Escaping into other people’s heads

Every reader knows that books are an escape. You can leave your own world behind in a way that movies or podcasts don’t quite succeed in. Your hands are needed to hold the book. Your mind is given to the story. You lose your own self and fall into the head’s of people who make you see that there is more to the world than just you.

Reading has saved me, again and again. Books were friends when I had none. Books taught me that I was not alone. Books are where I run to when my mind is too full…when my head is too dark and dangerous of a place to stay in. Some comfort and sooth. Some break me apart to let me feel again. Some let me exercise the terror in my mind. Some remind me that there are still magnificent places I need to see…even if those places only exist in the mind of the author and their readers.

I read more when I’m depressed or anxious. I can tell the level of my mental health by looking at the stacks of books I’ve finished. When I’m in my deepest depressions I can’t read at all, but mostly I find myself sitting to close to the edge of that dark place…knowing that the darkness is coming and wanting to ward it off with stories I bring into my backyard so that I can feel the sun and remind myself that this will pass.

Today I saw the stacks of books beside my door. I always catalogue them because my mind is too forgetful and I want to remember where I’ve been and what I should reread. I look at the books that I’ve read since January.

It’s a lot. Even for a reader.

And I know this is a sign.

It’s a sign that I’m too near the edge. It’s a sign that I need to be careful.

But it’s also a map of the wonderful places I’ve visited even during the dark times. And a reminder that even when I am stuck in my own terrible mind, I can still find joy inside the minds of others.

And it’s a thank you as well. To all the writers in the world who rescue us over and over by letting us run free in strange lands. To the librarians and booksellers and friends who cherish these same books and see them through the wilderness into the hands of people who need them.

There is darkness. There is light. There are words. And the words save me from myself again and again.

81 thoughts on “Escaping into other people’s heads

Read comments below or add one.

  1. Just finished “Broken” yesterday. A book that makes me giggle uncontrollably is such a gift (although my husband definitely thinks I’m insane now). Thank you for being one of those authors for others as well.

  2. Oh, Jenny, I hear you.
    Books have been the most consistent thing in my entire life since I was a pre-schooler, and have saved me many times. The only thing as good as books is dogs, but not everyone can have a dog.
    Thanks for sharing your books. I see some I’ve read, others I will take a look at to see if I might like them.

    I want a T-shirt that says: “BOOKS. Because Reality is overrated.”

  3. I weirdly can tell my mental health by the state of my nails… but just got back on meds after a few years off. I wish I did it sooner.

  4. I listen to your audiobooks to fall asleep. You and your writing are my comfort. Thank you… so very much. Thank you.

  5. Truer words were never spoken. Be good to yourself, Jenny. And thank you. *hug*

  6. A beautiful message of self care and self awareness! You and your words matter so much more to so many people than you could ever fully know.

  7. Just the picture of all of these books makes me happy. I wish I had a job where I could read what I want all day and make money. Also this has been a dumpster fire of a year and you deserve to escape. There will be light. Also I haven’t read Go Ask Alice since I was in middle school and now I want to read it again. ❤️

  8. This explains the reason why I used to read 7 to 10 books a week, back when my life was less than wonderful.
    Take care of yourself, Pocket Friend.

  9. We have similar taste in books. Many of these on my library hold list. Exactly like you, I read when I’m depressed. I read fiction to get out of my head. I read “self help” and nonfiction books when I’m not as depressed.

  10. ‘allo!
    Best of Fortune to you during the hard and beyond! And thank you for this post – another reminder that I am not alone. So appreciated on this day especially. Thank you for your bravery to keep sharing your Journey, even/especially when it’s hard. And congrats on the store! It’s been wonderful to read of its Journey too.
    -B!

