You Are What You Read, Part II: What Are You Reading For?
Everybody picks the books they read for some reason. They are looking for something out of their reading material that life hasn’t given them. An escape from harsh realities, new insight on a subject that interests them, comfort in times of emotional distress.
My mother, for instance, has had a very stressful job for most of her life. She is a pediatric nurse, and she has spent the bulk of her career surrounded by very sick children; many of them so sick that they were having life-saving (or threatening) surgeries. Her job had caused her untold amounts of emotional distress and though she makes a huge difference in the improvement of these children’s lives, the ones that don’t get better eat away at her.
So is it any surprise that the books my mother reads are often books with happy endings or messages of hope? That the books she enjoys the most are the ones that put a cheerful spin on the ways of the world? I don’t think so. She comes home from a hard day and looks forward to picking up a book where life is good and the people are kind.
My boyfriend, on the other hand, is into nonfiction. He likes to read about science and the way the universe works, planets and constellations and avian aerodynamics and how salamanders live underwater. He is a chef, so after high school, he went to culinary school, eschewing the formal education that he would’ve gotten from going to college. I know that he often laments not getting the knowledge that would’ve come out of college, though I don’t tell them that the hunger he has for mental stimulation is a lot more intense than most people I knew even when I was going for my PhD.
That said, the materials that fill his reading time are, not surprisingly, things that fill his need for challenge, for learning, for understanding the mechanics of the world around him.
My sister is fifteen years old, and I have watched her development as a reader with much interest. She has never been as into reading as the rest of the family (my mother went through books like they were candy and my father is a librarian, for Pete’s sake), but when she gets into a book, shereally gets into it. I guess part of that is just the fervor of the very young, the way they latch onto things they love more as things that define who they are than anything else. But part of it is also that my sister is an extremely sensitive soul with an artistic heart, and loyal almost to a fault. She loves things intensely, with her whole being, and the books she reads are no different.
My sister reads books that open up parts of the world to her that she hasn’t grown into yet. Her pre-pubescent years were taken up with the Twilight books, because they opened up the idea of romance to her for the very first time. She’s really into Ellen Hopkins’s novels in verse, which speak to both the poet inside her and the teenager curious about the darker, more difficult side of life. And right now she’s reading the final installment of The Hunger Games trilogy — what better books to read for a fifteen-year-old struggling to assert herself as an independent woman?
The books that we read say a lot about us; about who we are and who we want to be, as well as what we want from our lives. What books are you into right now, and what do you think they say about you?