Why books? Part 2

This is the follow up to the previous post, so if you haven’t read it yet, skip on down. I’ll be waiting here when you get back.

To continue:

6. Back a little farther, when I was five or so, my mom reads my sister and I Ozma of Oz as we lay in bed. It’s toward the end of the book, and my mom asks us where we think Ozma is… and I have no idea. It’s obvious that Mom knows, and I’m impressed and confused, and it’s a magical feeling to have no idea where the book is going. I learn that I don’t know everything, and that’s ok.
7. I get Little Women for Christmas the year I am 7. I sink right in and read it and love Jo and Laurie, and am utterly bewildered by Jo’s decision to not marry Laurie and even more baffled by her choice to marry an old man. I learn that people have the ability to make different decisions than I do. (Years later, when I watch the film version, I figure out that Jo didn’t marry an old man, they were the same age-ish, but to my seven year old mind, all professors were old.)
8. In ninth grade English I’m assigned Animal Farm. We have a choice of writing assignments, and I choose the one that no one else went with- the one I’m sure the teacher didn’t really think anyone would choose- to compare Animal Farm to the Communist Manifesto. I dive head first into the assignment and, if I do say so myself, kick butt on the paper. I learn both that there’s a ton of philosophies and viewpoints that I know nothing about, and that I can analyze and write.

9. Also in ninth grade, we read To Kill A Mockingbird. We get a creative writing assignment, and I write from Tom’s point of view in jail. My capacity for empathy increases as I learn that literature can show me everyone’s side.

10. We read the Great Gatsby in eleventh grade. From the moment I open it the prose sucks me in and I’m in love with the words. I read it seven times before we’re supposed to finish it for class. I write a version of Gatsby’s party for an assignment and work for days trying to capture the tone. I learn that books not only contain stories, but also beautiful beautiful words. I also fall head over heels in love with the 1920s.
11. In twelfth grade we’re assigned Native Son over Christmas break. I bring it with me on our vacation to Utah, and it’s a magical reading experience. The themes and connections were almost visual as I read, like threads going from passage to passage, and it’s so cohesive that it’s incredibly hard to figure out what to write a paper about, because it seems like there’s nothing more to be said. (I end up writing about Bigger having Communist tendencies even though he hates Communists- which, combined with experience 8 leads my daddy to tease me for years and years.) I learn how to stretch my thinking and how to see the connections in what I read.

12. My first year of college, I read The Taming of the Shrew for a Shakespeare class. I take my interpretation of the final section in a unconventional direction, and when I get the paper back I discover that other people did the same, but that I’m the only one who pulled it off- and the professor thinks I’m extremely skilled at interpretation. I switch my major from theater to literature.

There’s been tons since then as well, but that’s enough for now. I’ll just finish by saying that if I had to live without Harriet the Spy, Scout, Zooey Glass, Daisy Buchanan, Mina Harker, Claudine, Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin, Serge and Alba, Lance Scott, Phryne Fisher, or any of the other characters who are alive and well in my mind, I would be a far poorer person.

So, I ask again, what books have shaped who you are? What characters can’t you live without?

5 thoughts on “Why books? Part 2

  1. bruce on

    These two posts were so beautifully written that really no replies would do it justice.

  2. Becky on

    What a beautiful post…just a few thoughts that it triggered for me…I finally learned to read…I was a bit late but when I got it I couldn’t stop opening the door to other worlds and peole and places…
    The Carrot Book was the turning point!

    I was amazed how the pictures and humor came together in silly children’s book like, Henry Humperdink NOT HIM! I also learned compassion for others. The book made me so sad for the poor kid not invited to the Birthday party.

    One year I read all the Nancy Drew books. Then my teacher handed me Wuthering Heights…I loved it and from then on was not afraid to read large books. Most are large and woth it.

    Grandpa Ivon put the whole Anne McCaffery series in front of me one summer. I couldn’t stop reading about the Dragons of Pern. Fantasy is fun.

    I was challenged to read the BofM in one month. I have never had something come together so completely and entirely after only ever reading the book in verses or chapters taking years to complete at a time. I discovered cycles and connections through generations. And about God’s love despite our mistakes.

    Little House in the Prarie, Little Women, Where the red fern grows…

    later: Stories of the holocaust, WWII and Jews…Chaim Potok, Corrie Ten Boom, Lois Lowry, Anne Frank. Real things happen that are bad and wrong. People die, people reach in for hope and the inner strength despite all odds. This should never be allowed to happen again.

    So many books…anyway it was fun to think about. Thanks for sharing just so I could start a list of books to place in front of my kids and see what happends.

  3. Kim H. on

    Going to the library was always an exciting experience and I have great memories of the weekly pilgrimage, except for that one day that my mom told me the old men sitting on the bench outside of the main Hayward building were imagining what I looked like with my clothes off (I think she was trying to get me to wear more modest clothes, but it backfired because I figured I would rather not have them imaging anything of the sort and save them the time by wearing less -what was I thinking?).

    Books were a great escape mechanism, they were my means of escaping from the everyday life in Fairview. Not that I really needed to escape from that life, afterall we had talking chickens and our dog was the smartest compassionate bravest dog in the world and there was always a war going on in the backyard with the enemy flying planes overhead looking for our unit so we had to wear camouflage, carry weapons and travel undercover of foliage. But there wasn’t dragons and elves in our yard, and there weren’t blind and deaf girls wandering around and overcoming incredible obstacles, nor grumpy old grandpas to go live with in the alps, and we didn’t have cherry tree views of murdered old women. So, escape was necessary to experience these other worlds when our world became to predictable.

  4. I agree with Bruce about these two posts. It’s really difficult to add to what you’ve written, but you’ve had me thinking about past book (and film) experiences all week. 🙂

  5. Your post is beautiful and eloquent. I have always thought that your true calling was to write. I happen to love all the books that you mentioned as they also had a powerful impact on me growing up. Nothing can affect the human soul as deeply as the written word. Literature has the power to take us beyond our selves to a point where we can understand the essence of the human experience.

Leave a Reply