  11. Books are my comfort and escape. During self imposed lockdown due to autoimmune issues, I started reviewing books to keep myself occupied and fulfilled. I just finished Sorrowland from your list and I cannot recommend it enough. It was amazing and gave me strong Octavia Butler style vibes. Read it ASAP! 💗💗

  12. I recommend Lisa Lutz’s THE SPARROWS, just because.

    I’ve been reading a lot of Gothic mysteries, especially Mary Stewart and Barbara Michaels. The darkness appeals to me but they always work out, and I need that badly. With the pandemic, my reading patterns have changed, and I find myself re-reading books for the comfort of knowing how they end in advance.

    Of course there are exceptions. Joshilyn Jackson’s latest was amazing, as was this brilliant book called BROKEN: In The Best Possible Way. I’ll have to look up the author. 😉

  13. My reading habits have skyrocketed during the pandemic. It’s cool but I also recognize the overwhelming urge to escape. Thanks for all the inspiration – I’m bookmarking for when I get a little further through my own insane TBR list. xo

  14. I am the opposite–my reading has dwindled and dwindled and dwindled. In March I only read one book. But I realize it too so I picked up Sorrowland at the library (Oh, so powerful and weird and one of those books I liked, but would I recommend it?? Not sure.) and I keep requesting things to catch my interest, even if I just return them unread. I guess that has been my fallback for over a year now–the stacks of books I request make me happy, even if I don’t read them. Go figure.

  15. I have been living in chronic pain for the past year and a half and my body is basically falling apart. No one knows if it will get better or worse. Hell, Mayo doesn’t know what the eff is wrong with me. Books have always saved me, but I have read far more than I ever have since my English major days in college. I’m up to 48 since January and more than halfway finished with an additional 10. You’re not alone. Also, reading parts of Broken out loud to my husband has sent me crying laughing for the first time in a very long time. Thank you.

  16. I used to read voraciously until my traumatic divorce 8 years ago. Now, books can’t hold my attention or pull me in. I find all my creative outlets have been cutoff. I have, however, loved reading your book. So much so that I stopped reading 20 pages to the end because I don’t want it to be over!

  17. Your awareness of self is inspiring. Sending you lots of loving and peaceful energy right now …. <3

  18. Wow, what a pile…….impressive and good for you. thanks for the encouragement.

  19. I have a list like this. Books upon books upon books that keep me safe, well, safer than I would be without them. It’s a ridiculously long list, like yours. But it is life. It’s survival. It’s adventure and love and joy and pain and the chance to be somebody else, to let the being of myself rest a while. My daughter asked recently about her depressed feelings and what I experienced at her age. She wanted to know, “What did you do when you felt this way?” I didn’t even have to think about it. “I read books,” I told her. She smiled a little, as if I’d solved some deep mystery, and said, “Now I understand…”
    So to you from my daughter and I: Jenny, we understand. Wishing you much love and many wonderful stories.

  20. 70 books since January! Wow….I feel bad that it’s a result of struggle but I’m jealous of the consumption levels!

  21. I was just talking to my hubby about my relationship with books, authors and fictional characters. How they feel and felt like friends when I had no one, how they have made me feel not so alone, or pulled me out from darkness, out from the invisible but all too agonizing pain. The book that saves me time and time again is “Letters to a Young Poet” by Rainier Maria Rilke. I carry it with me everywhere.

  22. Books saved me, thank you for letting us know they save you too.

  23. Time and dates and months have lost their tangibility. Because COVID. I didn’t have it but the world did. I’m still so discombobulated about months and dates like I’ve been living in a calendarless cave.
    All that to say, I thought you read all these books in a month because last month was January. Wasn’t it?
    And I thought, jeezus Jenny, how does depression let you/help you read 70 books in a month?!?!?!?

  24. Yeesh. I was so proud of myself because I’m on book #9 since January. I gotta step up my game.
    Books saved me too. Specifically “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka and “Drawing Blood” by Poppy Z. Brite.

