Our Reading Lives

Rediscovering Virginia Woolf

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

I don’t remember the first time I heard of Virginia Woolf, nor do I remember when I decided to read her. I do remember reading A Room of One’s Own sometime in high school and being blown away. I had heard that phrase, that a woman needs “a room of her own,” but never thought about it much. When I read her book, it all made sense; it all came together. Her ideas seemed so simple, so logical — but she was ahead of her time.


I gave up reading Woolf for a while. For close to 15 years, actually, until I had to read her for one of my classes in the MFA program. And what book was it? A Room of One’s Own, of course. Reading it as an adult (rather than a teenager) was striking. I found so much more to marvel at on each page, and realized just how important her book is. The following year, I had to read her collection of essays, Moments of Being. Yes, Room was nonfiction, but her personal essays brought Virginia, the woman, to life. Her descriptions of flowers and memory washed over me, drip drop drip, until I swam through the lines on the page. There was a vividness in these essays that I hadn’t experienced with Room. 

I’ve been…not quite obsessed, but a bit preoccupied with her, ever since. I found a Penguin tote bag in the style of the purple tri-band cover of Room, and had to get it. I read A Writer’s Diary, which is blurbed on the back cover by none other than Sylvia Plath. Though I vaguely recall reading Mrs. Dalloway back in high school, I can’t completely place it, so it sits on my bedside table, along with The Years and Between the ActsI have re-watched the movie The Hours several times, and as someone with a psychology background, often think of her mental health status, what she would be diagnosed with today, and how perhaps medication could have made a difference. Would it have changed her as a writer? We’ll never know. She has joined the women I admire in the literary world, and is slowly becoming one that I turn to when I need inspiration or respite.  At the bookstore, I grab the titles I haven’t read yet, and sit on the floor in the fiction aisle, poring over the chapters and thinking about which ones I will read when I’m done with the ones I have.

Like I’ve written about Plath, as I’ve gotten older, these women have become so much more than the stories of their suicides. I recognize their feminist aspects, admire their perseverance and struggles as women and as writers, and discover nuances of their stories that lie in between their words. Some things do get better with age, and for me, Woolf is one of them.

Does anyone else fall in love with a writer and then binge-read their works, or become similarly fascinated? What are some writers you’ve rediscovered?