The Books I Come Back To Time And Time Again
There are some books I refer to as my ‘cosy’ books. These are the books I come back to time and time again, and at this point genuinely couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve reread them. When I’m mentally in a bad place, or can’t face the stress and anxiety of not knowing how a story ends (I know, not normal) - these books are always sat waiting for me. I own multiple physical copies, kindle copies, audiobook versions. You name it, I probably have that book in that version.
At this point the characters are almost like old friends who I don’t talk to very much, but when we reconcile it’s like no time at all has passed. I know these characters more deeply than I know some of my own family members (although I do have a ridiculously large family), and I know - because I know the story - that they’re not going to let me down or do anything unexpected.
With my BPD brain, where I’m constantly worried and anxious about what people think and terrified that they’ll abandon me because of something I’ve done, knowing what the characters are going to do and say is a blessing.
These books, for some reason, also never get boring. I could probably recite passages from memory at this point, but the stories contained within still grip me, still keep me entertained, and make me feel all warm and cosy inside. It’s probably not a coincidence that these are the books I reach for on cold wintery nights, when the wind is blowing outside and the heating is just beginning to kick in. These books are the companions I choose on my life’s journey, and the books that I will be passing down through my family when I eventually have one. They are almost all aimed at children/young adults - which has a lot to do with why they are my ‘safe’ books. Books aimed at this audience don’t tend to have anything go badly wrong (although there are a fair few that will still make me weep). The problems in these books tend to be easily resolved, which goes a long way to making me feel better about my own life.
Right. I’ve rambled on enough about why I come back to these books time and time again, I should probably actually introduce which books I’m talking about.
Little Women, Good Wives, Little Men, Jo’s Boys - Louisa Alcott
I was first introduced to this series of books when I was about 8, I would guess. I don’t really remember a time without the March sisters and Laurie in my life. My grandma owned the four different books in a beautiful red bound version, and when I had run out of everything else to read I turned to what was on her shelves. I devoured the books, and reread them every time I went to stay at her house. I’ve read the entire series at least twice a year ever since, meaning I’ve probably read the entire series through around thirty times at this point.
I love the simple tale of the March sisters, how the book follows them through their lives. I rejoice when Jo gets her work published, beam when Meg gets married, weep when Beth gets sick, and laugh at little Amy’s antics. At this point, the March sisters are family. And Teddy Laurence is my favourite fictional boy character, ever. I even named my dog after him. The continuations also satisfy every craving I ever had, by describing in close detail how their lives continue as adults.
It makes me so happy that the series takes them from children and teenagers to middle aged women who have achieved basically everything they wanted in their lives. Despite some hardships, the ending of Jo’s Boys leaves me feeling content, and like everything in life will turn out okay as long as I work hard, enjoy life’s little liberties, and lean on my family and friends for support. They are just gorgeous stories, and if I could wave a magic wand and actually be a March sister, I would.
I genuinely won’t ever have the words to describe what the Little Women series means to me. Such simple tales, that many people would probably find boring, yet I find such comfort in the pages of each book. If pushed, Little Men is probably my favourite (despite my love for Little Women) because of the antics that go on in the school Jo has set up. Those boys all own my heart, and I would love pages and pages explaining what they got up to on a daily basis, no matter how dull.
I will reread Little Women every year for the rest of my life, probably. It’s incredible. (Am also more than excited for the new adaptation out this year. If only they’d release the others as films. I want to see Dan on the big screen).
WHAT KATY DID (SERIES) - SUSAN COOLIDGE
In the same vein as Little Woman, the What Katy Did series featuring Katy Carr and the Carr family is one I will always come back to because I’ve always wanted to be a Carr sibling. The story of Katy and her accident (no spoilers here) is one that is very much outdated these days, does not fit the narrative disabled people would like to see, and would not fly in today’s market. I highly doubt kids growing up today will read it in the same way I did. Hell, I doubt many kids my age ever read it. It’s not a timeless classic in the way Little Women is, but it does hold a special place in my heart because I read it so young and have reread it countless times.