  25. I’m at the point right now where I’m struggling to connect with a book. Reading is my escape. I lost it mid lockdown last year. I got better toward winter but now my anxiety is making it hard again. It sucks

  26. The blog is like a beautiful poem today. It amazes me how a strangers words can touch something so deep and personal.

  27. I have been incarcerated for almost 8 years and recently have been released. If it weren’t for books, I would have totally lost my sanity. Being able to “escape” from prison inside a book was a lifeline that no one but our talented and brave authors could achieve. And I still read every day! Well almost every day. BTW – you have quite the fanbase inside the big house! So many of us deal with inner demons. We relate to you! We just chose a different path. I learned my lesson that’s for sure. Thank you for being you!

  28. OMG, we are neck & neck in our # of books read this year. I just finished #89 last night. However, I am only escaping with romance & erotica. It’s keeping me sane and my sex life REALLY healthy.

  29. Sadly – I “lost” reading when I first started spiraling into depression and anxiety. I am getting better but reading is still not the same. I miss it terribly. I feel like a part of me is lost. I hope that eventually my reading will be back to normal.

    But – I was able to read your books and laugh out loud. Thank you for being you, for being relatable and for being brave enough to share yourself with the world. You make such a huge impact in the world and help more than you can know.

  30. I couldn’t read during the first few months of COVID. I felt like I’d been abandoned.
    You are such a brave person, Jenny, to keep moving forward even though you have your very dark times. Your books and blog mean so much to those of us who can’t just “cheer up” on command.
    I buy adult fiction for my library district. When I choose books, I think of all the different readers seeking entertainment and escape. My favorite days are when the free advance reading copies come from publishers. I call it “mini-Christmas.”
    Blessings to you!

  31. YES! So many times growing up, books let me leave the hell of reality. My mom rarely interfered in my choices of reading material. It’s one of the things I love best about her

  32. I’ve been re-reading old favorites since the start of the pandemic because I just don’t have the energy to meet new people – even fictional characters! I’ve spent a lot of time in Three Pines (the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny) and early 19th century London (with Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs) interspersed with revisiting my favorite people (you, Glennon Doyle, Elizabeth Gilbert, Anne Lamott, Barbara Kingsolver, to name a few) via memoirs. That’s kind of how I roll in normal times, too, but it really did save me this past year. So thank you, Jenny! You’re one of the writers out there rescuing people. I’m glad you’re getting rescued when you need it, too! I think there are a lot of us here at the edge, hanging on by threads of words woven into stories.

  33. Thank *you* for being someone who helps keep me from the darkest days sometimes. Sending you love!

  34. If you haven’t yet – consider reading ‘Night Train’
    by David Quantick. It’s weird but good.

  35. Thank you so much. Your book club has helped me get back into reading which in turn has helped me so much. I can not thank you enough.

  36. Welp now I am crying. Good crying? 2020 was the year I couldn’t read due to the anxiety and depression. One book the House by the Cerulean sea, pushed my brain into the comfy space of reading again. Where it has been an escape and there is space to breathe again. Books are important. Thank you for all you are in this world Jenny. You are impactful even with your struggles.

  37. Jenny,
    Thanks for being one of the writers to whom I turn when my days go dark. Being a bookseller, I’m always excited to recommend one of your titles to a customer, and to see that spark of recognition when I’ve met a fellow traveller on this weird path. All my love, Dee

  38. Have you tried cataloguing your books on Library Thing? It’s wonderful – you can add books quickly by scanning the barcodes with their app, sort them by tags, collection, etc. I find it very satisfying and soothing.

    (Well now I have to do this. ~ Jenny)

  39. Books are my escape no doubt. With 8 things wrong with me (chronically) life is HARD… and I’m insane because I went back to teaching full time this year. For me I can’t read when I’m too anxious but I can typically thru depression and Hell yeah it’s my refuge during flare ups, etc. Helps me decompress… reading is LIFE.

