Goodreads Blog

The Life-Changing Reading Habit Sarah Dessen Discovered As a Teen

Posted by Hayley Igarashi on June 06, 2017


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.


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Then I remembered high school—and put a book in my purse.

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!

Comments (showing 1-50 of 60) (60 new)


message 1: by Tatyana (new)

Tatyana I did the same when I was in high school. My teenage years were rather complicated but the book I was always carrying in my backpack never failed to relieve the stress of my life. As the author said, it didn't make things perfect but it was a very welcome breath of fresh air.


message 2: by Kate (new)

Kate This made me laugh really hard, and it is also true: "Yes, it was a book about a sadistic clown terrorizing a small town in Maine. But right then it was better than high school."


message 3: by Jaci (new)

Jaci That's exactly how books are for me. No matter how much I struggle in life, a book is always there to calm me down and let me escape for a little bit.


message 4: by Hailey (new)

Hailey Reed I carry a messenger bag around instead of a purse because I believe the sole purpose of any carrying device is to be big enough to carry several books.


message 5: by Eileen (new)

Eileen Johnson I always have a book in my car, comes in handy during kids' sports rain delay (or boring games) and being stuck in summer traffic on I-95 in Connecticut.


message 6: by Terri (new)

Terri Frank As a librarian, I always tell my patrons that the key to reading often is to have books in multiple formats available to you at all times. For instance, I have a print book I carry with me, an e-book on my phone for the times I forgot my other book, and an audio book in my car. So, I'm always reading three titles at once.


message 7: by Carrie (new)

Carrie I'm never not reading something. Books have been an escape for me, all my life. There's nothing like a good story.


message 8: by Wayne (new)

Wayne I would feel totally lost if I didn't have a book with me. I always have a bedtime book ready for me, and quite often, I use my e-reader for nighttime reading. It's great - I can turn the lights off and still read! I take a backpack with me everywhere I go - it's my socially acceptable male purse - and there's always a book . . . or two . . . or sometimes three books in it. Sometimes, I go to the library with the intention of not leaving until the backpack is full!


message 9: by Jillian (new)

Jillian Getting I'm always reading multiple books at the same time and have one with me, either in hard/soft cover or ebook form. This way, even if I happen to be using a purse that can't fit a book (a rare occurrence), I have an ebook on my phone.


message 10: by Anna (new)

Anna Life sometimes gets in the way with reading, and I hadn't read hardly anything for about a year. But I've recently picked some books up again, and it is worth it. It really helps with stress, never let reading go.


message 11: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Hailey wrote: "I carry a messenger bag around instead of a purse because I believe the sole purpose of any carrying device is to be big enough to carry several books."

I do the same!


message 12: by Marci (new)

Marci I no longer carry a physical book in my purse, but I do have my Kindle with me. If the purse cannot accommodate my Kindle it's not for me.


message 13: by Linda (last edited Jun 06, 2017 09:15AM) (new)

Linda Although I have a never-shrinking pile of physical books, I get the most reading done on my phone these days. When I'm in line somewhere, waiting at the doctor's office, or even if I need a ten-minute break at work, I pull out my iBooks app and read. I've managed to finish quite a few books that way over the last year or so.


message 14: by Knarik (new)

Knarik Mouradian I have my kindle in my bag wherever I go. And cant wait for an opportunity to start reading.
I tried listening to an audio book and reading another, but it didnt work out well for me as i started getting mixed up between the two stories. Perhaps it was because both were books by the same author(Chris Bohjalian). So Il try it another time before i give up on the idea.


message 15: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Terri wrote: "As a librarian, I always tell my patrons that the key to reading often is to have books in multiple formats available to you at all times. For instance, I have a print book I carry with me, an e-bo..."
I do the same. Always have a book even if I "forgot" one. (I am a librarian as well.)


message 16: by Sumeet (new)

Sumeet Mahendra Downloaded it for my future with...!


message 17: by Michal Lynn (new)

Michal Lynn I feel naked without a book on me! I always make sure to have a book downloaded on my Kindle app just in case, too. You never know when you might get hit with downtime.


message 18: by Ginger (new)

Ginger I have a reading app on my phone, overdrive for audio books, a kindle in my bag and there is usually a book laying about as well. I always have books within reach. They make me feel grounded as well as free.


message 19: by Emily (new)

Emily I always have a book in my bag, a book in my office at work, and a book at my boyfriend's house. Heaven forbid I ever be without a book to read!


message 20: by Reading Faerie (new)

Reading Faerie Kate wrote: "This made me laugh really hard, and it is also true: "Yes, it was a book about a sadistic clown terrorizing a small town in Maine. But right then it was better than high school.""

LOL, this made laugh, too. :)


message 21: by Reading Faerie (new)

Reading Faerie I carry paperback or a pocket-size hardback in a little bag I crocheted myself just so I could carry a book with me (and my knitting and a snack as well). I always have a book.
Like Lemony Snicket said, "Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them." ; )


message 22: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Sammis Nowadays the book (or books) is on my phone and not in my purse. But yes, for thirty years, I've usually carried a book with me.


message 23: by Mallory (last edited Jun 06, 2017 12:19PM) (new)

Mallory Daniels Hailey wrote: "I carry a messenger bag around instead of a purse because I believe the sole purpose of any carrying device is to be big enough to carry several books."

I totally agree! My main qualification for a purse is that it must be big enough for a book.


message 24: by Daph (new)

Daph L I love books beyond words, and this was totally me in high school: carrying a book everywhere! lol


message 25: by Suzevelyn (new)

Suzevelyn Kate wrote: "This made me laugh really hard, and it is also true: "Yes, it was a book about a sadistic clown terrorizing a small town in Maine. But right then it was better than high school.""

