I was a ravenous reader as a kid. I, of course, loved all of the Judy Blume books as a girl who grew up in the 80’s. I think I wore out my copy of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, which not only tackled the mysteries of puberty, but also of spirituality and religion. My parents knew I read books long after my bedtime, taking advantage of the light that spilled into my room from the hallway. But they never seemed to let me in on this knowledge. They instilled in me an appreciation for good bookstores. And they also never said no when I wanted to buy a book, something that I’ve tried to carry on with my own children.
My love for books waned when reading became something that I had to do for school. I felt guilty reading for pleasure when there was so much assigned reading. If you ask my parents, they will blame my 9th grade English teacher, as his class marked my sudden drop in reading. He did seem to like my writing, however, even going so far as to comment, “Not bad, for a girl!” on one of my papers. This sparked one of the many times my parents were tremendous advocates for me in my school years. Many conferences later, this teacher was demoted from teaching advanced English.
All through college, I also avoided reading for pleasure. There was so much reading to do as a scholar! I took my required literature classes, actually enjoying many of the assigned books, but read very little fiction otherwise. The most notable optional read during those years was Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lape, which helped me transition to a vegetarian lifestyle.
But it wasn’t until my 30’s that I really started reading again. I guess all of those years of college and graduate school reading had to be purged from my system. Even now, though, I tend to gravitate toward books that are opportunities for learning. Whether it’s by an author with a different background than me, an autobiography, or commentary on social justice, most of my reading is either socially significant or non-fiction.
I do appreciate some fiction, however. One of my favorite authors is Barbara Kingsolver, who often writes stories that push for social and environmental justice. Her book, The Poisonwood Bible, about a Christian missionary family, moved me to tears. It is among my favorite books of all time. I also loved her non-fiction book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, chronicling her family’s year-long quest to produce all of their own food. Her story inspired me to keep a flock of chickens! And every now and then, I enjoy a good John Grisham novel.
After the 2016 election, I found an intensified need to become more well read. I wanted to fill in the blanks of my literary education. My first book? The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. The story of a takeover of America by fundamentalist Christians is practically tangible in these times. I’ve read several of her other novels now as well. My next was 1984 by George Orwell, showing the flaws of a government who constantly changes the narrative and gaslights its citizens. Also fairly realistic. I also read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee for the first time. Another great novel with lessons to learn about racial discrimination and social justice.
I continue to be a consumer of books that challenge me. Sometimes I will find the need to read a book immediately, and thus seek the title in a local bookstore or online, but I do love bargain book hunting and gathering. This most often occurs at the local thrift stores where I scour the racks for one dollar paperbacks. Living in a college town, sometimes students dump their textbooks there rather than sell them back. I’ve found some really interesting titles this way! I’m also a fan of the big Second and Charles used/new bookstore in town. It’s been a pretty reliable source for coveted titles.
My most recent thrifting adventure led me to two books I would never buy at a traditional bookstore. I found both Omarosa’s book and John Bolton’s books about their time in 45’s White House. These will be revealing, for sure!
I’m also buying up good copies of frequently banned books. If (and likely when) things in my county begin to get bad as far as banning books is concerned, I will help supply a library of frequently banned titles.
At one time, I organized my books by the color of the spine. I mean, aren’t design magazines with libraries decorated like this fabulous? But as my collection grew, this became extremely impractical. So now, my books are categorized by type, then alphabetically by author. Yeah. Kind of like a real library. I’ve also got stacks of books on the floor waiting for a new home. And each of my daughters have their own little libraries in their rooms.
Do I have way more books than I need? Eh. That depends on who you ask. (Don’t ask my husband!) Do I want to keep all of them? Absolutely. Because I will find the time to read them all one day. I do know that I will forever be a scholar, and I truly appreciate the power of a book to change the world.
I think one of the most fundamental ways to effect change in your life on a spiritual level is to read a book that opens your mind to new ideas and world views. If you can’t afford to travel and experience a culture different from yours, the next best thing is to read a book about it.
What just finished:
Read Until You Understand by Farah Jasmine Griffin
A college professor’s study of Black life and literature, organized by theme. I’ve found it very insightful. Part autobiographical, the author carefully intertwines stories of her personal life experiences to significant pieces of literature written by Black authors. Published late 2021 and checked out from my local library. It was a featured new release.
What will I read next? Maybe one of my recent finds by Roxanne Gay in honor of Women’s Month.
Are you reading anything great right now? Have you ever read a book that changed your world? I’d love to hear about it!
As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.
6 thoughts on “For the Love of Books”
I am a voracious reader too and enjoyed many of the books you list here, especially The Poisonwood Bible. Another 3 favourite books of mine are Do not Say we have nothing (Madeleine Thien), A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving), and What’s so Amazing About Grace (Philip Yancey). But there are so many more that I have loved ….
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My brother’s favorite book is A Prayer for Owen Meany. He gifted a copy to me, and I found it difficult to get into. Perhaps I need to give it another try! Thanks for these suggestions. I’ll definitely have to put them on my list to collect!
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I love to read also. I particularly like audio books, so I can read while driving. Great for trips, so everyone in the car can read together, and discuss. I particularly like audio books read by the author. My two favorites are The Horse Boy and Angela’s Ashes.
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I read Angela’s Ashes long ago!
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Oh I agree with the A Prayer for Owen Meany mentioned above… I can’t articulate why I loved that book so much. But I think if it didn’t strike you, it just didn’t!
Thank you for reminding me about Barbara Kingsolver. She’s one of those precious few authors whose entire catalogue is good. I’m pretty sure they all range from great to excellent (as opposed to books in general which range from bad to good).
I loved Roxane Gay’s “Bad Feminist” – highly recommend.
Two books that changed my world were “The Sun Does Shine” and “Just Mercy”. The former is a memoir of someone wrongfully incarcerated for decades, and the latter is a book by a lawyer who fights to free the wrongfully imprisoned (including the author of the first book). Both shook my world. I had no idea the scope of wrongful imprisonment… it’s just not one person here or there, it’s a real epidemic. Both books are absolutely riveting and gripping reads.
“Not bad, for a girl!” – OMFG.
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I’m going to have to revisit A Prayer for Owen Meany, then.
Barbara Kingsolver will forever be a favorite!
Bad Feminist is in my collection, and I’ve read it! I picked up another book of hers: An Untamed State.
I’ve read Just Mercy. I’ll have to look up the other suggestion. Yes, wrongful imprisonment is definitely a problem here. And the for-profit jail system along with the war on drugs doesn’t help matters at all.
And, yes, my English teacher was a real treat.
Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!
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