In 9th grade, I had an Earth Science teacher who told us that “books change lives,” and although I believed him, I didn’t understand what he meant until I was older.
Without my realizing it, books have been changing my life since I started reading. Reading Gary Paulsen as a kid helped instill my resourceful spirit, making me question whether I could survive in a crisis. Reading The Hobbit several, several times helped me look for adventure—or at least push my boundaries—even if I’d rather be a comfortable stay-at-home hobbit.
Since then, I’ve gained perspective and consider things like an author’s purpose and background, characters’ assumptions, and the like. All in all, each book I read helps me broaden and deepen my perspective in life. I believe that because of books, I am a happier person. There is so much I have to compare my life to now, and even though I have not experienced some of the tragedies that happen in books, I have read enough of them to know when I am lucky—and I am very lucky in life.
The inspiration behind this post came to me from a bit of spring—rather, summer—cleaning. I had a matted picture that I’d been meaning to frame for a while. It was a gift from a student I’d taught several years back. The picture shows a man and a woman stooped in a romantic kiss, and the bottom of the picture reads “Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy.” The background of the picture is made of very tiny letters, making up the first several chapters of the novel.
The student who gave me the picture was one I’d had several years earlier. We had read Tess as part of our AP Literature curriculum. On the back of the picture, she’d left a sticky note that says, “I will never look at strawberries the same.”
She’s referring to our discussion of Chapter Five, in which Tess confronts her antagonist, Alec. He offers her a strawberry, and in its own Victorian way, it’s quite a scandalous scene. (In fact, I blogged about it here in 2012, and since then, the blog post has received visitors daily—my most popular post to date!)
While I’m not happy that I have scarred this student’s thoughts about strawberries, I am glad that I impacted her enough that she remembers the novel even years later. My goal in teaching literature is always to encourage students to look at things in different ways and delve deeper into an understanding of meaning.
To me, that’s the magic of books. Like any work of art, the written word forces a writer to focus on certain details and present situations in certain lights. If I asked a roomful of students to write about the first day of school, I’d get a roomful of perspectives. Some would mirror my own experiences, some would differ only slightly, but others would be so removed from my own thoughts that they would force me to reconsider my assumptions.
It seems in today’s world there’s so much misunderstanding, especially when one group seems to be pitted against the next. Might I humbly suggest that books could be the catalyst to open our minds to different ways of thinking and realize the world is not as black and white as we may believe.
More good news about summer reading!
One of my publishers, Barking Rain Press, is having an ebook sale to celebrate summer reading.
To check out BRP’s catalog of excellent books, see http://barkingrainpress.org/, and use code SUMMERDZ.