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Are you emotionally attached to your books?

2 August 2016

How many books have you read more than once? Some readers find comfort in a familiar story, frequently returning to well-thumbed pages to match their mood. But in our increasingly disposable society, other readers have a more casual relationship to their books, after all there's a lot of stories out there ready to be read.

Could you go one further? Would you ever throw out a book once you've read 'the end' confident that you won't ever return to it? #LovetoRead asked The Reading Agency's SUE WILKINSON about her book habits, a 'returner' on one hand but ruthless on the other!

By Sue Wilkinson

If I’m not enjoying a book by the 100th page, I discard it or take it back to the library, because there are just too many other wonderful and exciting books out there waiting to be read

This is the question I was posed: do you read each book only once, or return to them over and over again? Is it better to know one book intimately rather than skim read five? For me there’s no clear distinction. There are some books I read, re-read and read again and thousands of others which I have read just once. If I’m not enjoying a book by the 100th page, I discard it or take it back to the library, because there are just too many other wonderful and exciting books out there waiting to be read. I can’t waste time on one which hasn’t quite succeeded in grabbing me.

What to read next is the lovely problem which has only got worse since I headed up The Reading Agency, a national charity which inspires people of all ages to read for pleasure and wellbeing. Everyone I work with is passionate about sharing their love of books, from staff and trustees to all our library and publisher partners. Since we started managing the book selections for the BBC Radio 2 fiction and non-fiction book clubs, we have regular submissions to add to the pile on my desk.

It is thanks to this that I have, for the first time in a very long time, read books about science and medicine and, while I can appreciate that one of my closest friends may not have expected to get two books about cancer as her birthday present, once she started reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, she was with me. I always find it hard to pick my favourite books but six months into 2016 my current list is: John Guy’s new book Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years; Adam Nicholson’s The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters; The New Odyssey by Patrick Kingsley; Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall and The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan.

I am also a great re-reader. I go back to my favourite books again and again for comfort, consolation, sustenance and inspiration. I probably re-read a Jane Austen at least once a year, when I think that I just need to stop moaning about something, stiffen my spine and crack on. There is nothing like immersing yourself in the world of the 19th century to make you see all the benefits of being a woman living in the 21st.

In my living room I have a small bookcase full of books which I come back to again and again. They were recommended to me by a friend’s mother when I was in my twenties and, at a conservative estimate I have probably read all of these at least ten times: the Sarah Gainham trilogy which starts with Night Falls on the City; The Long View by Elizabeth Jane Howard; The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau; William by E. H Young and Ordinary Families by E. Arnot Robertson.

Sue's bookcase

In return I gave Irena the books I was reading and she fell in love with them: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Colour Purple by Alice Walker, Remains of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler.

I didn’t know it at the time but this was my first reading group; my first experience of the new worlds which open up when you start sharing your love of reading with others.

Now of course there are thousands of online and library-based reading groups you can join. We support the largest network of groups in the UK, which you can join here.

There is strong evidence that reading for pleasure can increase empathy and improve relationships ... people are more likely to see these benefits if they choose to read and enjoy doing so in their spare time

At the Reading Agency we believe that everything changes when we read and this inspires all the programmes we run with our partners. There is strong evidence that reading for pleasure can increase empathy, improve relationships with others and improve wellbeing throughout life, but our research also shows that people are more likely to see these benefits if they choose to read and enjoy doing so in their spare time.

Our goal is to make reading something you look forward to doing and want to share with your family and friends. Over 1.5 million people take part in our reading programmes every year and we expect three quarters of a million children to go to their local library with their families to take part in The Big Friendly Read, Summer Reading Challenge 2016.

Watch these children who made this year’s trailer for the challenge and see why they think reading is so important, and why it doesn’t matter whether you read a book once or return to it again and again: all that matters is that you read.

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