At 8 o’clock yesterday morning, throughout London, commuters could be seen wearing coats. Not fluffy parkas or thick woollens, but still, this can mean only one thing: the summer holidays are officially over. For most people, daylight, warmth and annual leave will be in short supply for the rest of the year; the prospect of long summer nights and bank holidays, and the seemingly infinite potential they contain, has vanished. But if the daily grind is feeling a little heavier, it’s worth reminding yourself that September does have the odd redeeming feature.
In my first post as the new resident bookworm at Natbee’s, I must admit that I’ve always loved the back-to-school atmosphere of September. Summer’s great for lazing around on beaches, exploring new cities and hiking up mountains, but early autumn fills me with energy for other kinds of adventure. In particular, the kind of adventure that takes place when you curl up on a chilly evening and lose yourself in a good book.
I know what you’re thinking: Anastasia’s website is all about how to live your most adventurous, most glamorous, most picturesque life; where does sitting in your pyjamas with an old paperback come into it? Why does Natbee’s need a bookworm? Well, I’m here to show that my two favourite pastimes—reading and travelling—have quite a lot in common.
I’m not unusual in pointing out this relationship. There’s plenty of evidence—from proverbs to TV programmes—that writing and travelling are often thought of as interrelated, complementary activities. One motto that appears quite often these days, on postcards and pencil cases and passport covers, is a quote attributed to St Augustine: ‘The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page’. This phrase sees travelling widely and reading widely as symbolic of one another, suggesting that to get the most out of life, we must do both. After all, a library is a world, and those who do not read see only one town.
Travelling can be expensive and tiring and sometimes overwhelming. It’s great to spread your wings during the summer months, but it can be equally great to hole up for the winter with a pile of paperbacks. Diving into the world of a book can be a way of exploring even if you can’t leave your house or your city. This week, for instance, I’ve been escaping the stress that goes hand-in-hand with moving by escaping into the glitzy world of high-society Singapore, as described by Kevin Kwan in Crazy Rich Asians.
In our globalised society, where an individual’s worth is so often judged based on their social media feed, personal growth is equated with what is photogenic, exotic, extroverted and unprecedented. Travelling can certainly be fulfilling, but we mustn’t overlook the—in many ways comparable—personal growth that can happen when you’re alone, in silence and in a familiar place, spending no money and taking no photos.
Besides, when we read, we sometimes come to understand a place far more deeply than we would after visiting it on a weekend break. I don’t have the time or the money or any reason to go and live in rural Jutland for a year, but fortunately Helen Russell’s written a book about doing just that. I learned far more about Denmark from her memoir, The Year of Living Danishly, than I did from four days in Copenhagen.
Fiction can have the same effect. I’ve visited Naples, but I’ll never be able to understand the city like a native. However, I can read the Neapolitan Novels of a native, Elena Ferrante, and thereby vicariously live what I can never experience: coming of age in a complex, turbulent, southern Italian city. Books even give us a sense of places we will or can never visit. I’ve never been to Mumbai, but I feel as though I have a deep sense of the city, from Salman Rushdie’s fantastical accounts of it in Midnight’s Children. Marjane Satrapi let me travel back in time to 1980s Iran: reading her graphic novel Persepolis allowed me to glimpse a place that is now history.
So, reading can be a way of taking yourself out of your comfort zone, like a long-haul trip to a city where the culture is very different from in the place you’re used to. It can turn your perspective upside down and make you rethink your assumptions.
But reading can also be comforting, like a weekend break to a seaside town you first visited when you were six weeks old. I turn to Eva Ibbotson’s young adult books when I want to relax into a familiar setting (I first read them a decade ago.) She describes Vienna, Northumberland and the Amazon rainforest with ease and affection, making them sound like magical lands of beauty and promise.
Whether it’s relaxing and familiar, or challenging and new, both travelling and reading can be a way of escaping the humdrum of daily life, and combatting stress. If you’ve had a summer of travel, reading is the perfect way to keep adventuring in autumn, even if your funds are low and your time is scarce. As the days get colder and the nights get longer, snuggle up under a blanket, with a hot chocolate in one hand and a book in the other. I’ll be posting on Natbee’s regularly, in case you need help deciding what to read next.
*Featured image via Instagram from Haley (@mylittlebooktique)