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My life of books

Sarah Jackson, Head Curator of personalised book subscription service Bionic Book Subscription, talks about what books have meant to her at various stages of her life, and shares some of her most treasured reads.

As a child, it was rare to find me without my nose in a book. Reading was my place of adventure and escape, and a comforting respite from the chaotic family life erupting around me. I would spend cold weekend mornings in bed with one hand emerging from the bedcovers to clutch my book, or nestle in a peaceful corner of the garden to be transported by my latest read.

I had many cherished, dog-eared favourites – Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, Playing Beattie Bow and The Dark is Rising Sequence were among them - but I devoured whatever I could get my hands on, returning each week from much-anticipated trips to the local library with my maximum ten borrowed books.

Books as a backdrop to real life drama

With high school came the dramas of teenage friendships, sport, parties and boys, and along the way John Marsden and Judy Blume were replaced with Merlina Marchetta and JD Salinger. Books were a backdrop to the high drama of my teen years, helping me to chart a course through the inevitable bumps and torrents.

Next the heady freedom of finishing school, then the juggle of uni with part-time jobs, nights out, relationships and torrid break ups. My reading time was occupied by borrowed lecture notes, dry textbooks, and long High Court judgments. I read novels in fits and starts, occasionally happening upon a book that I found myself reading through the night, arriving bleary-eyed to lectures the next day, before again losing my reading momentum.

I lost books for a while

When my beloved dad died in my early 20s, I tried to push through my grief without stopping and forgot to turn to books.

The decade passed in a whirlwind of moving cities, starting my first job, and my boyfriend and I joining the antipodean throngs as expats in London. Daunt Books in Marylebone was a calm refuge of stain-glassed windows and towering oak shelves packed with travel books, from which we planned weekend adventures.

My 30s spelled an end to hedonism and a return home to marriage and babies. Given over to breastfeeding, sleep battles, a daily stagger to the park with baby and toddler and a nightly collapse in front of mindless TV, I lost books for a while.

My reading rediscovery

And then all too quickly, the joyful exhausting blur of my children’s early years was over. I went back to work and snatched pockets of reading time on the tram and at lunchtimes. I read into the night without fear of waking to a crying baby. I wasn’t snobbish about what I read. I alternated chick lit with heavy tomes, fantasy with historical fiction, sci-fi with romance. Books gave me the time to myself, and the return to self, that I craved.

Books showed me a way to keep living

I turned 40 and braced myself for a few grey hairs and extra wrinkles. Instead, I was blindsided by a cancer diagnosis. Books distracted me from the surreal flurry of medical tests and surgery that followed. They provided a shelter from my new tortured reality and a nostalgic balm to my hard-edged fears about the future.

Books also showed me a way to keep living. Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales and When Breath Becomes Air by Dr Paul Kalinithi helped me find perspective and resilience, and a pathway to joy amidst fear and despair.

Finding my reading groove

These days, I’ve found my reading groove. My list of must-reads is long and my bedside table is stacked high with books to read next.

I read in bed on lazy mornings while the kids make themselves breakfast, on grey afternoons in front of the fire, in patches of sunshine as we emerge from a long winter in lockdown, and I look forward every night to reading until sleep.

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