I so enjoyed seeing the online love given to author Zora Neale Hurston on her 123rd birthday the other day. Google honored her with a Google Doodle, she was a trending topic on Twitter and I saw countless tributes to her in my Facebook and Instagram feeds. In world of “the shorter the better” communication strategies, it was nice to see that a gifted long-form storyteller was getting her just due.
Hearing different people talk about how Hurston’s work impacted their lives reminded me about how special reading is. Being a good reader can be a life-changing skill, especially for children. Imagine a child growing up in a poverty-stricken, under-resourced place where “success” is defined as simply surviving to see another day. Now imagine that same child escaping their immediate surroundings every single day in worlds created by Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Charles Dickens, Octavia Butler, Mark Twain, etc. These beautifully told stories of tragedy, humor, triumph and mysticism just might be the catalyst to that child thinking outside of what is being presented to him/her as “making it.”
Whether that child is in a crime-ridden neighborhood in an American city or living in a hut in a remote fishing village in the Philippines, books might be a saving grace or at the very least a welcome temporary escape from the more unpleasant realities of everyday life. Books force you to be creative. They force you to visualize the people and environments the author describes and once the brain is on that creative trajectory, there’s no telling where it will land.
As a child growing up in Detroit, I was completely immersed in my book collection. I didn’t have much first-hand experience with anything outside of southeast Michigan (and Canada) back then, but thanks to authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mildred D. Taylor and Gustave Flaubert, I felt like I knew a little something about rich white folks on Long Island in the 1920s, courageous black people in the sharecropping South and scandalous adulterers in France in the 1800s. Not only did I welcome the momentary (well, hours per day) respite from my everyday life, but being able to identify with the stories of people so demographically different than myself, helped me to be more genuinely curious than afraid of encountering people of other races/ethnicities/cultures. That is one of the biggest life lessons I’ve gotten from being an avid reader.
What’s your reader lover story? What has reading brought to your life?