I have been a reader all my life. When I was a kid, I remember sneaking books under the covers with a flashlight after I was supposed to be asleep. In the fifth grade, I remember reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time. We had a few minutes every day for personal reading time, and I was so excited and impatient to get to this activity that I walked around the classroom, announcing dramatically to everyone who would listen the name of the chapter I was about to start, Fog on the Barrow Downs. I remember exactly where I was when I finished the last book in Mercedes Lackey’s Heralds of Valdemar trilogy. I was fourteen, in my bedroom, and I remember finishing the book, taking out my journal, and writing page after page about the book, in purple glitter pen, crying. In my early twenties, I remember staying up all night with two of my dearest friends, taking turns reading aloud to each other the entirety of The Old Man and the Sea. I have a clear memory from just over a year ago, sitting at my kitchen table, so deeply moved and humbled by a scene in Kim Fu’s For Today I Am A Boy that I had to put the book down and walk around the house, taking deep breaths. Books have shaped who I am in deep and abiding ways.
Reading has been such an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember that it is hard for me to conceive of myself without books. Would I still be able to imagine a more just and beautiful world, if I hadn’t fallen in love with Middle-earth, with Hogwarts, with Valdemar, with Pern and Earthsea, when I was a child? What would I understand about courage and kindness, about standing up and being strong and making hard choices, without characters like Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan and Anne Shirley? I do not mean to imply that books have been my only teachers. But as I have gotten older, and as my love of reading has grown even more voracious, I have begun to realize that books have always been what makes me feel the most connected to this breathtaking and bewildering planet. It is not this way for everyone, but it is this way for me. Books—reading them, sharing them, talking about them, thinking about them—bring out the best, truest parts of myself. They incite my anger, my curiosity, my compassion. They draw out my joy and my heartache, they jump-start my imagination, they inspire me and challenge me. Books make me want to be strong and courageous. They make me want to love fiercely. They force me to confront the world as it is, with all of its heartbreaking messy truth. Books are what make me feel the most human.
I want to capture this feeling, this connection to the most human part of myself, and hold on. I want to gobble books, swallow them, imbibe them so absolutely that they become mine, lodged in my bloodstream, wound around my muscles, another organ. I want to devour them, chomp them, eat them up. The ones with sentences so perfect I have to put the book down, reach deep into my lungs, breathe in and out, put my hands flat on the table. The ones that tear what I thought I knew into unrecognizable pieces. The ones that make me weep. The fluffy ones that comfort me, that make me laugh no matter what. The ones that distract and entertain; the ones that teach and deepen. Every last book, I want to take them all and make them mine, because this is how I learn to be a person who can walk through this sometimes-unfathomable world. I am not religious, but reading books is the closest thing I can think of to taking something holy into my body.
Books are not the only way to understand the world, but they are the way I understand it. Without them, I am small. With them, it feels like my capacity for understanding and connection is limitless. Without them I can only see with my own flawed brain. With them I open and open and open; it feels like the expansion will go on forever.
Books open me. I will never know what it’s like to be someone who isn’t me: a white, queer, cisgendered woman from a wealthy background, a writer, a reader, a lover of mountains and ocean, a devout New Englander, an atheist. I see and understand and react to the world with my own specific brain, marked by my unique identity and experience. I don’t presume to think that reading books will allow me to truly understand what it is like to be someone who is not me. But books open me. Stories—fictional and true—are as close as any of us come to inhabiting each other’s skin. Everything I read becomes a part of who I am, lodges somewhere in my brain, shifts my perspective, alters my identity. There is only so far we can ever reach outside of ourselves. Books are what draw me into the world and toward other humans. The more I read—and especially the more different kinds of stories I read—the more my brain and shifts and changes. I read because I love to read. But books open me. Books turn me into a different person. Books allow me to see—and begin to understand—truths that are not mine. Books affect my actions. Books teach me how to be a thoughtful, compassionate, courageous human in this heartbreaking world.
Books open. This is the truest verb I can come up with to describe what happens when I read. Books open me.
So, why blog?
In the months since Trump’s election, I’ve been thinking a lot about resistance and activism, and how to carve time and space in my life for many upcoming (and ongoing) fights. Reading is not an alternative to action, but it is absolutely a part of action. Stories are one of the oldest forms of human communication, and more than anything else, I believe that stories engender empathy and connection. Books open. In the coming years, I want to make sure I stay awake, that I don’t slide into numbness. I want to make sure I’m looking at the world: thinking about it, analyzing it, feeling it. Books help me do that in a big way. Books fuel me.
I have a lot to say about books. I have a lot to say about reading. I am a writer. I draw my strength from words. I am not so naive as to think that writing and reading are going to solve the world’s problems. I am not so naive as to think that the world’s problems can be solved. But I do know that what I have to offer the world is words. This does not let me off the hook. There is work to be done in the world that is physical and tactile, work that involves action, work that exists outside the life of the mind. I am trying to re-learn how to be an activist. I don’t know what that will look like. I know that it must involve words.
As I continue to gobble up all the books I can get my hands on, I want to think critically about what I’m reading. How do I choose the books I read? What books do I have access to? What makes me love or hate a book? How do books affect my life? How do they stay with me? How does my identity shape what I read? How do I use what I learn from books? How do I use reading as a part of my activism, to fight for racial justice, queer and trans rights, immigrant rights? How do books shape the world we live in, the times we live, the fabric of our culture?
This blog is my attempt to wrestle with those questions. It is a way for me to share my unconditional love of books with the rest of the world. This blog is a love letter to books and and also a call to action, not only for myself, but for all of us: how can we, as readers, make sense of and respond to the horrors and injustices that are perpetrated daily in this world?
I’ll be writing about reading spreadsheets and life-changing novels and the intersection of books and politics, about the pure escapist joy of comfort novels, about reading for pleasure and without guilt, about reading as a form of resistance. I’ll be writing about serious books and fluffy books and everything in between. But whatever the topic, I’ll be writing as a feminist and an activist, as a flawed and messy human being trying to find her way toward living a life that refutes oppression in all its forms.