Let’s admit it. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, many of us probably have our heads crammed with travel schedules, grocery lists, and, if you’re anything like me, bullet points for some political debates (love you and looking at you, Dad). But none of these things are what the holiday is REALLY about, are they? It’s so easy to get caught up in all of the hustle and bustle that we forget to pause, reflect on, and show appreciation for all that we actually have to be grateful for.
While I’ve been a voracious reader for as long as I can remember, I’ve never really stopped and considered the personal debt I owe to books and reading. I’ve come to consider the act of reading as not only a favored pastime, but rather a necessity in my life. Reading is my source of both self-care and entertainment, my window into other worlds and experiences, my mirror for my own life, and my way of educating myself on topics I’m ignorant about. Without books, my life would feel gray and dull, and I am forever grateful that I was raised in a time and place (and skin color) where I had easy access to books and reading.
In the spirit of celebrating my thanks for books and reading, I’m sharing the 5 books that I am personally most grateful for. Each of these reads is special to me for one reason or another, and all of them have had a huge influence over me in various seasons of my life. Have you read any of these? Do you have a book that you feel especially grateful for? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
1)Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – I first read this book while I was in high school, and have reread it several times since. Reading about the horrors that Jane endures and ultimately overcomes really helped me through some dark times I was going through (think that first really awful heartbreak you endure in your teens, only to be deepened when a friend goes to the prom with the ex who broke said heart). I’m forever indebted to this novel for showing teenaged me that there’s no heartache a woman can’t recover from…even if the guy you like is literally keeping his “lunatic” wife locked in the attic.
2) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling- While the entire Harry Potter series deserves a gratitude shout-out, I chose the novel that started it all for this post. This book taught me, among other things, that you don’t need to be grown to be brave, that doing the right thing isn’t always easy but IS always worth it, and that it’s cool (and necessary) for girls to be smart. On a larger scale, I’m grateful that this book and subsequent series taught a whole generation of readers to be more empathetic towards those who are different, as well distrusting and disobedient of leaders who put themselves before the greater good, no matter how powerful they are.
3) Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer- I read this nonfiction title that laces investigative reporting about the meat industry with personal memoirs from Foer’s life as a requirement for my capstone course in my senior year of college. When I opened to page one, I was a firm vegetarian. By the final page…full blown vegan. Even though this book directly influenced the diet that I’ve chosen for myself, for both health and moral reasons, it’s an unexpected underlying message it shares that has made me forever indebted to it. At one point in the book, he shares a story of his grandmother who, as a young Jewish girl, survived World War II by running from the Germans and living off the land. When a farmer offers her a piece of meat out of pity, she refuses it, even though she is starving. When Foer presses his grandmother about her refusal to eat the food (the meat was pork, and therefore not kosher), even to save her own life, she responds with, “If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.” That quote has resonated deeply within my heart since I first read it, and I’ll always think of it when I need a reminder to have faith in my own beliefs and stand by them, even when they’re challenged by others.
4) White Teeth by Zadie Smith- This book also crossed my path on a college syllabus, but I am so happy that it was required reading for my Contemporary Fiction class all those years ago. I’m grateful to this one simply for being one of my favorites. Smith’s writing is so vivid, fresh, blunt, and at times heartbreaking, this book has yet to get old for me. I know I can always turn to it to pull me out of a reading funk or inspire a piece of my own fiction writing.
5)Jazz by Toni Morrison- Much like White Teeth, this book made the list because it’s both a personal favorite, and a book that had a massive influence on my life. Reading Jazz for the first time in high school was an experience that solidified my conviction that my life would be built around books and writing. I’ll never forget how awestruck and delighted I was by Morrison’s storytelling, how her narrative style transformed her novel into a piece of jazz music in it’s own right. I can still hear my own inner voice repeating, “I want to do that, I want to do that,” over and over again as I marveled over each perfect paragraph. Even though I’ll never measure up to Morrison herself, I’ll always be grateful to this book (along with her many others) for awakening my own love of studying and writing fiction.