By Rayiah Ross
I am a reader. I’ve always loved books so it’s not uncommon for anyone to see me with one in hand, but I never really noticed how reading has affected my life. I recently came upon a college essay prompt that asked about why banned books are so important, but that got me thinking about why books in general are important. My mom has loved to read and her mom always loved to read, but I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and thought about what it really means to be a reader. To give you a little context I’ve created a timeline of my reading history:
Age 7: I grew out of Goosebumps and Nancy Drew, but I wasn’t quite ready for Harry Potter yet. I picked up the first book from the series and realized that there were way too many big words for me. My dad made me try “choose your own adventure” books but I got to frustrated when the story kept ending in my failure or death.
Age 8: My best friend made me read a series called Sisters Grimm and I realized that girls can make awesome main characters. I didn’t even know Brothers Grimm existed until I was 12, but when I finally got my hand on a copy of the fairy tales book I couldn’t stop myself from indulging. I blame my active imagination on my 3rd grade best friend and her small obsession with Puck. Aside from that, we also shared a poetry book where we would take turn writing poems in a small notebook. I still have it in my room.
Age 10: The Hunger Games came out and I realized that I wasn’t the only person in my school that actually enjoyed reading. I read all of the books as they came out and hopped on the trend of #Peeta vs #Gale. The idea of a dystopian universe was so captivating to me that I wrote my first short story on a raggedy notebook about a universe where cats and dogs actually fell from the sky… Don’t ask me why I thought that was a good plot; it was cute when I was ten.
Age 11: I won a poetry competition and had my poem framed in my schools office. One of the student teachers at my school recognized my name and decided to give me a project. For a whole year, everyday he gave me a different African American to research and write about. I handed in a million different papers and I had to print them all out at the library because my mom hated when I printed from home. I sighted the name Maya Angelou and that name will always mean something to me.
Age 13: My teacher made me download an app called Goodreads and I discovered the fact that my phone was a pathway towards millions of books. Within that year my mother bought me 3 electronic reading devices and all of them were worn and torn as I added more and more books. I learned that I’d rather hold the book in my hand and feel the cover rub against the palm of my skin.
Age 15: I was in my first year of Journalism with a teacher I would have all 4 years of high school. My Honors English course had the class read books like A Catcher in the Rye and A Raisin in the Sun. I gained a newfound appreciation for ambiguous characters, so much so that I learned to become one myself. Holden Caulfield really did make me wonder “where do the ducks go for the winter,” and I was able to find that answer through my writing. I wrote stories that I never thought I’d finish and promised myself that no one would see them. When my friend finally did convince me to show her one, she told me to finish it — and with her help, it’s almost complete.
Age 17: I learned that I am a storyteller. I am now a senior in high school and I’m graduating in June. I am currently editor in chief of my school newspaper and I’m hoping to pursue Journalism and creative writing in college. The book I thought would go nowhere now has over 100,00 words and only a few more chapters left to write. It’s a dystopian novel of course (way better than cats and dogs falling from the sky) and there are ambiguous characters, crazy love triangles, and a plot twist so big you’d wish you could choose your own ending. Our words are poetic and there is heart and soul racing through the body of the story.
Books are important to me because they made me who I am. I believe that writers, in some situations, know us even better than we know ourselves. These experiences that we read about in stories — whether we have actually gone through them or not — we can feel them. A well written story can make your heart race and your head pound. You can feel it in your toes. They can make you cry or laugh or want to fly to a different country and try something new.
My mother says she reads to escape. She lives vicariously through her book characters and puts all of her real world problems aside for a few moments as her eyes scan across the pages.
I read to live. Not vicariously though, just to live. When I read, I feel like I can breath again. Like the world’s grip around me has dissipated and there is nothing else but me and the words written on the page. I feel like those words are written just for me.
What’s that last story that really make you feel like that? Don’t have one? Maybe you should write your own, I’d love to read about it.