Book Review: The Gifts of Reading, curated by Jenny Orchard

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The Gifts of Reading is a collection of love letters to the written word, the stories that inspired authors to begin their writing careers, and the overall power of books.

No narrative art form — film, TV, strip cartoons, video games, the theatre, dance, mime — has prose fiction’s innate, subtle, wonderfully complex and effortless ability to give us this possibility of experiencing the inner lives of others”

– William Boyd (pg. 24)

The Gifts of Reading is a truly beautiful collection of essays and I highly recommend it to any book lover wishing to read about the importance and beauty of books. The collection was inspired by Robert Macfarlane’s essay, which this collection is named after, with contributors including Candice Carty-Williams, Max Porter, Roddy Doyle and Markus Zusak. Within the collection, authors recount tales of how giving and receiving books changed lives, saved lives, journeyed with them, invited further generosity, and inspired them. Some essays take the form of anecdotes involving specific books, others answer the question head-on and there’s even a fictionalised dystopian piece on the last books a particular author would choose to share with ‘whoever’s left’. A little ominous, but interesting nonetheless!

“Reading is such an intimate experience. A book shared, read aloud, passed around, connects each to the other and to ideas.” 

– Jan Morris (pg. 95)

There is an amazing range of authors in this collection. There were a lot of authors whose books I haven’t come across before, so it was a brilliant glimpse into the writing style and genre preferences of several new-to-me authors. I also loved learning more about authors whose books I have read and really loved, such as Candice Carty-Williams and Max Porter, and seeing what books they would recommend above all others. A lot of the contributors come from very different backgrounds and experienced books and reading very differently – from families believing reading was a waste of time to not knowing true freedom until being able to borrow any book from a library. The importance of reading to all aspects of life really shone through this collection and it was a really heartwarming and positive read.

Many of the essays reference particular books that really affected the author at some point during their lifetime, but if you don’t want to try and note them down as you read, all of the authors have provided a recommendations list at the back of the book! I thought this was a really lovely addition to the collection. Some of these are now on my book wish list, but I don’t feel too guilty about it – a lot of the contributors reference their love of book buying and their large piles of unread books! This was by far my favourite quote:

“But of all the people I’ve given books to over the years there is one person who is the wholehearted, uncontested beneficiary of my book-giving largesse. Me. I give myself books all the time, almost every day, in moments of book-obsession, book-need. Let’s be honest: book-addiction.”

– William Boyd (pg. 28)

This book really is a gift to readers and to the art of reading.

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