.
I stayed up all night reading the book and I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences of my reading life. For those of you who know me, "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde has been a very close book to my heart ever since I was 11 years' old and it is for the precise reason of that - how I got m hands on it at first. And eventually, this is where the problem I see with myself now first stemmed from.
Over the course of the next year, I would be a prolific reader. Not out of the want to read something, but because real life was so intensely horrible that I just wanted to be anywhere else. I grew up suffering with extreme anxiety both agoraphobic and social and so, I didn't make many friends. I had about three friends and by the time I left school, that was down to 1. Eventually, I lost contact with that one as well, until recently. Since I moved school for Year 8, my school day no longer finished at stupid o'clock and so, it was there I made those two or three friends. One of which I fought with profusely, the other two who I hope at least pretended to like me. But, when it came to reading, reality was no longer enough.
My reality was bleak. I was smart but I had no friends. I was called a 'freak' by many for reasons I have yet to understand. My interests weren't like theirs. I didn't go out with friends because I didn't want to. I wasn't invited to parties. I was even picked on by some of the teachers. By the end of school, I was completely disillusioned but still needed to go to sixth form so that I could at least get into university. My reading unfortunately, would not help with this process at all.
Sixth form was possibly the worst one and a half years of my life. I had one friend who eventually stopped speaking to me for reasons I don't wish to reveal (all you need to know is that it wasn't my fault at all). And when that vanished, I disappeared off into my books once again - normally reading two a day and skipping class just to go to the library and read. This didn't make any sense at all since I was supposed to be in Literature most of the time. I'm going to be perfectly honest, I feel if I stayed in the classroom instead of the library, I wouldn't have done my degree because my god did those classrooms bore you to death. The constant droning on of a teacher whom you do not want to listen to talking about something that you could not care about. I was in Literature class but I would've still rather have been reading.
It got to the point where my teacher would come to collect me from the library from time to time and then, I would have to bring my reading books to class, only to have to carry some sort of disarranged stack into the classroom downstairs and get silly remarks from people seated in the front row. It was weird as to why they made these stupid remarks because they happened to be in Literature themselves. What the hell else were we supposed to do there?
At the time I was trying out Greek Tragedies and Fernando Pessoa, I know it's an odd combination but you really need to know the feeling of having someone throwing silly remarks at you and then disappearing into "The Book of Disquiet". If you do not know the feeling then I recommend it immediately. It's a great antidote for reality. My reality, at this time was that I would go to school, I would not go to class, I would sometimes even leave school in the middle of class and go to the shop down the road. I would get stopped by teachers for being 'naughty' - in their point of view. But I was just making the best of a bad situation. In reality, I didn't really do anything wrong except skip school. My average attendance by the end of sixth form was 45% and yet, I was still able to get into university. It was because of this constant scorn by my classmates for being the 'bookworm', being joked about that I had no life outside books (which actually, they wouldn't know, was not a joke at all) and ultimately, even get picked on by the teachers because of the sheer amount I used to read (and still do) - I would disappear into books because it was only there that I knew for sure that as much as it may emotionally damage me, nobody could really hurt me.
Books don't just create new realities, they also let people who cannot take reality or do not like reality (like myself) escape into them for a short time. I found that the more time I spent within these worlds, the shorter the time within them got and so, I would have to go and get more. And like a drug addict, I would take anything until my next batch arrived.
People often said about me that I read so much so that I don't have to actually do things. What they do not notice is that I actually do quite a few things, but disappearing off into a book is necessary for me to appreciate the real world. I am thankful for books because without them I can imagine my life being so entirely dreadful, I don't think I would've lasted very long. The fact that I get to exit this reality, which is horrifying for myself, and bury myself in someone else's - if only for a short time - makes all the difference.
When I started going to university, my reading schedule did not change. I was still reading one or two, sometimes even three books a day and also completing all university reading AND all the university notes and work. I studied English and Writing and then, for my MA I went to a different university to study Film and Writing. Whilst I was doing my undergraduate degree, much to my dismay, I earned a strange almost nickname. Some people used to call me a 'machine'. It was because I could practically work non-stop at anything (and I still can given the correct environment to do so). But it also made me think about the way people see me and how people saw me over the course of my schooling. Did nobody see me as a human being because of the fact I was constantly taking off into some other world where other, better and more interesting people lived? The question that raged in my head was: what do you mean by 'machine'?
