I was a young girl who answered to a name you are not familiar with. It is a name I am proud of but not one meant for public consumption. At least not yet.
I was quiet. My voice frightened me. I didn’t quite know how to use it. So I suppressed it and let others speak for me. Fight for me. Defend me. Meanwhile, I could be found face down in a book.
Little Golden Books were a gateway into Dr. Suess and Shel Silverstein as a beginning reader. In elementary school, I was introduced to Ramona the Pest. And The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High followed me into middle school. Little Women showed me I could read an expansive family saga and enjoy every minute of it.
But it wasn’t until I read Mildred Taylor’s Roll Of Thunder, Hear My Cry that I realized stories existed with characters that looked like me, sharing experiences that resonated on a deeper level.
During high school I found my two great literary loves: James Baldwin and Jane Austen. They couldn’t be more different. Yet their writings abide by a truth that I absorbed like one absorbs religion.
The college years brought on an air of self-importance and feigned independence (I was still living at home). I read and re-read Camus. I thought I was cool. But I didn’t fully grasp his haunting realism until years later.
Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, and Octavia Butler humbled me. And for that I am eternally grateful.
There were some lean years. In graduate school, my head was in science textbooks. At my side, an assortment of highlighters. Reading for fun became a foreign concept.
Or maybe not so foreign.
Actually, it’s like riding a bike.
I embarked on a career, got married, had children-became completely immersed in my adulting life. But even with everything going on, the demands and spinning plates, my love for reading never died.
Once reignited, I managed to fit reading in whenever I could. Establishing a habit of always having at least one book with me, at all times. This practice has saved me from boredom and oftentimes, awkward interactions.
Along the way, I’ve read amazing titles, stories that will reside in my heart, always. I’ve also struggled through some duds and wondered why I even bothered. But perhaps those duds served a purpose I have yet to unearth.
I’ve learned that although my devotion to Baldwin and Austen is unwavering, my heart has room for others. E.M. Forester and Vita Sackville-West. Carson McCullers and Shirley Jackson. bell hooks and Roxane Gay. Helen Oyeyemi and Jason Reynolds. Ann Patchett and Kevin Wilson. Sigrid Nunez and Zadie Smith.
Over the years, reading has given me so much. The chance to escape and be entertained. To learn and to grow. It has strengthened my emotional acuity and enhanced my worldview. And although reading is not solely responsible for me eventually finding my voice (a multitude of life experiences, both good and bad, also have had a hand,) it has definitely played a major role.
I truly believe I am a better version of myself because of reading.
So I will use my voice and dedicate myself to the promotion of literature and literary discussion. And who knows? Perhaps, one day, I’ll write a novel of my own. Wouldn’t that be cool?
I would like to thank you all for following my blog and I hope that you will continue to. I appreciate your support, and I would love to engage more with you on this platform as I enter my third year on wordpress.
How has reading impacted your life? What novels do you return to time and time again?
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