And happy fiftieth post! Or is that too self-congratulatory? Put another way: thank you for sticking around for fifty posts, dear readers! You’re totally off the hook now! Go! Be free!
Are you still here? Oh. I guess that means I still need to write something, huh?
Originally this post was going to be about the underlying principles and ethics behind this blog. I’ll still do that at some point, but the internet informed me that it’s National Read a Book Day and that’s just too good to pass up.
You may have gleaned from previous posts that I love reading. Love is, in fact, something of an understatement. I also love red wine and zombie-inspired rock music (No, not the Cranberries). Reading for me is something more fundamental, more necessary than the other things I enjoy. Even more so than writing, although it’s natural to link the two, and one is (in my view) necessarily dependent on the other.
(I don’t understand writers who claim that they don’t read or don’t like to read. I heard that occasionally from my students, which just…utterly baffled me.)
And I don’t mean the way we’re always reading. If you’re like me and near constantly dialed in to the digital world–plausible, given that you’re reading a blog–you read all the time. Sure, you’re also watching cat videos on YouTube or checking MLB standings on Espn.com, but you’re also imbibing the written word, faster than we’ve ever been able to in human history.
But no, that’s not the kind of reading I mean. The kind I mean might also happen in front of a computer screen or a Kindle or an iPad. It might also happen if you’re holding a simple, saddle-stitched literary magazine. Or a commercially released hardback that set you back $30 at Barnes and Noble. Or a library book. The question isn’t what you’re reading or through which medium–it’s how you’re reading, it’s what that experience is like. Because to me, reading at its best fully engages your attention. It’s the reason that, when I was nine or ten years old, when I went from one class to another in school, I would have a book in my hand (and by the way, never bumped into anything or anyone). The reason (the only reason) I ever got in trouble with my teachers was for reading in class. Because I wanted to know what happened next, was so absorbed in the experience of whatever I was reading.
I’ve talked before on the blog about why people read what they read and what it means to have labels, etc. But ultimately, the exciting thing to me is that people read at all, that stories and poems and essays mean to someone else what they mean to me. And as a writer, the possibility of being read, well–that’s just thrilling.
I’m always troubled by the question “what’s your favorite book?” It seems like an incredibly cruel question to ask a bibliophile, first of all, but I also think that that answer would necessarily evolve as you age. Ideally, we grow as readers and different books speak to us as we experience the world, etc. But there are a number of books that have been very important to me and I’ll share a few of them here.
Elementary School: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Matilda by Roald Dahl, Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George, The Giver by Lois Lowry
Middle School: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Diary of Anne Frank, Something Upstairs by Avi, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
High School: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
College: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, Paradise by Toni Morrison, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, Obabakoak by Bernardo Axtaga, If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
Grad School: Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell, Tinkers by Paul Harding, The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell, A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Of course, for every one of those were about ten I would have liked to mention, but then we’d be here all day. The point being, though, that there are so many books in the world to read and love and be moved and inspired by and it is no exaggeration to say I wouldn’t be the same person if I hadn’t read them.
Today, for National Read a Book Day, I’m reading Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. No special reason, other than I love Vonnegut and it was the next book on my list. But I’m excited to see where it takes me.
What are you reading today? Which books have shaped you at different times in your life? If you could recommend one book to a young person, which would it be?