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On January 14th, 2002, my father stopped reading to me. Early on, my bibliophile father decided he would never dictate a lesson or give me an answer, but rather that I would learn through literature. Every celebration, every birthday or holiday I was given a book that was read to me at night, my dad’s favorite way of parenting. On my sixth birthday, my father stopped, and told me it was time to go forward on my own. This was the biggest leap of intellectual independence I had ever taken. Partly thrilled and partly terrified of this newfound sovereignty, I came to the obvious conclusion that I was now an adult. Children are read to, adults read for themselves. And since that date I have exercised this adult practice with the same reckless abandonment most children display when given a privilege, any privilege. I become the book; I become a character. I bind myself in the author’s words and emulate the protagonist like a child playing dress-up.
Anne Shirley of Green Gables used “the full scope of her imagination”: determined to become just like this ingenious character, seven-year-old Elizabeth spent the entire summer before second grade constructing a castle in the woods. Fortified with woven twigs and branches, waterproofed with sheets stolen from the linen closet, and made comfortable enough with rolled-up towels for seats, this castle became my summer home. I was a queen, a princess, a knight and a jester all within a hot July week. I slayed a dragon in those woods, I rode in a horse-drawn carriage to a royal ball, I stitched flower crowns and forced them onto my reluctant young brother’s head. But my medieval world ended abruptly when Nancy Drew appeared on my bedside table after I lost a central incisor (my father convinced me that the tooth fairy left novels, not quarters). Nancy was clever, rational. Nancy did not waste her time with castles and fairytales: Nancy delivered swift justice. So second-grade Elizabeth became a detective. Who threw the beer can into the creek across from my house? Was it the elderly man in the blue house? The woman two doors down with six cats? Unfortunately, this elusive mystery was never solved, as all seven books of Narnia arrived at Christmas, and detective Elizabeth began searching household closets for an entrance to the world of talking lions and jovial fauns.
Jump ten years later, and my bookshelves can tell you who I am better than I ever will be able to articulate. My imitations have become slightly less dramatic, but all the more definitive. I am scathingly sarcastic because Sherlock Holmes convinced me that confidence and respect come with cynicism. I wake myself up at ridiculous morning hours to run for miles and miles, because Christopher McDougall discerned the enlightenment that such tenacity brings to so many. I hoard my books because Bradbury showed me how their destruction causes ruin. I try to write down everything I see, because Eugenides created my favorite novel completely out of observations. To say books have shaped me would be a gross oversimplification and understatement, but I think it’s the most accurate description I can find. My readings form my writings, my thoughts, my choices, and my actions. I am made of script and text, and in the mirror I see a person, but in my mind I see a library of myself, constructed of titles, authors, and words.
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