Growing up, I had a huge teal green beanbag chair, wedged between my dresser and bed where I would sit inverted, my feet up on my bed and my head low against the side of the dresser, reading. My mom would eventually interrupt me asking me to do SOME thing. It was inevitable so I would often make my escape to the bathroom to read in relative peace. The only time my mom has raised her voice to me was to call me to “stop reading and get out of the bathroom.” At times, she would even ban me from taking a book in there at all, and I had to resort to reading the back of the Kleenex box. I always got the sense that I was reading too much and that has never fully gone away.
I’m not sure where my love of books came from. Neither of my parents are bibliophiles. I am not aware of either set of grandparents being extensive readers. My paternal grandparents’ home did contain an entire wall of books. I never saw any of them being read though, and I assumed they may have been decorative (a regret of my life is that I never got my hands on any of them). But somehow, some way, books have become as vital to me as the air that I breathed.
Novels and fiction were limited, so I read a lot of biographies of famous people. I slayed at Jeopardy – do you know who Francis Marion was? I do and hint: not a girl – because of the biographies I picked up at my very own red brick library in Lincolnton, North Carolina. I loved my library card – it was mine and mine only. I was allowed a trip every two weeks for a total of 4-6 books, even though, the library permitted anyone to check out triple that amount. It was sheer agony trying to make six books stretch that long. To cope, I pored over our set of maroon encyclopedias. I knew everything the encyclopedia had to say on English medieval history. I also learned about different regions of the United States. All of this informed the games that my sister and I played – whether I was Robin Hood fighting the evil Sheriff of Nottingham, or a bank teller in Davenport, Iowa where a farmer was depositing the sale from that year’s corn crop. Reading helped me do it better. I knew what I was talking about because I had found the answer within the pages of a book.
My first novel was Heidi. Then my grandma returned my mother’s set of Reader’s Digest Abridged Classics. My mom gave them to me around my 13th birthday and boy, did they open an entirely new world: Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Jane Eyre – I devoured them! With my introduction to those classics, literature became a great love of my life.
Of course, I majored in English. I considered English and Music, then English and History, then English Education. In the end, it was just English. I read works that expressed differing or even opposing opinions to my own. I was exposed to different experiences. In this environment, I learned fully to think and “not just be mere reflectors of other men’s thoughts” (Ellen White).
What prompts me to inhale books like oxygen? One, my desire to know things. And I can learn and know about things that I could never know if it weren’t for a book. Two, I have become aware of other people’s perspectives, viewpoints, and experiences. You can’t possibly understand the horrors of immigration and the lengths people will go to find a better life if you don’t read something like The Boat People by Sharon Bala (I couldn’t even finish it). Three, the knowledge gained by reading makes me more empathetic, realizing that through it all, we are all fundamentally the same. This leads to my fourth reason: I am more inclined to act and speak responsibly, driven by the understanding gained in the written word. Five, I have lived a hundred lifetimes. And finally, whatever feeling I desire to experience can be elicited from the pages of the right book.
My world is richer, my life more beautiful because of books and the worlds that they create. I will always rather be reading.
til tomorrow, enjoy life
I’m writing for each of the 31 days in October. Catch up on the rest of this series.