Matt Haig: How SE Hinton’s The Outsiders helped me twice

Matt Haig
Matt Haig
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AHEAD of Book Week Scotland on 23 November, Matt Haig continues a week-long series of reflections, Thank Books, on the power of literature and the people who deserve thanks for guiding them to it

My Thank Books would go to an American author called SE Hinton. I want to thank her for her book The Outsiders.

I first read it when I was about 12. I think it was the first book I read that felt completely different from the books I’d been made to read at school – or the ones my mother would have approved of. SE Hinton was the first writer who showed me that reading books didn’t necessarily have to be about getting good grades at school, or being a swot or impressing teachers and parents. Books could be as entertaining, life-enhancing, and dangerous as any other art form.

I read The Outsiders when I was going through quite a bad patch moving from a very small school to a much bigger school and struggling to make friends. The book, which is about kids who are outsiders and in their own gang, became a good friend to me. It showed me what books can do and what they can mean.

SE Hinton became crucially important to me again a decade later. I was in my twenties, ill with depression and I couldn’t get a job, I was totally without money and had to move back in with my parents. The only books that I had were the books I had read as a teenager. And, the only book I could only read at that point was The Outsiders because I knew it so well. I had all this chaos going on in my mind and I couldn’t focus on anything, but I could focus on re-reading this familiar story.

By reading it, it reminded me of my younger, healthier self. But it was also a great comfort because it was a proper story with a beginning, middle and end, and when you’re ill with depression you want more than anything to believe in change and in moving on. Her story became a sort of therapy for me. I want to thank books for SE Hinton because I wouldn’t want my life to have been without her.

• Book Week Scotland runs from 23-29 November, with hundreds of free events across the country. You can get involved online too by voting for your favourite quote from books at http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/reading/book-week-scotland/quote or thanking someone from the world of books for what they have brought to your life at http://scottishbooktrust.com/reading/thankbooks.