The Rights of the Reader

6. The Right to Mistake a Book for Real Life

When I was a younger girl – in my early teens – I devoured ‘novels’ by Jilly Cooper, several times; consumed wheelbarrow loads of Catherine Cookson to the point that I was secretly living as a down trodden farm girl on the Yorkshire dales, in love with the master of the manor in the 18th Century sometime when frocks still came down to our ankles. It was not fantasy. I was sure I was just living the wrong life. Seriously, it may be why I immigrated to the other side of the world, married a South Canterbury man and now live in an authentic Victorian Villa!

My other great love was Agatha Christie. By the time I was about sixteen, I had read and owned seventy four of her novels. I read one after other and used to challenge myself as to how quickly I could guess who the murderer was and how it had been committed. I wonder now – were my parents worried or were they just glad that I was reading? One day I hope to return to some cute village, nestled in the countryside, perhaps in France and solve the village mysteries.

So was I a barmy teenage girl, lost in the fiction of my era? Or is it common to mistake a book for real life?

It is hard to imagine the teens of today wishing that their life was like Katniss or Peeta, in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy. After all who would want to fight to the death in a live event that your family is watching? And as attractive as Stephenie Meyer makes vampires and werewolves in the Twilight series – it is a little far fetched for even the most imaginative teen to mistake the plot as real life. Surely?Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 10.53.51 AM


However, judging by our library records and the amount that certain books leave our shelves, I suspect boys do mistake a book for real life and perhaps fantasize that they are in fact James Adams, undercover child agent working for MI5. James, for those who do not know (tsk – if you do not!) is the hero of Robert Muchamore’s amazing Cherub series. Who wouldn’t want to be the boy rescued from slum housing after his obese mother dies from an alcohol-related incident. He is recruited and trained for 100 days to form part of a group of children who solve crimes that adults can’t. What is not to love!

The same is true of Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series, starting with the book Stormbreaker. The plot revolves around the premise that he is a James Bond miniature. The website suggests that I am right and that it is not just me that mistakes books for real life but quite a common error!

This brings me quite nicely to my favourite book. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is the only truly original book that I have ever read. Set in Barcelona, it is about a young boy called Daniel who is taken to the cemetery of forgotten books which is hidden deep in the Gothic alleys of Barcelona. He is allowed to choose one book to keep. In theory he picks up a book called – The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax but as Daniel says;

it had been waiting there for me for years, probably since before I was born.’

There folllows a book of intrigue and mystery of love and murder – an epic novel, beautifully written. This Gothic thriller is the ultimate book within a book as Daniel gets drawn into the life of both Julian Carax and the novel that chose him!

Back to the subject of mistaking a book for real life – this book actively encourages it! At the back of the book there is a map of where the book is set in Barcelona. And then if that is not enough there is a guide to the places with quotes from the novel complete with photos!!


Obviously, for someone who had spent half their youth pretending to be a heroine from a novel, (don’t get me started with Jane Austen), this book is deadly. My poor husband and three teenage sons have been dragged to Barcelona twice in order for me to complete the walk, visit the bookshop and retrace Daniel’s steps…

Lisa Trundley-Banks



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