The Life-Changing Reading Habit Sarah Dessen Discovered As a Teen
For many young readers, every Sarah Dessen book holds a promise: There is a girl just like you in these pages—come discover life through her eyes. Now the bestselling author of The Truth About Forever and Just Listen is putting her spin on a wedding-set rom-com in Once and for All, her thirteenth novel. Goodreads asked Dessen to share her thoughts on the importance of stories and escapism.
Lately the world has seemed a bit too much, hasn't it? I'm not sure about you, but as a result, I wasn't sleeping well. I ate too many Cheetos. I indulged in more online shopping than was advisable. (Oh, look! A box came from UPS! What is it? No, seriously. What is it? I don't even remember what I ordered.)
In truth my 13th book is about to be published, and I always get a little mental in the weeks leading up to a release. What usually helps? Naps. Meditation. Yoga. Extra therapy sessions. Long workouts to really loud, angry music. I tried all these but still felt like every day I was struggling against a sadness and anxiety I couldn't shake.
In the early days of my senior year, my first serious boyfriend broke up with me. I was devastated, and I spent many of the following weeks keeping to myself and, you know, sobbing. I had to see him every day at school, multiple times, and it was kind of killing me, so I began to carry around Stephen King's It, a book I'd been wanting to start forever. Whenever I found a spare moment or felt the tears coming, I opened it up and started to read.
It helped—during the tail end of lunch hour, whenever I just wanted the day to hurry up, in our shared English class (when he sat so close by). Just the weight of it against my chest as I walked through the halls was a comfort. Yes, it was a book about a sadistic clown terrorizing a small town in Maine. But right then it was better than high school.
In the following years I came back to books again and again to save me. In college, when I was having bad panic attacks, reading was the one activity that engaged my spinning brain enough to calm it down. After college, during the stretches when I wasn't writing myself, books gave me something to focus on other than my fear that I'd never come up with another good idea. And in those desperately hard days of my daughter's infancy, magazine articles and essays reminded me of the wider world outside my window in the middle of another long night.
But when life got busy, my reading life suffered. I always have an audiobook going as well as at least one novel on my bedside table, but often I was too exhausted to get through more than a page. To be honest, though, when I did have spare moments, I was on Twitter or my phone, reading frantically about politics and everything else.
I didn't realize how much I'd been doing this until I put that book in my purse back in late April. Suddenly I was reading while I waited for my daughter to finish tae kwon do. And then in the few minutes after doing dishes and before putting her to bed. Here and there, minutes added up to hours. Before I knew it, I'd finished the book. Even more surprising, I felt better. Not perfect but better. I put another novel I'd been wanting to read into my bag. Then another. Now I'm up to my fourth, and I swear to you, just the act of pulling the book out while in line at the post office or bank feels like taking a deep breath.
Sure, the world is still crazy. My work anxiety is like a Mack truck, and sometimes a book can't do that much to stop it. But still, it's something. That little bit of story, grabbed in pieces, pulls me away from here and now to somewhere else. I am in Derry, Maine, the snowy streets of Chicago, or the kitchen of a YA heroine as she works on the perfect cookie recipe. And for those moments, as long as they last, I am so happy to be there.
Sarah Dessen's Once and for All hit bookshelves on June 6. Add it to your Want to Read shelf here.
Do you, like Dessen, bring a book wherever you go? Tell us how you read in the comments!
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