I’ve done a lot of reading over the past couple of months.
Not counting the books I’ve read with my son, I’ve finished these books since mid-August…
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie
I loved all of them. Some of them made me laugh, especially Trevor Noah’s book.
Symptoms of Being Human and Sherman Alexie’s book made me cry. A lot.
It’s kind of bizarre and awesome to me when I read a book (fictional or memoir) about people whose experience is totally different than mine on the surface of things, that I relate so deeply to some of the relayed experiences. I’m not Indian or South African or Native American or Chilean or British or gender fluid or a boy/man. I’m not the same age as any of these authors or the characters they created (in the fictional work). My background and culture and history is totally different than all of theirs. And yet…
I could feel Riley Cavanaugh’s anxiety like it was my own when I read Symptoms of Being Human. I’m nearly 25 years removed from high school. And I never faced the kind of social challenges teens today face, let alone the seriousness of the identity crises Riley has to deal with. But I still found myself saying out loud, ‘Yeah, I get this. That was ME…’
I could feel Sherman Alexie’s complex and disconnected pain when he wrote about his relationship with his mother…it’s similar in many ways to my relationship with my mother.
I could feel Mindy Kaling’s and Trevor Noah’s feelings of feeling like an outsider a lot; and feeling like a lot of social life is performance, even though I’ve never been a performer.
From Daughter of Fortune, I could feel Eliza’s feeling of not belonging anywhere and wanting to; of longing for love, even though I’m privileged enough to have never had to go through anything close to that kind of hardship in my life. And I could feel grateful that I didn’t have those same obstacles to finding and living my happy life.
And I could feel the narrator’s terror and helplessness reliving childhood memories and eventual overwhelming gratitude for a real and true friend. I could feel the constant insecurity about being ‘worthy’ and being ‘good.’ Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane was short but haunting. Because I connected.
I think reading is important for me as a writer and a human, not only because it broadens my scope of knowledge of experience and feeling when I read authors and characters who ‘aren’t like me,’ but also…and maybe more importantly…it shows me how universal the human experience can be. Just how fundamentally similar and connected we all are, regardless of culture and background. Humans all long for love and acceptance. Humans all feel fear and anxiety. Humans all want to feel a sense of belonging and security. Humans are all informed by their pasts and at least occasionally live inside memories and analyze their own lives and actions.
Reading makes it easier for me to relate to people who ‘aren’t like me,’ because I inevitably see just how much they ARE like me.