This year began with an obsession. I yearned for something, anything, to make my days worth documenting. I needed a driving task to function as daily inspiration to feel challenged again. My solution presented itself in the shape of an embrace for a new literary journey: 115 books in a year. A demanding number, a number that seemed exacting—I was emboldened to revisit the shelves of my youth that kept shelter to my childhood favorite “quick reads,” along with some I had yet to discover. Truthfully, without children’s books, I do not think I would have seen through my obsession at all.
So much of these post-school years of my life have felt like a buffering period. I often feel less motivated than ever, less competent, less fun. Very few things about my life feel fully rounded, and yet there is this inescapable sense of urgency to do and accomplish now, now, now! Obsession over the future, over what’s next? I could feel myself losing all sense of whimsy and spontaneity that had once felt so easily obtainable. This adult life not serving me in the ways I’d hoped, I yearned for feelings of my past.
I was always good at school (for the most part, if you don’t count math) and enjoyed it too. Such a reliable, steady phase that seemed neverending. Now that this thing I once felt so connected to is gone, where does that leave me? For how long would I be floundering in a vaster wake of senselessness?
It’s true that I miss these things, but the sense of appreciation for a slow, weighted story became lost to me. For a grade, for more free time, for laziness, for the chance to move on to another task, etc. Really, it was just a couple of years of wanting things to be easy. Reading in school burnt me out. I loved it, but it was draining me. It forced me to realize how you can love something too close, so boundless, that you forget all the reasons you love it in your own way. I was skimming through everything. But what I really wanted was to read each thing, each syllable and punctuation, fully. I’ve often thought how any writer, myself included, would like the same done for their words: for each to be read with care as I did as just a little girl learning to love a story. This year I started again.
So I read. First, it was Mary Poppins (surprisingly sinister), then Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (general insanity), and Winnie-the-Pooh (outright delightful). The Secret Garden and Black Beauty. Pippi Longstocking, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankenweiler, The Watsons Go to Birmingham, Hatchet, and The Chronicles of Narnia. Coraline, and even The Giving Tree, just to break my own heart. The list goes on.
Naturally, many of the motifs from the books are what you would expect. But, the deeper I got into my reading, I began to see the complexities of these books for what they are. The themes and topics of loss, ageing, friendship, tragedy, religion, hope, and many more things that most adult readers struggle to sit with.
Winnie-the-Pooh consumed me with warmth. With so few pages, there is no shortage of youthful wit and giddiness. Its stories are a joy to hold. My perception of life’s ordinary pleasures is remystified.
The Chronicles of Narnia series in itself relies on religious allegory, challenging my thoughts on courage and what I choose to put my faith in. The books at their core are often dark, war-ridden, and dangerous, but there is a persistent whimsy that remains. What other vessel, other than a book written for young hearts, could coalesce such a myriad of wonders?
The Secret Garden transported me back to more adventurous days when I’d get lost in daydreams of discovering some special, hidden place that seemed just for me. Some deep forest or crestfallen manor. Or reminded me of years when young friendship was the precipice of each day, each choice and moment. Days seemed endless.
C.S. Lewis once remarked, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally—and often far more—worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” I’m not much of an adult. Only been in the adult sphere for a few years (unless you count college, which I don’t really). Once you achieve “adulthood” there are suddenly a lot of expectations. A lot of responsibilities. Waking up on difficult mornings, I was struck with the feeling of having been duped. Your twenties are supposed to be fun! The best years! I still wonder to myself whether there was some magic happiness that was promised but that I couldn’t grasp. All I could think was I don’t know what I want.
There’s been a kind of resurgence in healing your childhood self, a call back to nostalgia. Post-2020 (sigh), everyone seemed to be yearning and reflecting (very openly on social media) for a time when the present seemed so much less combative, so much less demanding. Even if the reality of that illusion may not be true, as the past is often reflected upon with rose-colored glasses, this strange culmination of growth, boredom, and loss led me back to children’s books. When escaping reality felt the most desired, the stories were there, waiting so patiently and never twiddling their thumbs with eager nerves.
There is a great sadness, sometimes relief, in knowing that the same emotion or sensation can not be replicated to be as it once was. A moment can be expected to be nothing but temporary. The nostalgia I craved stoked the flame, making embers glow just to the edge of a blaze, but never quite igniting. An imperfect feeling and better than forgetting altogether. This was the lightness that I relinquished somewhere along the way. I don’t know where it went when it left, but once I let it back in, it was easy as breathing.
For every person, there is a children’s book they hold in their heart. One that makes you think of bedtime. Sneaking one last page under the covers after it’s lights out. One that lives in perpetual summer. The malleable, inviting, and thoughtful. The unexpectedly poignant, and often heartwarming. The paramount form of escapism back into a ten-year-old mind. Full of blind optimism and curiosity so wild it seemed contagious.
About the author:
Barclay Ann Blankenship is a writer with a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University. She was a 2020 recipient of Appalachian State’s David Hodgin Writing Award for poetry. Her work has appeared in Mystery Tribune, Cold Mountain Review, Raven Review, and soon, Sonora Review. When not writing, she can be found reading often, playing the guitar, or somewhere outside.