One thing I won’t be giving up for my minimalist lifestyle is my love of books. Unsurprisingly, in the months I’ve been labouring through my wretched manuscript, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the writing process and the impact that certain books have had my life. So I thought I’d share some of them with you.
I do feel the need to clarify first, however, that my desire to have my own book published isn’t just a narcissistic dream to become an uber successful writer, living in LA, directing the movies to my stories. When I first started to write, my motivation was to help other parents in our situation, to break the stigma about mental illness, and those are the things that still inspire me. They are why I myself read books – to learn something new.
In hindsight, I could have written another non-fiction account of what to expect from our experience – and I imagine it would have been a darn sight easier to get it published - but I wanted to create a fictionalised account of our experience because for me, personally, a good story resonates so much more. To be privy to the visceral feelings of a person’s experience, and to share in the humour that so often comes out of the adversities in life, has the power to change a mindset.
I missed reading during those years when the kids were younger and it was normal for me to fall asleep before my head touched the pillow.
Sadly, too many house moves, a shortage of space, the old man’s obsession with clutter, and our new minimalist lifestyle mean that we don’t own many books any more. It’s something I intend to change in the future, for several reasons: firstly, because the living rooms that truly inspire me on Pinterest are the those with metres of bookshelves, crammed full of wonderful writing experiences; secondly, Kindle is a poor imitation, and I miss book covers SO much – albeit that the screen version is much cheaper here in Australia; and thirdly, I’ve decided that books bring me so much pleasure (and so much pain for the author!), it is sacrilege to chuck them out.
At this point in time, my partner's fate is less clear.
We have kept certain books that mean something to each of us, individually. He has a dog-eared copy of a guide to golf by Nick Faldo, as well as a copy of Sapiens – a recent read that he believes has changed his life, if not his ability to wipe down the bench tops. And I have a copy of Little Women – which gave me so much pleasure as a child for the simple reason that it was written by someone with the same name as me. Another is The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion’s story of a neurodivergent mind that resonated with me so much it inspired me to write my own interpretation of the difficulties faced by kids with ADHD and the parents that raise them.
In fact, I loved the book so much, I sent him a fan-girl tweet about the book that made it onto the inside cover of the UK version.
Then there is Schindler’s Ark, a book that my partner recommended to me when we were first dating. The story was undoubtedly my awakening to the imbalances in the world and my earliest influence in my passionate fight against them. It was also kind of a freaky choice, because several years later when I was three months pregnant with NC, we found ourselves in New York – a very ill-thought-out decision during your first trimester when you are permanently tired and can’t drink in a city full of wonderful Irish bars – in a theatre, watching the movie.
Clearly, I was particularly hormonal at the time, nevertheless, the memory of that trip to the movies still haunts me.
The story is obviously a highly emotive one, but when you watch the movie in the company of a mainly Jewish audience, their reaction stays with you. I don't think I could watch the movie a second time, but I do believe that stories like Schindler’s Ark have their place on the high school curriculum – in either book or movie version.
A few years ago, I managed to persuade my partner to accompany me to a talk at the Sydney Writer’s festival where the author, Thomas Keneally was interviewing another author. I was desperate to put a face to the words of a book that wielded so much power over my thinking and beliefs in my younger years. Little did I know back in my twenties in the UK, that not only was the author an Australian, but that he lived only a couple of kilometres from where we live now.
And he is a true character, befitting his reputation as a national treasure. He is one of those writers who sits passionately and publicly left of centre and is as compassionate and funny as you would expect.
The old man was appalled that I had (inadvertently) booked front row seats, and yet during that hour in Thomas’ close company (as my husband wriggled awkwardly in his seat), I hung onto every word that came out of the author's mouth. It was one of those rare “moments” in life where everything came together – literally from London, to New York, and onto Sydney. If only I had known as a child with my aspirations to become a children’s author, that one day I would be sitting in a writers festival, a published author, sitting metres away from my icon. It was almost as weird as the time we bumped into a couple we knew from the UK in France, who were also emigrating to Australia around the same time as us – and who have since become best buddies.
Le destin, as the French call it.
I do have one terrible admission when it comes to books, though. I am one of those terrible people who can never remember the names of authors or the titles of their books – which, as you can imagine, has only got worse during menopause. I couldn’t even tell you who wrote the book I’m reading now, or its title, even though I’m enjoying it. And often, I will start a book and only realise a third of the way through that I’ve read it before.
Although, there’s something quite wonderful about that, as well. It’s like bumping into an old friend, who gently dislodges those precious memories you filed away in another era, who transports you back to a place you wouldn’t ordinarily choose or have the opportunity to visit otherwise. For me, a good story has the ability to calm the voices in my head. It closes down the tabs that don’t need to be open all the time and allows me to lose myself for a few precious hours – or minutes, at the moment.
The power of a good book to change our lives is why I will keep reading and living vicariously through the lives of the many fascinating characters I read about. It’s why I will always buy books. Minimalism is about spending money on experiences, and books fit into that idea for me. Yes, they are expensive, but they are also recyclable and have the ability to change the way we think in a much healthier, organic way than social media, for example, which is why they will be be at the top of my Christmas shopping list this year.