Did they mean that I was just working like one, or did they mean I was actually like a 'machine'? And what kind of machine? Is this machine sentient? You're really not being clear. But the name that some people would call me from time to time went like this: "You're a literal machine..." And that would send shivers up me. At the time, I would smile and shrug it off, even saying thanks from time to time. Imagine saying 'thank you' when someone has just said that you have the same expressive qualities as a 'machine'. How Orwellian is that? My expressive qualities had become dimmed. They were quite right. I was acting, behaving and even thinking like I was a machine because the only way I could properly think was within the confines of a book. The only place where I felt comfortable enough to express my emotions and my dreams that had been constantly denied off me by teachers and people who said I wasn't good enough to do this and that. The book always gave me solace. It was like when I was in there, all the characters were with me and they were playing out this special play just for me and in the end, I would have to leave - but they would invite me back to see another play by another writer soon. And so, I'd go back and I'd be happy again.
Sooner or later, reality becomes something else. It becomes mundane and boring. It becomes lethargic and fatigued with the constant grind of life. The unfortunate angles at which you see yourself, the low pay, the drone of people who are constantly picking and nagging at you. People who think that their nagging and nagging is doing any good whatsoever but in reality, you would just rather disappear into a place where nobody nagged you and nobody poked you and nobody spoke ill to you. You just can't get that in real life and so, the books were the only way.
I soon turned 20 and it became even worse. I would spend my nights drifting off into a book only to be thrown back into this grim reality the next morning. I would awake and, the first thing I would do at university was grab a coffee and sit in the library to disappear again. It's like an addiction. Within those worlds, nobody tells you what you can and can't do, nobody makes fun of you and everyone - in the end - thanks you that you were there. I accumulated books in the thousands - filling an entire cellar space, an attic space, my height of my bedroom by a large bookshelf, another bookshelf that once stood in the other corner, the inside of my bed, the downstairs bookshelf that was once there, a bookshelf in the storage room of our home and there were bags and backpacks overflowing with them. Now, I would never just read a book once unless I particular didn't like it. I would often, if I had nothing new to read, shut my eyes and pick one at random. And off I went - all over again and it was like they welcomed me back. Nobody has ever welcomed me back before.
I only ever had two friends in my late teens and early 20s and I don't believe I speak very much to either of them anymore. But they saw what happened when they asked me what they should read. I would provide lists and lists of information on books I had once loved, was loving again and had only just discovered to love. It was in that year, when I turned 21, that it hit me. The only time I had ever been in love was when I was choosing a book to read. Whether old or new it didn't matter, but the only time I had smiled with laughter, cried with sorrow, been angry with intent and actually felt all the great emotions of the human condition was in the confines of a book. It was as if my emotions were imprisoned there. People in my life have always said to me, and still say to this day, that I fail to show emotion. It is because of this. The only place emotion is ever felt is when love is released from a person's body. All emotions are linked to love and so, the only place I had ever loved was in a book. I had never loved in reality. It was a harsh realisation for me - but it was true and I had to accept it as fact.
When out of the book, I was nagged, shouted at, lectured profusely about my inabilities and imperfections that eventually, I would bury myself in a book so often that most people now feel it pointless to even speak to me. To be honest, I don't miss the sounds of their voices because the characters in books were far more interesting than they ever were - and now you see my problem. Reality becomes a blur, no longer enough to keep you interested and so, its off into somewhere else. Eventually, you'll lose yourself there and to find yourself will seem almost impossible because the more you go searching, the more the literature will steal your soul. For each piece of your soul you collect, you lose another. You are stuck in a constant. It will never change. But anything is better than reality.
In reality, nobody really knows me and I can count all the friends I've ever had on one hand. Nobody is aware I exist and I'm pretty much the 'forgotten' one (which I'll talk about soon). During my MA, I was pretty much ignored by the other students and would spend most classes sitting at the back, reading my favourite books just so I didn't get kicked out for absence. However, once my assignments were in, I would stop going to class. I didn't see the point if I was just going to read. Why would I take two trains somewhere when that money could be spent on books?
I'm 23 now, going on 24 and I have come to realise that this reality of mine will never change and I do not want it to by any condition. Books are far more interesting than reality. They have better characters, they have better stories and the way in which emotion is experienced is like no other form of art you've ever seen. A book is an entire universe and so, if you don't mind - I will proceed to disappear off into another universe because I am sure I've spent far too long thinking about reality. I've had enough of it for today.
And even though my life may be completely uneventful, I can honestly say I have definitely seen some very eventful ones. So, don't worry - if you have no friends, no partner, nobody to talk to, nobody who talks to you properly, nobody who wants to be around you. If you feel like you're a burden, you're a failure or a stain on the human race - then just disappear off into a book. Once upon a time, that's what I did some years ago and it solved all my problems.
Reality is never enough.