  40. Usually when I feel myself getting close to or falling into a depression, I run straight for the Harry Potters and don’t stop until I’ve read them all, in order. But ever since the pandemic started, I haven’t been able to touch them. I don’t know if that’s because I’m so disappointed in the author or if I just didn’t think even Hogwarts would pull me out. Either way, I made it through. But I’m also more than halfway to my 2021 reading goal and it’s only May. One of the books was your newest one Jenny. It really, really helped!

  41. I’ve read You’ll Never Believe what Happened to Lacey and The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and the Horse.

    I loved The Boy… so much I went and bought it. (Had borrowed it from work) It’s stunning.

    Reading this year is coming in spurts. I want to read but then I end up not doing it.

  42. Hmmm Jenny. I don’t see my book there 🙂 It’s not horror but it is a brief and beautiful escape. “Circling Butterfly” by Sandy Cumberland.

    (It looks good. ~ Jenny)

  43. You allways right ,deliver u own book to minds of other people —escape.

  44. Did U read my book? The Manual of Stone Age?

    (I don’t think so. Sorry! ~ Jenny)

  45. Can’t agree moore! I’m in the same place: in the edge with the same kindof stack of books. Some even the same. It is a concrete gauge and visible to others in the family too. Thank you again for sharing <3

  46. I spent Saturday morning reading. I made a pot of tea, told my husband to enjoy his morning out, and then curled up with a book. I haven’t left the house much this past year, but leave thru reading.

    I fully relate with how you describe being saved thru stories. I haven’t had a day off in a while and needed my head to go somewhere not related to work or customers or team dynamics. Instead, I read about family in a Kingsolver book. Part celebration of science, part acceptance of uncomfortable things, part reality of hardship, part reminder of our responsibility to each other. I emerged a little lighter and more accepting.

    Next book will need to be more fantasy. I could use some pixie dust.

    Which of your reads would fit the bill? (Witch’s Heart was amazing!)

    (Have you read Deadly Education? Or Klara and the Sun? Or Girl One by Sara Flannery Murphy? It’s more sci-fi-fi than fantasy but really good. She Who Became the Sun is good but it doesn’t come out for another month, I think. ~ Jenny)

  47. I’m struggling with depression right now, and you are right. When I’m in the darkest part of it, I don’t want to do anything except eat candy and sleep, but I did read your new book as I was coming out of the darkest part of it, and it was therapeutic for me. Books do save us. They keep our brains working even when the rest of us cannot. Thanks Jenny. Many blessings. Keep writing and keep reading.

  48. Hi Jenny. Agreed. There seem to be MDD places that are the “sweet spot” for reading and others where its just too dark to be distracted. I just published The Last Event on Kindle, Part One only. Its taken years to get this far. I find that the MDD also modulates my writing and editing in the same way as my reading. Can you write when you’re in the darkest of places? Occasionally I can. Is the bookstore, the place, not the books, a reprieve for the darkest times?

  49. Sending you love and hugs Jenny. I know how it feels to be too close to the dark place and I’m pulling for you to stay on this side of it.

  50. Sending hugs and love and hoping you are able to step back from that edge for awhile. While I don’t read as much as I used to (okay, hardly at all now), I do this exact thing with writing. I write for the same reasons, to escape into another world, to care about a character’s life when I’m too fragile to care about my own, to explore places and situations I simply can’t otherwise… Even just to have something to live for (if I’m not here, that story isn’t going to get finished and those poor characters will never see their happy ending).

  51. It’s not so bad. I just finished book 83 in 2021. I have only read “Go Ask Alice” from the books you’ve completed this year, and you’ve probably not read the books I’ve completed this year.

  52. I’ve been reading 2-4 books a month! It’s ridiculous, but the world is so grim and these books help me escape to happier places. Needless to say I read a LOT of fantasy. I have to be part wizard part elf.. i know I am!! 🙂

  53. Dear Jenny, Thank you for putting into words how I feel. I think that is why your books speak to me. You can put into words the feelings and thoughts that I am sure many people have. I know I do. This post sure hit close to home. Thank you queen, you are amazing!!

