I been a lover of books for as long as I can remember. Although I didn’t grow up in a family of bookworms, my parents took my to the library and kept me well supplied with books. My mother read to me when she could, but she also got me lots of book-and-record sets so I could read along as I listened to stories of Bambi and Cinderella and Black Beauty. And I’m grateful for that because books have expanded my world and given me comfort my whole life.
So, in honor of the Thanksgiving season, I’m sharing some of the reasons I’m so thankful for having a book-filled life.
Growing up on a farm in southwest Virginia, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to see the world. But books let me explore. As a kid, I read lots of books about kids my age living in the city—Judy Blume was a constant—and about kids from the past, like Laura and Mary of the Little House books. Although most of my reading in those days was about white American girls, their lives were different enough from mine that I could see that my way of living wasn’t the only way.
On the flip side, books gave me companions who were a lot like me. I was a socially awkward kid and had a hard time making friends. And those friends I had weren’t right next door. So I spent a lot of time alone. Books kept me company and many of them showed me that I wasn’t alone in finding people difficult to fathom. That has continued right into my adulthood, when I’ve found companions on the page again and again who’ve helped me feel just a little less odd.
Books also have inspired me. Jane Eyre’s declaration that she’s a free human being with an independent will has given me strength more times than I can count. And Anne Lamott’s sassy version of Christianity helped me keep my faith when I was having a hard time seeing a Christianity that was right for me. Meeting such strong and defiant women in books has helped me find my own strength.
I’ve also seen the world through books. Although I’d traveled quite a bit throughout the United States, I hadn’t visited another country until I was in my 30s. I’d not even met many people from outside the U.S. until I was well into adulthood. So I’ve found it tremendously valuable to read about life in other countries, preferably by authors from those countries. It’s not the same as going there, but I still think it has made a difference.
When I’m in pain, books have given me comfort. Christian Wiman’s memoir, My Bright Abyss, helped me feel less alone in my confusion during a dark time. And writers like Georgette Heyer have provided welcome distraction when I most needed it.
And books have sounded a warning note. I read a lot of dark books about disasters befalling humanity, and these have helped me understand that tragedies do happen and gotten me thinking about how I might prevent them or what I might do to cope. Much of my thinking about the political scene this year was informed by books.
So, thank you, to all those books and writers who have expanded my universe, given me comfort, and supported me through the years. I don’t know who I’d be or where I’d be without you.