When I was little, I read to escape. Even at age 10, I was what you would call “discontent.” If I knew how to drive and had a car, I would high-tail it out of here; if we had more money, I would have beg my parents to send me to camp…forever. Since I didn’t have any of that, I had to be resourceful. I had a library card, the books were free, and they were a means to hide from reality. At the very least, reading was the only way I could muffle the sounds of all the fighting and door slamming that went on in my unhappy home. Stories were my brand of headphones. Stories were also my secret hiding place: I could be physically present, but all I need do was open a book, and I’m transported into a more pleasant world.
When I got older, I read to keep myself out of the trailer park. Okay, I didn’t really grow up in a trailer park, but my dingy tract home was two blocks next to two trailer parks and a morning stroll away from a giant oil refinery. At 5:00 am on the dot, the oil refinery emitted a cloud of black hydrocarbon saturated fumes and my brain cells died a little before my first bowl of Lucky Charms. This wasn’t exactly Blueblood Lane here. So I made the phrase “keeping yourself out of the trailer park” because when I was a teen, those were my exact goals. I wanted to be a better person, a cultured person, an intelligent person, an articulate person, an Austen heroine. Class of a kind was what I was after and God help me, I wanted to be Elizabeth Bennett, not because of the obvious Mr. Darcy romance factor, but because Elizabeth Bennett was a better person than me. I thought that if I read enough books about those types of heroines, I might absorb some of their greatness—I might shape myself into their image and grow up to be like them.
Now, I read more ravenously than before. This is hard to explain, but I feel like I’m trying to find an answer to a question that eludes even me. I don’t know what I’m looking for. All I know is that I’m confused and scared and I can’t stop reading. I go through roughly 3-4 books a week and I’m on the constant lookout for new books. I’m living my life one novel at a time, collecting stories as I go. Intuition tells me all this reading has a purpose. Far be it for me to question my intuition…
Reading makes life beautiful. It makes me more attune to the world around me and more likely to see beauty in the bleakest surroundings and single out redeemable features in even the most unlikable people.
Reading also makes me feel beautiful. When I look in the mirror, I see all the stories that I’ve read in my life etched in my features. My face seems to glow and sometimes I feel almost iridescent…as if all the images and ideas I’ve encountered are illuminating me from within.