  54. “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
    —Grouch Marx

  55. I do so hear you! The only one of your stack that I’ve read, so far, is Jonny Sun’s “Goodbye, Again,” but I have read all of your books, Jenny. Thank you for them.

  56. I do this too – read more when I’m feeling anxious or depressed. I’ve often thought of it as hiding from my problems and not really a food thing. But I like the way you look at it as using stories to ward off the darkness. I will have to remember that. Thank you.

  57. My mom had ECT therapy for depression last year and they recommend some follow-up appointments afterwards. Does the TMS therapy you went through also suggest the post-therapy appointments? Hoping your brain can find a comfortable place to be!

  58. A few hours ago, I got the wonderful surprise that it was my turn on the wait list and your newest audiobook was available for me to borrow right now. I had resigned myself to waiting another 5 months and was delighted that my turn had come early.

    I’m so sorry to hear that your proximity alarms are going off, but also glad to hear that they exist and that you can identify them and have tools for dealing with them when they do. I’ve got my own signs that my head isn’t a good place to be right now. Thank you for letting us all visit yours.

  59. I’m so sorry things are hard, depression is a lying bastard and I wish I could banish it forever for you. Sending you a hug, from a fellow traveler.

  60. ty. Have you tried cataloguing your books on Library Thing? It’s wonderful – you can add books quickly by scanning the barcodes with their app, sort them by tags, collection, etc. I find it very satisfying and soothing.

  61. I do something similar, only I tend to do it with books I’ve already read. When I get stuck in a reading loop, I know I have to watch out.

  62. I’ve always been a reader, and since I retired it means I can (and do) read even more. During Covid lock down, I ordered several boxes of books (predominantly mysteries) as my local libraries were closed.
    The books ranged from ordinary (few, fortunately) to good (most of them) to really memorable (a few).
    If you like a good mystery, these are the pick of the bunch…
    The Kind Worth Killing – Peter Swanson
    Dead to Her – Sarah Pinborough
    The Other Passenger – Louise Candlish
    Don’t Let Go – Michel Bussi
    All Things Cease to Appear – Elizabeth Brundage

  63. Thank you so much for your book lists! I always go through and add some to my never ending list of books to read. Here’s two recommendations if you haven’t already read them:

    A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles
    Circe — This one is very similar to Ariadne

  64. Have you read Nathaniel Philbrook’s Why Read Moby Dick?

    It’s a short read , but it made me feel better about reading Moby Dick or Listening to a great Librovix version over ,and over because it keeps me sailing.

    Hope you get some relief, just joined the Chronic Pain Club at 61 and I figure it’s ok …I’ve made through all my other chronic. So I keep going …please keep writing, blogging it is super fucking helpful

    John

    Rockaway Beach Snowflake in a bastion of absurdity..

  65. Only 67 books this year…so far. I am reading in e-book format mostly. Except for Broken….that is a treasured hardcover with such relatable tone and fantastic Victor encounters!

    Your glimpses of Nowhere are perfect mini doses of joy.

  66. I just finished Broken and thought about how I have not been to your blog in too long. Books have been my escape to a safe place always and I have made ridiculous promises to myself over and over that I will read less and “go out and live more”. Ha! I continue to succeed in enjoying the worlds that authors take me to much better than the one that leaves me exhausted and depressive. Keep reading but hold on to what gives you a sliver of sunshine, Jenny!

  67. I hope EVERYONE takes the time to read the beautiful, heartfelt “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” by Charlie Mackesy And then read it again.

  68. I just glanced at my book database (I track mine too) and found I have 72 books as of May. (I’ll do all of June at the end of the month.) This isn’t including books I own and have reread, so the actual count is higher.

  69. If you really want to escape I recommend the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. Currently there are 6 in the series but they are a quick fun read.

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