Do childhood bookshelves hold the key to both our past and future selves?

By Emily Stockham. Emily, 28, is a film reviewer. She lives in London, England. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

Rereading feels like a self-indulgent act. Effortlessly sifting through familiar pages, like falling into the arms of your first love or an old friend you haven’t seen in a while. You may not remember every detail right off the top of your head but as soon as you sink into the pages memories come flooding back. Most book-lovers have a mile-high pile they guiltily eye, labelled ‘to read’ whilst they secretly crave the familiarity of a book from yesteryear that they were completely encapsulated by. Often you’ll find even the most book-shy person has one tatty paperback that captured their heart and their mind – read somewhere amidst their formative years bridging the gap between innocence and experience.

Reading as a child is, in my opinion, an integral part of shaping your future self and how you interpret the world around you; books are influential in so many ways long after we have left them, all dog-eared and cracked spine. We are all encouraged, firstly to learn how to read and secondly to read for enjoyment. From book worms to those who think reading is boring there is a light-bulb moment where almost every child finds a book that feels like it was written just for them. These books, in that moment, are of course worth reading. The experience stays with you and the words and ideas from the pages seep into your bones, into your soul, creating intrinsic parts of our present, and future self. Revisiting these seminal books is an act of self-reflection.

Although what captures our imagination at the age of ten may not resonate with us as adults in the same way, it is still worth reading the book in that moment. Childhood is a secret world – one that exists in its own parameters and one that we swiftly forget as adulthood engulfs us. Many of us struggle to remember details of our childhood; we think in different ways when we are children, constantly trying to make sense of the world without knowing all the details; sticking together parts of conversations, half-truths and mythical stories of tooth fairies and Father Christmas. My ten-year-old self, like many children, lived in a dream like state and similarly to actual dreams, much of it now seems hazy and surreal only pieced together by snippets of VHS tapes, photographs with curling edges and pangs of nostalgia when my memory is jogged by forgotten toys, TV shows and of course, books.

The books I read when I was ten years old may not be equally or more worthy to me if I read them now, or indeed when I am fifty and beyond, but they do hold parts of me I couldn’t have created without ingesting them into my sponge-like infant brain. From RL Stine’s Goosebumps I soaked up my intrigue for the macabre and my love of horror, from Jacqueline Wilson’s stories I learned what I value in friendship, how to empathise and apologise. Shirley Hughes’ Alfie and Annie Rose series taught me about family life and made me dream of holidays, finding adventures in the most mundane tasks and treasuring sentimental possessions. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe sparked my love for sickly-sweet rose glinted Turkish Delight and Harry Potter taught me about strength, morality, and good versus evil. Every story is worth reading if it means something to you in that moment; if you are moved, inspired, intrigued, disgusted, heartbroken, frightened, comforted – you can guarantee it was worth it.

However, whilst we may assume that our childhood classics may not resonate with us as adults, maybe we are wrong? Perhaps they will not reverberate on the same level, but instead, our adult selves can breathe new life into the pages; finding new meaning between the lines whilst finding fragments of our younger selves in the margins too.

The contents of books we loved as children may not leave us wide-eyed and captivated in the same way if we return to them years later but, they may serve as a reminder of our past and inform our present selves. Something we once loved may provoke nostalgia which shows us a continuity of self, whilst simultaneously we can measure how far we have come since the first reading; how we may have developed and travelled from our earlier self too.

Books we choose to read as children strike a chord at a particular time which makes them an intrinsic part of ourselves. It may not be a moment that can be recaptured, and yet, it is still invaluable to us, forevermore. As the book remains a constant, and the reader is constantly evolving, each book we read, at either ten or fifty, or beyond serves as a significant milestone in our development and remains a constant souvenir of our past.

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