Stories have always mattered but never more so than now. When our worlds got smaller and darker way back when in 2020, many of us turned to fiction to fix it.
We craved stories a whole world away from our complex reality – tales of book binding magic and make-believe realms where characters were still allowed to hug. The art of doing nothing was no longer just a nice phrase to caption our Sunday photo dump with but a legal requirement.
Staying at home gave us a unique opportunity to indulge in the simple pleasures we were always too preoccupied and too booked to appreciate. Without the usual noise of The Daily Grind, we noticed sunrises narrated by birdsong and small talk over the garden fence, even the bubbling of the kettle five times a day seemed to do extraordinary things for our wellbeing – the soundtrack of small victories and bright sides.
Plans gave way to dogeared paperbacks and introspection, and we quickly rediscovered the estranged joy of reading for pleasure, from our sofas, our doorsteps and every available patch of hope-giving sun.
Scanning inky ideas from left to right was all we had, so we sat still in the safety of our four walls, took a deep unknowing breath and watched the murmurations of a writer’s mind scatter and dovetail before us.
Books give a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.Plato
On rainy days, we let go of the pressure to seize fresh air and took provisions from our bookshelves instead. Like hygge hunters, our instinct told us to forage for our softest corners and fold ourselves away, as if we were sweet piles of weekend laundry or daily newspapers for pressing.
We sought comfort in all its motherly shapes; in midday baths and too many cups of coffee. The vanilla essence of our ordinary lives turned out to be the big beautiful breadcrumbs upon which we’d rely on to find our way home.
Books became the one government-approved friend we were allowed to invite into our homes and like babushka dolls in paper or e-reader form, they had more people and places hidden inside of them, waiting for us to read into being.
We yearned for words that would rest on our chest for months and rob us of sleep; the kind we’d frantically tap into the notes section of our phones at midnight alongside the shopping lists, passwords and baby names.
As each of those stories unfurled in our hands, blossoming like pavement flowers between bad news and political f*ck ups, we told ourselves that we’d read a few more chapters before making the bed or sorting the drawer of miscellaneous cables but we couldn’t seem to tear ourselves away from this other life we were clinging to. Somehow living vicariously through fictitious people and their often crumbling lives, makes returning to ours that little bit sweeter.
In fairer seasons, fresh cut grass and cordial daisies beckon us to kick off our sandals and sit under a tree, a face full of new freckles and a handful of fiction – a breeze just confident enough to fuss with the page numbers below it. In that moment, we’re all barefoot bookworms with nowhere else nor better to be, plucked from reality and sown amongst plot twists, leaning against grand oaks and chomping on the best apple you’ve ever had.
That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.F. Scott Fitzgerald
As lockdown’s final denouement plays out, albeit tentatively, we must try to remember the soul tonic our fictional and non-fictional friends afforded us, and despite the return of full diaries and weekends bookended with pub gardens and dancing in the moonlight, we will always need stories to bring us back to life.
How necessary it is to lose ourselves in the make-believe to face the real world once again.