I’ve got a thing for the written word. For things beautifully phrased and well-said. For passionate opinions, and sarcastic quips. For monologues and simple sentences, for words that ask questions and tie-up loose ends, challenge thoughts and comfort hearts.
Growing up I was an under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight reader, and a novel-hidden-in-a-textbook reader. I’m a re-reader and an all-night reader; a never-leave-the-house-without-a-book reader.
And book people are my people. When I meet them it’s with barely suppressed excitement that I pull books from the shelves to share, and there’s a tendency to linger over the rows of titles that line the walls in someone else’s home. Shamefully enough I’ve found myself slipping from reserved to smitten upon hearing “I’ve been reading this book …” from a masculine voice. And my young heart bore a little bruise from loaning my favorite books to a childhood friend, who returned them with a cutting little note about her dislike for those pages I held so dear.
“When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” – Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail
I’m carrying these stories around with me literally and figuratively, so I take my recommendations seriously and accept them reservedly. When a book sweeps the nation, when every first-time reader raves about a new noteworthy title, I have a tendency to be wary, because best-selling stickers have come to mean very little to me. If you’re going to recommend a book, I need to know that you’ve read something good, somewhere along the way. Of course Chips-Ahoy is delicious if you’ve never tasted my mom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies. And pictures of beaches are stunning, but pale in comparison to the taste of an ocean breeze and the feel of the salty sea as it swirls around sandy feet. Swimming pools are entertaining until you’ve climbed granite rocks, jumped into thin air, and had a squeal stolen from your throat as you splash into the intoxicatingly cold water of an alpine lake. Twilight is captivating until you’ve read a three-dimension character navigating a carefully constructed plot.
My bookshelf is a part of me — childhood stories with which I’ve grown, gifts from the people who know me well, sentimental hand-written inscriptions, and hard-earned money well spent. Years of birthdays and Christmas’ unwrapped and shelved to change and challenge me, inspire and comfort me.
There are creased spines on C. S Lewis and pages falling out of Patterson. Trigianni has a pasta stain while Bread & Wine never makes it back to the shelf. A River Runs Through It and Louis L’Amour are next to Jane Austen. Mark Twain frames Fitzgerald, and The Paris Wife keep Hemingway in check. Amore Towels’ wit stands next to Follet’s attention to detail. Churchill and Voskamp change the world, while Tolkien and Gabaldon delve into another, entirely. The Robe shows Francine Rivers how it’s done and Sparks offers a reprieve from the heartbreak of Anne Frank.
And I hope the incredulous look on my face has tempered over the years when people flippantly say, “Oh I dont read.” What a lonely place to know only one story, your own story. To never be reminded that there’s more in us and for us:
“Bad things do happen in the world, like war, natural disasters, disease. But out of those situations always arise stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” – Daryn Kagan
And I think of all that would have been lost in my life, all that magic un-illuminated had there been no words to reveal it. Without books, I never would have learned to look for clues, disappear in a crowd or lose a tail in a mystery. I wouldn’t have felt the flooding relief of knowing you’re not alone, after reading words that made you whisper, ‘me too.’ The standard would have been lower had I not heard tales of heroes, of bravery amidst real fear.
“Since it is likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” – C.S. Lewis
I would have never heard what life was like in the Berlin as Hilter rose to power and or how the life of a young girl and thousands like hers, took a tragic turn after he got there. I’d never have known the triumph of Seabiscuit amidst the hopelessness of the Great Depression. Or understood the fierce frugality of my Grandpa, had I not read the stories of immigrants, of war, of not enough and barely-getting-by. I’d never have known what life was like in 18th century London, or the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and the crucifixion of Christ, the life of a geisha, or the perils of the Oregon trail. I’d never have had a glimpse of a soldier’s life in Iraq, or the factories that prompted an industrial revolution. I get to have breakfast, and beach days, rainy afternoons, and late nights with people around the world and throughout the passage of time because of the written word. And it’s denied to so many, this reading, and unappreciated by even more, these books.
A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one. – George RR Martin
I’ve solved crimes, and ran with Olympians; climbed into magical wardrobes, ridden across the sands of Saudi Arabia, and grieved with heartbroken women I’ve never met. I’ve see life through the eyes of a Roman Centurion, and picked the brain of a brilliant politician. I’ve had my own pride and prejudice exposed through the story of others, and built a tree house with the Robinson family. I’ve learned the devastation of slavery, and what a courtroom feels like when you defend the innocent and triumph over the guilty. I’ve cooked with Shauna and fallen in love with good men, struggled for faith, and gone on adventures all within the bound pages of a book.
Books are where we learn empathy, and compassion, where we learn to observe critically, and deal mercifully. Where we find the words for unspoken thoughts; where we witness the gears of a mind working and whirling, so very different from our own. And to not read is to limit your existence, to not read feels like an injustice to all those who have lived and died, failed and succeeded, loved and lost before us. As if they had nothing to teach us, as if our lives are the only ones that matter, as if today is the rise and fall of eternity.
“What are stories If not the way we remind ourselves that our lives are not the only ones that matter?” – Allison Glock
I’m terribly opinionate, I know — adamant about books I love, vehement against those I dislike. I have a degree in Journalism, a job in publishing and I’ve googled my way through the creation of this online space so I could be even more so. All this is meant to say that I can’t bear for you to miss out on the magic and mystery of the written word. While my list of favorites is always shifting and changing, going back to the old and falling for the new, I’m starting today with a list of books I’ve found myself re-reading over the years. And from there I’ll start sharing what’s on my nightstand each month … You’re welcome.
The Stories I Read:
A River Runs Through it, Norman MacLean
Rules of Civility, Amor Towles
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Bread & Wine, Shauna Niequist
Lucia Lucia, Adriana Trigiani
Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows
1000 Gifts, Ann Voskamp
The Guardian, Nicholas Sparks
The Robe, Lloyd C. Douglas
The Mark of the Lion Trilogy, Francine Rivers
Bird by Bird, Ann Lamont
Candle in the Darkness, Lynn Austin
Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh
The Help, Kathryn Stockett
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
Angel’s and Demons, Dan Brown
Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery
A Time to Kill, John Grisham
Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom
Redeeming Love, Francine Rivers
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
The Paris Wife, Paula McLain
Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fall of Giants, Ken Follett
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
Women’s Murder Club, James Patterson
The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom
O’Mally Series, Dee Henderson
Monuments Men, Robert M. Edsel
The Bakers Daughter, Sara McCoy
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
The Shoemaker’s Wife, Adriana Trigiani
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
Sundays at Tiffanys, James Patterson