Books have always defined me. But more importantly, they gave me a sense of comfort when I needed it most. Some of my earliest memories are of books: my mother’s best friend reading to me during my medical treatments on weekend nights, just before I fell asleep.
In those early years, she read the American Girl doll and the Junie B. Jones series, and when I was in elementary school, we graduated her to read me the Harry Potter series. On those nights, I was not only thrilled by the stories, but even more so by the way she told them, especially when she used different inflections in her voice to reflect each character. His action made me realize that books weren’t just pages of words, but real worlds you could dive into – and escape from. Reading it to me became not only an event that was the absolute highlight of my week during those years, but memories that I would cherish for years to come.
Not only did she cultivate my love for reading and books, but she introduced me to what would become one of the greatest passions of my life: telling meaningful stories.
Before I get to the subject of the books we all collect to shape ourselves, and my personal experiences with them, I have another important detail to reveal to you about this column. This is the first column I’ve written that was directly inspired by someone else’s column I read recently. And that person was one of my journalism teachers, the brilliant Karen List, who I now consider a close friend of mine. I was inspired to write this column by reading one of his most recent columns titled “Our Shelves Tell Our Stories,” which coincidentally was also printed in the Gazette. After reading his column, I was first struck by the veracity of the title alone. And for a few minutes after that I sat at my desk looking at my library, identifying the books I read through the stages of my life and how they made a deep impression on me. It was then that I decided that my view of the subject, that the books we collect shape our ideals and our personalities, would certainly be worth exploring in a later column. Which brings us back to the subject matter.
While books are, and always will be, my first love, my relationship with them hasn’t always been smooth. Mine hasn’t been like the ones reflected in the movies, where the bookish girl discovers her love for reading and perpetually finds her nose in a book from then on. It is true that I have gone through phases in my life where I read books so quickly that I practically inhaled them. However, it is also true that my love for reading was a love that had to be cultivated a lot.
Another fun fact about me, I was one of those kids who held books and recited them out loud as a party trick to trick adults into thinking I could read when I was actually too young to read, but that I had memorized the stories. And when I got to elementary school, I despised reading. Because the amount of reading I’ve done for pleasure has constantly fluctuated, I’ve always subscribed to the philosophy that finding a truly phenomenal book can set you back, no matter how long you haven’t took a book.
For example, after graduating from college last year, I found myself in a rut where I wasn’t particularly interested in picking up a book as an escape from my everyday life. I had had to read so much for school and work for years that the whole premise of reading became synonymous with drudgery. I picked up books during that time, but it took me almost a month to go through them — unlike the two or three days it took me to read a book in high school — and it really bothered me. I feared that I had completely lost my love of reading and, therefore, a piece of myself.
But I think it was honestly because I had to rediscover the types of books that I liked. During this time, I was reading books that I had bought years before, and they didn’t really hold my attention. So, in an attempt to recapture the escape that reading once offered me, I spontaneously joined a virtual book club in hopes of discovering new books and authors that I would enjoy. As a result of that, I can safely say that I fell in love with reading all over again and it felt so good.
I feel like I’m rediscovering a part of myself and my personality.
Now, as I look at my library, I see a myriad of my past and current selves. The Harry Potter and Hunger Games series on the top shelf are the books that fully cemented my love for fiction. Then there are the books that I collected and loved during my undergraduate experience. A book written by a classmate. Poetry collections and my favorite classic novels interspersed with contemporary romance and fantasy novels that consume most of my “fun” reading these days.
These are books that I savored and books that changed my life because they had characters and plots that I deeply resonated with – ones that I passed on to my close friends and family members. family like returned pieces of my soul.
Because they are each a reflection of it.
Gazette columnist Joanna Buoniconti is a freelance writer and editorial intern at INCLUDAS Publishing. She can be reached at [email protected]