Hello, and welcome to another Shattering Stigmas guest post! Today, my lovely friend Emma is here to talk about how she became a reader and how that’s part of her identity. Let’s get into her beautiful words!
(P. S. Be sure to check out the masterlist of Shattering Stigmas 4.0 posts so that you don’t miss any content from our five wonderful hosts!)
I grew up with a live oak in my backyard, a gangly giant beast of a tree, tall and unmoving, arching against our house. I spent my entire childhood swinging on a red piece of wood harnessed to its largest branch. I was always an imaginative child, creating elaborate stories and fantasies where I was a singer, or a princess, or a warrior. This tree and its accompanied swing was the perfect vessel for these daydreams, letting me fly through adventures, kicking myself higher and higher as I fell deeper into these imaginations.
Despite my love of stories, I was never a reader as a child. Books were scary, a jumble of words and sounds that rarely made sense to me. Reading wasn’t my strength so it became my enemy. Instead I retreated outside, a character in my own self-written children’s book.
However, everything changed when I was fourteen. I needed to fill a time slot in my schedule so I decided to became a library assistant. I was a girl who hated reading yet was going to be surrounded by books. The irony was not lost on me. At this point, I was a strong reader, meaning I could take in articles in magazines or online forums easily and voraciously. But books still scared me. They were long and intimidating and felt protected by old white man with beards or at least, smart girls in tidy dresses. The librarian of my high school was neither. She was a stylish young woman with a liberal point of view and blunt personality. She was intelligent and strong willed, and I thought the world of her. I wanted her to like me, to see me as a respectable and capable library assistant. I knew this meant I had to read. Looking back, it doesn’t surprise me that a desire to be liked or at least respected was the reason why I finally picked up a book.
One day, I was browsing the shelves when I came upon a green and blue book with a large tree on the cover, reminding me of the tree in my backyard. The cover was mysterious yet already carried a sense of familiarly to me. Like many people, I chose the book based on that cover, and more specifically that tree illustrated upon it. The book was The Magicians by Lev Grossman, a book I immediately fell in love with. I spent the next few days devouring the novel of magic, fantastical lands, and unlikable yet human characters. I would spend lunch tucked away in the back of the cafeteria, ignoring my friends to read. At home, I would sit on my swing, feeling the autumnal breeze color my cheeks, and read until the night or the cold or both forced me to scurry inside. I even met Lev Grossman, at a tiny book festival in my hometown. I fangirled sweetly while he graciously smiled and listened.
I felt like I finally understood the hype about reading. I loved how a book could make me feel understood, so at home, and yet so far away. I loved my interactions with other people who read, like my librarian, where we could gush and trash books and characters for hours, something we would do throughout the rest of my high school years. The book made me feel like a part of a community yet connected to my days sitting alone in my tree, creating worlds.
Sadly, my tree had to be cut down a few years later due to an infection, a parting I cried about for days. However, the section of grass and stump was still incorporating into my reading life years later. I would spend hours stretched across its large stump, a book in hand. While I stopped daydreaming there, it was still a place for stories, a place to escape the world in exchange for others.
While The Magicians made me fall in love with the act of reading, my backyard tree swing made me fall in love with stories.
Thanks so much, Emma! Books have always been a great comfort to me, and I’m glad they could provide that space for you, too. <3
How did you get into reading?