Well-reading: How books can help

by Lauren Johnson of Brand New Friend

- 04/03/2018 -

Every day is World Book Day really, so when Lauren Johnson of 2017 Xtra Mile signees Brand new Friend offered to write a blog about how reading and books have helped her during stressful times and while on the road or in the studio, we thought it would be of interest to all of us. 

Brand New Friend's debut album Seatbelts for Aeroplanes is out on 27 April 2018. Listen to the song 'Girl' from that album below and preorder the album right here from our shop on magenta vinyl, CD or download.

Typically marked in primary schools across the UK as the nation’s kids clad themselves in homemade costumes of their favourite characters, it can be easy to assume that World Book Day is a holiday that excludes anyone over the age of 11. However, World Book Day is marked in over 100 countries and is designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading. This is something that can be observed by everyone; in an age dominated by technology, taking time to switch off from all distractions and pick up a book is almost an act of rebellion. The importance of reading cannot be understated – it is the perfect opportunity to introduce yourself to new ideas, alleviate stress, expand your horizons, and offer a little bit of escapism. Personally, I find taking time to read is one of the most important aspects of self-care that I exercise in my daily life, and I firmly believe that there is a piece of literature to help an individual through almost all of life’s problems.

Girl in a Band: A Memoir  by Kim Gordon, ex-Sonic Youth; an essential read

Girl in a Band: A Memoir by Kim Gordon, ex-Sonic Youth; an essential read

It can be incredibly difficult to find time to switch off in 2018, and this can be a significant cause of tension and stress in our daily lives. For those of us involved in the music industry, this is becoming an increasingly relevant issue. We find ourselves constantly monitoring social media statistics, Spotify and streaming figures, record and ticket sales - not to mention financial insecurity and the constant waves of on-stage highs and post-performance lows. These circumstances can make the music industry a difficult place to navigate. Thankfully, in recent years the conversation about mental health and music has begun to gather steam; several charities and initiatives, such as Help Musicians UK, MIND, CALM, and Samaritans are currently shining a light on these issues and offering practical advice and resources. It is vital to know that professionals are only a phone-call or visit away, and seeking help is always the most important step if you are struggling.

On an everyday level, reading can be a particularly useful tool for musicians. First and foremost, it is a meditative practice, allowing us to clock out of our busy lives and momentarily forget our own problems. And secondly, literature can provide a wealth of inspiration! Here are a few of my favourite books and poetry collections that I pick up when I need them; at home, in the van whilst on tour, and on the long train home from band practice.

Whilst they may often provide a handy guide for how not to handle your music career, autobiographies and musicians’ memoirs can be a fantastic resource to hear people’s first-hand experience of the industry. Reading anecdotes about touring, recording and the dynamics of being in a band can help provide a real sense of solace and comfort. You are not alone in these experiences! My current favourites are Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon exof Sonic Youth, and Sounds Like Me by singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles.

The Emergency Poet.jpg

Poetry can be an endless source of inspiration and is especially useful for lyricists. Reading a piece of poetry can immediately ignite creativity. Getting to grips with how poets craft their work, trying on their turn of phrase, stress patterns, and letting the imagery wash over you is always a rewarding experience! My current favourite collections are Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara, the work of Emily Dickinson and a contemporary anthology called The Emergency Poet by Deborah Alma, which addresses topics from anxiety to grief and ‘diagnoses’ a poem that helps soothe the soul.

Perhaps most obviously, fiction is a lifesaver. Inhabiting the narrative voice of another person in another situation can be exactly what you need in times of difficulty. Short story collections are perfect for those with busy schedules (or short attention spans!) as the concise form allows an idea to be communicated in under a hundred pages in most cases. I love the work of Katherine Mansfield, whose short modernist tales offer a glimpse into the complex inner lives of women in a number of different circumstances, and James Joyce’s Dubliners, a lynchpin of the Irish literary canon and a beautiful glimpse into the lives of ordinary people experiencing moments of epiphany.

I really urge you to find what inspires you and dive into it. There are a number of studies that have proven the links between reading and improved overall wellbeing, and you may surprise yourself with what you discover when picking up a book. I have recently discovered a love for old school science fiction, and H.G Wells’s The Time Machine and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein are fantastic narratives about people dealing with the consequences of their creations, another issue that may prove relevant to artists!



A link with many important resources for individuals seeking advice or help with issues relating to mental health - https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/get-advice/health-wellbeing/mental-health/mental-health