Our Reading Lives

Reading As Survival

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Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime


The election is finally over, but it has not brought the relief I expected. Instead, it has brought anxiety, despair, fear, and grief. It has brought people’s hatred up to the surface and normalized it to an alarming degree. But in the words of Dr. Angelou, “Still I rise.” This is not the time to stay in despair. I remind myself to use that to mobilize and take action.

Reading has always provided an escape for me, a balm. It has comforted me through family members’ illnesses and deaths, through multiple depressions, and much, much more. It has reminded me I am not alone, even when I am nearly convinced that I am. Which is why, now, I am turning to books, conversations about books, and connections over books.

I am reading milk and honey by rupi kaur, a brilliant and beautiful book of poetry, and wanting it to never end and wondering where it’s been all my life. I am reaching for Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to read more about this woman I so greatly admire – RBG, if you’re reading this, please take your vitamins – we need you around for a long time! My soul is nurtured by Lidia Yuknavitch and her anti-memoir The Chronology of Water, a book I have read so many times now, I’ve lost count. I have Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, by Lindy West, on my table – a reminder that this Nasty Woman will not stay quiet. My old tried and true favorite, To Kill a Mockingbird, provides a special kind of comfort as I lose myself in Scout and Boo again. I’ve also dug out the last Harry Potter book, to travel back to Hogwarts and forget about the election for a bit. Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf has made a reappearance, as well.

Eventually, these books will end, and I won’t be able to drown myself in their pages any longer. But I hope the words will sustain me enough until the next day. And the next day. And the next.

After all, isn’t that what art is for?