Carnegie-nominated author Maria Turtschaninoff knows that a love of books can't always be communicated, but it can be displayed
Who would I be without the books I grew up reading?
One of the reasons I write stories for young readers is that nothing you read as an adult will ever affect you in the way that stories do when you are young.
When a young reader finds that right story, the one that speaks to a deep and true part of yourself, it becomes you. It shapes you, and how you see the world, and what you hold to be beautiful and important and worth fighting for – and stays with you forever.
I am still Bastian Balthazar Bux, lost in The Neverending Story and everything that story shows (not teaches!) us about the different shapes grief can take and the importance of imagination and love.
Fantastica is in me. So is Anne of Green Gables with her unquenchable spirit, her high morals and lofty ideals (I often look at my bread-box and realize with shame that its contents would never meet Rachel Lynde’s standards).
I run through the spring forest with Ronja the robber’s daughter and know that the only way to learn to not be afraid of something is to expose yourself to it – in fact, I work on that every time I get on an airplane.
I let my anger fill me, instead of suppressing it, as Little My in Moominvalley taught me to do.
And when I encounter injustice, and feel afraid to stand up for what I believe to be right, I am reminded of Jonathan’s words in The Brothers Lionheart, who says that there are things you must do, even if they are dangerous. Otherwise you are not a human being, “just a piece of dirt”.
I could make the list go on and on. The people I read about as a child are more vivid in my mind’s eye than my classmates’ faces. Their values are instilled in me, their adventures are my adventures, their griefs and joys too. The books never judged me, never laughed at me, never made me feel like an awkward outsider.
For me it’s impossible to say who I would be without the books I read growing up. Books and stories were much more important to me than friends, other hobbies and activities.
Is that healthy? Many people, those whose passions are things like sports and socialising, would say no. I was often told by my grandparents to “go outside and play”.
They were worried that I had very few social interactions and even fewer friends. So in order to placate them I hid magazines or books under my jumper, in the waistband of my jeans, and went outside and walked far away from their house and hid in a thicket or on a cliff jutting out over the sea, where I was near impossible to spot, and read.
Well, at least I was outside.
And yet I cannot give someone else a good reason to read. Because I did not read for a reason. I read out of love. It was the best thing in the world to me. Hiding in the back of a closet, with a flashlight and some candy and a stack of good books, was my idea of heaven.
Giving someone else a reason to read is, I fear, an impossible task. You can try to come up with arguments: it’s better than a movie, because you get to make up the movie in your own head. It’s better than a game, because you can learn something from it. But these arguments ring hollow and sound lame to the ears of young non-readers, I know.
Convincing someone of the benefits of something, whatever it is, is not the way to instil a love of it.
All that we who love reading can do is show it.
We can show how much books mean to us. How the stories we read sometimes are better than friends. We can read in public, we can read to children who are not our own, we can make sure every gift we give is a book, we can talk passionately about what we read and what books have meant to us. We can show what we have learned from reading, too, but be honest – does anyone truly love reading because it is a learning experience?
Some things cannot be taught, they can only be shown.
Maria Turtschaninoff is an award-winning Finnish author. Her latest novel Maresi (Pushkin Press), part of the Red Abbey Chronicles, has been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and CILIP Carnegie Medal. Follow her on twitter at @Turtschaninoff