Yes. I cracked up when I read that. So true!


message 26: by Rachel (new)

Rachel I always have a book with me. eBooks are easier when travelling and I often find I get through those quicker than physical books but I really love the act of picking up a book and reaching the end of a chapter/end of the book. It's very satisfying!


message 27: by Julia (new)

Julia Jenkins My childhood was spent moving two times a year; once just before the school year started and once just after the school year ended. My parents married young and started a family while they were in the early years of college. So, we moved to the scholarships and the jobs. As a result, most of my friends were temporary - rooted to the city/state in which they lived and I only visited. The friends I counted on began with A and ended with Z. Books. More books. Libraries. Cereal boxes. Magazines. I read everything I could get my hands on. I carried a few books everywhere I went. When finished, I started them again. And still, after all these years, I read. I have a few audiobooks downloaded to my phone and ipod, I carry a kindle with a few more books downloaded, and then there are the 2-3 hardcopies I carry around in the event of a reading 'emergency'. It may be that I am a crazy book lady, but the best form of relaxing for me is reading; getting lost in a different place, time, world, adventure. The best way to get away.


message 28: by Dee (new)

Dee Jaci wrote: "That's exactly how books are for me. No matter how much I struggle in life, a book is always there to calm me down and let me escape for a little bit."

Jaci, that is a great quote!! You put it so succinctly!


message 29: by Superbambi (new)

Superbambi Thanks for sharing this. I also always carry books around, but more to the point, I think it's interesting to speak of reading as a weapon against anxiety and existential angst. Thanks.


message 30: by Birmusic (last edited Jun 06, 2017 06:14PM) (new)


message 31: by Thanveerulhaq (new)

Thanveerulhaq Once i went to a nearby park to read and thus start reading in public place. But unfortunately a group of people came and with rude and filthy they took away the book from me. Said me not to read in public. That was just bullying i know. But it made me feel uncomfortable when reading in public. But now dessen had given me the support. I will try my beat


message 32: by Daisy (new)

Daisy Paquet This was lovely.


message 33: by Breeze (new)

Breeze Riley I always keep a book around. With Kindles it's really easy to always have reading material in your purse.


Olivia "Don't Blame Me I Voted for Hillary" I always carry whatever I'm reading with me so I can read it, for example, when I'm waiting for the bus or on the bus. My purse is big enough to hold a paperback, and I've a tote bag for larger books.


message 35: by Mina (new)

Mina Definitely. I take a book EVERYWHERE. Even, once, to Disneyland.


message 36: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Anna wrote: "Life sometimes gets in the way with reading, and I hadn't read hardly anything for about a year. But I've recently picked some books up again, and it is worth it. It really helps with stress, never..."

Anna, I so agree with you about reading being good for stress. The very act of reading means you can't do or think of anything else. What could be better than a great book to escape into.


message 37: by saferia (new)

saferia Kate wrote: "This made me laugh really hard, and it is also true: "Yes, it was a book about a sadistic clown terrorizing a small town in Maine. But right then it was better than high school.""

Truth


message 38: by Jenny (new)

Jenny here is a girl just like you in these pages—come discover life through her eyes. @hotmail login


message 39: by BookLever (new)

BookLever I totally agree. I find even books i am rereading help with bad days. Just having those charaters and favourite moments safe and close by feels like having a whole support team along backing me up😄


message 40: by Gulshan (last edited Jun 07, 2017 01:20AM) (new)

Gulshan Naqvee OverDrive and OneClickDigital are my saviors .. in fact I have finished audiobooks like Great Gatsby and Great Expectations in Cardio sessions. Stories are like big escape doors to a world that is better than the reality!


message 41: by Gulshan (new)

Gulshan Naqvee BookLever wrote: "I totally agree. I find even books i am rereading help with bad days. Just having those charaters and favourite moments safe and close by feels like having a whole support team along backing me up😄"

So true


message 42: by John (new)

John Pellow Very fantastic and well written post.Its extremely good and very helpful for me.Thanks for sharing.


message 43: by Viola (new)

Viola Briatková I use to say if there are no books in the afterlife, then this kind of afterlife is not worth any effort. and Im a card holding bookworm.


message 44: by Rainey (new)

Rainey I have audible on my phone and ipod and the kindle app on my phone too. Or I carry my Kindle.

I always have a book to read.


message 45: by Viktoria (new)

Viktoria I feel the exact same way. Sometimes I find myself too busy or tired to read. But just having it with me and being able to pull it out of my purse whenever, slowly but steadily decreases my current tbr pile. Also, it makes me feel so much better knowing I can just dive into another life if I don't feel like coping with this one right now.


message 46: by Rainey (new)

Rainey Viktoria wrote: "I feel the exact same way.... Also, it makes me feel so much better knowing I can just dive into another life if I don't feel like coping with this one right now. ..."

Well Said.


message 47: by Anexandra (new)

Anexandra Now I want to read about finding the perfect cookie recipe


message 48: by Mwanamali (new)

Mwanamali  Mari Interesting. I had a job interview today and they kept me waiting and I got increasingly nervous. I just whipped out my reader and became infinitely relaxed. Carry the books people!!


message 49: by Sue (new)

Sue I always have a book with me in the car & read on my lunch break. I also am listening to a book and have something on my ipod to read.


message 50: by Katherine (new)

Katherine Hayward Great interview! I have never read any of Sarah Desen's books- will add to TBR list. I always have a book handy when travelling by bus or metro/ subway. I'm always listening to audiobooks


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