My To-Read shelf, my physical to-read shelf, got a little out of control at the end of 2016. I normally like to keep this shelf visually manageable: one bookshelf maybe about 1/2-3/4 full of books from which I can pick the next read based on my mood. As I read through them, there is a sense of accomplishment seeing those spines decrease, and the excitement as I buy one or two more books to replenish the shelf. But last year, there were so many amazing books that caught my attention! And not just newly published, but new to me (looking at you, behemoth that is Michener’s Texas). And then of course there came Christmas. And if you know me, then you know that pretty much most of my Christmas wish-list is made up of books.
So why do I love reading so much? Why is it that in my downtime, that’s mostly all I want to do? Why is it when someone asks me if I have any book recommendations, I can talk for hours?
I love reading because you can go anywhere through books, you can meet the most amazing people in those stories, become more emotionally attached to a historical event when told through the eyes of a character than just reading the facts. And the things you can learn!
The other week I finished reading In the Shadow of the Banyan, the story of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge as told by a seven-year-old girl. And not just any girl, but the daughter of a prince. In college, I studied Cambodia and wrote about post-conflict development using the country as a case study. But the emotional impact I’d felt then was unparalleled when I put myself in Raami’s mind and saw what she saw, felt what she felt. Yes, there were tears. Just read this opening line:
“War entered my childhood world not with the blasts of rockets and bombs but with my father’s footsteps as he walked through the hallway, passing my bedroom toward his.” – Vaddey Ratner, In the Shadow of the Banyan
Books affect me deeply, but reading that opening line I knew this one would just…it would stay with me.
And then there are books for inspiration, those that you return to when you need a little inspiration in life. The first book that comes to mind for me is Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. From the moment I first read this back in high school, I was inspired by Dagny, by her intelligence, determination and strength of will. In the last 15-20 years or so since that first read, I’ve reread Atlas Shrugged a few times. Usually when I am feeling beyond overwhelmed, and it helps. It strengthens my own resolve, my own determination.
I will pretty much read anything – with maybe the exception of horror – and generally I’ll alternate between fiction and non-fiction. It depends upon my mood, the weather (I prefer fiction in the summer, history is good in the fall) and the ratio of fiction to non-fiction books on my to-read shelf. See? There is a method.
I like to continually be learning things or learning more about favorite periods in history. There’s a new book out about our Founding Fathers or Ancient Greece? Yes, pretty much guaranteed that it’s going on my to-read list. My minor in school was Asian Studies, so when I want to learn more about Africa to be better informed when reading current events, for example, I’ll add African history books. When I travel, I will read a book set in the city/country I’m visiting or by a writer from there. Preparing for 2016’s trip to Lisbon, I read Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire and learned so much more than just the history section of my travel guide. It provided such incredible context when visiting the Jerónimos Monastery. And Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast put me in Paris when I was still on the plane bound for CDG airport.
Books change us. They help us see things from a different point of view, learn and grow and address life’s questions that we may otherwise try to ignore or struggle unnecessarily to address ourselves.
I started this post after reading Ratner’s novel, but see? I’ve already written more than I originally anticipated. Once I get talking about books – my favorites, my want to reads, my past reads – I can just keep talking. So I’m going to stop here. And at the risk of starting 2017 with more books than I could possibly read in one year, I’m going to ask: What are some of your favorite books? Which books have stuck with you and which ones do you want to read? Why do you read?
Let me know in the comments! Thankfully there’s a To-Read list on Goodreads so that I can just keep adding and still attempt to keep my physical to-read shelf somewhat manageable.