The realisation a few years back that there were more books in the series than I realised, detailing Katy’s stay at school, Katy’s trip around Europe, and Clover’s life in Colorado brought me more joy than I can possibly ever say. In The High Valley is my favourite book in the series, and forms the basis of my constant longing to move to the mountains of Colorado, and live out my days in an isolated ranch with only the view for company.
Good news for the youth of today though: Jacqueline Wilson rewrote What Katy Did into just Katy a couple years back, changing the story ever so slightly to make it more suitable to the beliefs of today, and updating it for a 21st Century audience. I love it almost as much as the original, Wilson was the perfect person to take on this task. The CBBC adaptation of Katy is just as good, and it makes me so happy that generations to come will be able to enjoy Katy’s story - but without the penitent narrative.
SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS - ARTHUR RANSOME
What I would have done to be one of the Amazons. What I would still do to be one of the Amazons. I don’t remember how I came across the story of the Walkers and their adventures up on Lake Windermere, but I do remember how it came to shape my childhood living in Devon with the moors and the sea so close to home - although no decent lakes.
I forced my family anytime we went anywhere to play a game of Swallows and Amazons, always taking the part of Nancy Blackett, obviously. Either her or Titty Walker. They were my childhood heroines, the girls I most longed to be when I grew up. They were everything I wasn’t at the time: bold, fearless, and unafraid of adventure. Hell, I want to be them now. I still reread S&A to this day, revelling in the simple story of how six children turned a lake and a deserted island into a paradise for pirate adventure, all through the names they gave places and the pranks they pulled. It’s one of those where nothing major ever really happens, but for the kids in the story it’s the biggest adventure of their lives. It’s glorious.
My joy when we finally went on a family holiday to Lake Windermere and I got to live out the true S&A fantasy on a deserted island after we kayaked there was ridiculous. I have never been so happy and cold and wet all at the same time.
It’s a book I will treasure forever, and undoubtedly pass down to my children eventually. The simple tales are the best, which is why the film adaptation - although very good and mostly true to life - will always grate on me because of the added Russian storylines that were completely unnecessary.
JACQUELINE WILSON - LITERALLY ANY NOVEL SHE WROTE BEFORE 2010
There is no author who I remember more vividly shaping my childhood and always being in the background than Jacqueline Wilson. In fact, from the age of about 8 I don’t think I was ever without a Wilson book on the go. She had that magic of being able to take very real topics, many of which I would never have encountered in my day to day life, and making them understandable and entertaining enough for a child to read and absorb. Honestly, I credit her with 90% of who I am today, and the empathy those novels gave me for people living in different situations to my own is not to be sniffed at.
KISS I remember for being the first novel where I encountered someone gay, which sparked off all sorts of questions in my own brain. Candyfloss, the first book I ever cried at when Floss had to choose between staying at home with her father, or moving to Australia with her mother and step-family. I knew the unique pain of having two separate families, and although it wasn’t quite Australia, with my dad 400 miles away I barely got to see him. No-one else I knew at the time knew what that felt like, or how hard it was, or how much I tried desperately to pretend it was alright. But Floss knew. Floss felt like my best friend for a very long time because she knew.
The lessons each book taught me. The Lottie Project, where Lottie was almost as obsessed with Victorian history as I was. The humour of The Suitcase Kid and The Bed and Breakfast Star despite the awful situations they found themselves in. Wanting to reinvent myself like Lola in Lola Rose did. Learning about mental illness from The Illustrated Mum and Dustbin Baby without knowing one day I would be more like the mums in those books than the kids. Girls Out Late, which taught me about being a teenager and with a main character I could relate to more than any other book aimed at that age group.
I could genuinely go on all day about the lessons that Jacqueline Wilson’s books taught me. There’s not a single one that I didn’t read and take something from. She truly shaped who I am and everything I would become, and gave me a love for reading and a lust for writing that I never, ever lost.
What books do you come back and reread?