Growing up, my parents always encouraged me to have my nose in a book. We were fortunate enough to have lived in a house where books were plentiful and a library card was a gateway into a new realm of adventures. It is no wonder that a lot of the lessons I have learned over the years came out of bound pages and millions of black-ink words. These are just some of what books have taught me over the years.
Lesson: It’s okay to like doing different things
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Matilda was a character I really connected with instantaneously when I read Roald Dahl’s book for the first time. I remember my fourth-grade teacher giving it to me a day during recess and being completely sucked into this world. I could see myself in Matilda. Although she was a child prodigy and I was just a simple elementary-school student, we both shared a passion for things my friends didn’t care about: books, puzzles, and going to the library. Matilda taught me it was okay to be a little outside of the norm, that spending recess reading instead of playing soccer or playing tag did not make me weird or any less of a child.
Lesson: Not everyone has had the upbringing you did
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Reading this graphic novel really made me see that I should be more grateful for the things I had growing up because they weren’t a given for everybody. Unlike Satrapi and many other children around the world, I have no idea what it means to be hungry or feel thirsty. I have never had to consider leaving my home and family behind to be safe. Or have to hide some behaviours because they could get me in trouble with the government. Reading Persepolis was the turning point when I realized that even though everybody goes through their own problems, there are people in much worse situations out there.
Lesson: Your words matter
Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Anne Frank’s story is one that stayed with me ever since I read the book for class. Learning about the historical facts and studying her specific case was heartbreaking. Numbers are terrifying, but reading Anne’s story in her own words was much more frightening. Back then, I caught myself thinking about how happy she would be if she could ever know how impactful her words were. Anne Frank was a massive inspiration to out my thoughts to paper because they matter! Even when the world is the direst, intolerant place you could think of, words are powerful and can bring about change.
Lesson: Step out of your comfort zone — but be true to yourself
Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson
Morgan Matson’s novel about a girl trying out new things and taking risks during the summer before her first year at university gave me the inspiration to do the same. I read it just before moving to a new school where I didn’t know anyone and it helped me calm down my anxiety. Having always been a homebody who’s afraid to get out of her comfort zone, this was the book I needed at that time. It taught me that we can only grow up if we come out of our cosy, comfortable shells — but in doing so we shouldn’t lose sight of ourselves and change completely.
Lesson: Always step into other people’s shoes before judging them
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird is a much-loved American classic for a reason. One of the most infamous quotes Atticus Finch says in the book really stuck with me, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Although easier said than done, I try to do this every time I feel close to judging somebody without knowing the full picture. In a world where war and conflict seem to always be lurking, trying to see the world from other people’s point of view is incredibly necessary—now more than ever.
Lesson: A small action is better than no action
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
Three years ago I turned vegetarian because of ethical and environmental reasons. Learning about the meat industry’s negative impact on the planet disgusted me, and so I made the decision to never eat meat or fish again. This went against my family’s wishes as they saw my decision as a single drop in the ocean. They told me that I would never see any change in how things are because I was just one consumer out of billions. Nonetheless, I decided to take the step and stick to plant-based foods. I know I haven’t changed the world and that I never will, but I took action against something I saw as problematic and am proud of myself for it.
Lesson: It’s okay to be a homebody at university
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Going to university in a city where the culture around it consists of partying and drinking every day, I was a little scared and anxious, to say the least. I have never been one to participate in those activities and being at a party makes me feel trapped. Being home reading a book or watching some Netflix is much more my style. When I read Fangirl I was dreading September. However, Cath made me feel like I was not the only person feeling like this. Reading about her journey as a first-year English major was a precious experience and it definitely made the transition to higher education smoother and less stress-inducing.
Books were there to teach me how to accept myself and how to grow up emotionally when I needed them the most. They have a very special place in my heart and I will treasure them forever.