A few months ago I met Sarah on Shelfari. After inviting her to join the Fantasy/Science Fiction Book of the Month group, I found out that she is a fellow blogger and a fantastic one at that. Sarah reviews Fantasy and to a lesser degree, Science Fiction on her blog, Bookworm Blues. I asked her to write up a guest post and she agreed, so here it is! I love it and think she is very inspirational.
Make sure you check out her awesome blog. Her reviews are fantastic and she reads some of the best Fantasy books out there!
My husband came home from work one day, his eyes swept over our living room which had, throughout the course of the day, turned into my battleground. I had three piles of books and was dividing my stash into them to best organize my growing bookshelf. I had a gnawed on pen hanging out of my mouth (complete with ink-stained fingers), my hair was sticking up in every direction possible (a halo of horrible). My pajamas had become my conquering armor and a war was being waged; a war of organization. “What the hell are you doing?” he asked me.
“Organizing,” I mumbled, without looking up from my treasures. He looked over my books and whistled.
“Quite a collection,” he replied.
My husband is not a reader. He’s a gamer. I could see the question he’s asked me a hundred times before forming in his eyes. “What exactly does reading do for you?” He wanted to ask. He’s never been able to wrap his mind around my love of books. In fact, not many people can. I’m not just a hobby reader. Sometimes I feel like words are my blood and imagination is what nourishes my spirit. I couldn’t envision a world without books, a world where all devices are those that plug into walls and require batteries.
I grapple with his question. I’ve never been able to answer it. What does reading do for me? What is it that those of us who find solace in words get out of our love of books? Is it just the ability books give us to escape for a time or is it more?
More. It’s so much more.
Several years ago, after I had finished a book that particularly moved me, I had a fit of passion. I slammed my book shut, stared at my husband and said, “I’m doing a book drive.”
“Excuse me?” He replied, pausing his game to study me. “A book drive?”
“Do you realize,” I said, leaning forward, fixing my passion filled gaze on him, “that kids in Africa don’t have books to read? They go to school and learn what a bear is without ever seeing a picture of one. Ridiculous! How can you understand the world if you don’t have a book!?”
So, my darling husband sat back and watched me make flyers to hang all over campus about my Books for Africa drive. I don’t think he was expecting anything to happen with this wild passion that had suddenly sprouted wings within me. A month (and roughly 2,000 books) later, my living room had become taken over with donations from professors, students, neighborhood kids, churches and anyone else I could dream of. It took us about a week to sort and pack all the books and even longer to get enough donated money to ship them all to schools in Africa. It was well worth it.
Reading is so much more than a hobby for me. It’s a way for me to touch the world around me, to savor its flavors, to live someone else’s life and dream someone else’s dreams. Reading is a way to touch and become the divine. It soars me to new heights, challenges my preconceived beliefs and forces me to explore the comfortable and uncomfortable, the dark underbelly of humanity as well as humanity’s delivering angels. How could I not spread this gift of wings to others?
There is something within each of us aching to believe; a yearning that only reading, imagining and exploring can fulfill. For the (insert number of pages here) of a book we stop being ourselves, held fast by our own flaws and beliefs and daily struggles. We become someone else; something else. Books give us liberty to be what we aren’t. We can be the conquering hero or the dark villain. We can understand the improbable and believe the unbelievable. We take the wings the author has carefully crafted and use them to soar, become and explore.
Photo from Ya-Waris Foundation
Somewhere in Africa a child might be seeing his first picture of a bear, or using his first math book to calculate sums, or encountering magic for the first time. Children all over the world might be choosing books over movies. They could be experiencing the amazing power of their imagination while exploring the world through the eyes of a stranger. They might be learning about Mother Teresa or reading about Middle Earth. Regardless of their subject matter, for those precious moments they have learned to suspend judgment, put the world on hold and live fully and completely within themselves, a mindfulness that only books can lend us.
See what I mean about books nourishing the soul?
I read because somewhere inside me is a child aching to believe, explore, understand and become.
I was so interested in this story that I asked Sarah to tell me more her volunteering experience and what books have inspired her to volunteer her time to help people. This is what she wrote to me:
A few years ago I was informed that a friend of mine was impacted by Hurricane Katrina. For five weeks I talked to this family on the phone trying to learn all I could about the situation on the Gulf Coast, trying to help them whatever way I could. For five weeks I basically sat there, watching the news and listening to first hand observations. Then, I had enough of sitting. I bought a plane ticket and moved to the Gulf Coast for seven months of service work that changed my life.
I flew from Utah, part of the industrialized United States, to an area that had been reduced to the status of a third world country. I could literally smell the death as soon as I got off the plane. I saw people living in impossible conditions that I never dreamed were possible in the United States. I saw humanity reduced to its bitter dregs and I saw through first hand experience, how the effort of one person can change the lives of others.
I flew back to Utah so I could get my degree. My time in Mississippi changed me. I read all I could (books like Leaving Microsoft to Change the World and Three Cups of Tea as well as books detailing economic situations in third-world countries and tons of others in that vein). I learned that education can change the world. The impoverished countries, the countries with dictatorships or oppressive governments, the countries that suffer the most strife are also the most uneducated countries in the world. Imagine how much the world would change if people were taught with more than one book! I had this revelation and started my Books for Africa drive where I donated over 2,000 books from universities, schools and neighborhoods to schools in Africa. I sponsored a child in Malawi.
I read a book called Girl Soldier and actually had the honor of meeting the author when she gave a public speech. Through her, I learned about an organization who helps the people in Uganda who had been impacted by their civil war. I contacted them and eventually became the USA coordinator for their organization. During this time I also became the secretary for an anti-genocide network.
I've heard "be the change you wish to see in the world" (which Mahatma Gandhi made famous), and I truly believe the only way the world will ever change is if those of us who believe it needs to change, changes it and that's what I strive to do.