I recently read an article about a librarian who stood outside the Republican National Convention in Cleveland passing out free library books.
His mission? “Make America Read Again.”
His slogan, although not so original, deeply resonated with me.
In the last year, I started “reading again” myself. One could chalk it up to more time since I was no longer a college student, another could chalk it up to boredom and having nothing else to do.
I simply believe I was returning to my roots.
Nose in a Book
Like others across the country, I’m no stranger to bullying. While my public school days are long behind me, I remember what it felt like to hear people whispering about me behind my back, to see people were pointing at me in the hallways and calling me names.
I was picked on for a number of reasons. Some physical, like my flat nose or the way I walked. Other times I was teased because I hadn’t seen the same movies or TV shows as my classmates.
But there was another motive behind my being laughed at and shunned socially.
In elementary school, I hated sports and physical activities (thanks, bad hand-eye coordination). I was also terrible at art, so drawing was out. And elementary school was before my interest in music had developed, so playing musical instruments didn’t appeal to me either.
The only thing that interested me was reading—books, specifically. Books helped me, a painfully shy, quiet, self-conscious kid, explore other worlds and experience things for the first time.
But as much as I loved books, they ultimately couldn’t protect me from the other kids calling me “nerd” and “geek” and “boring.” The literary worlds may have offered me a safe space in between the pages, but in reality, said safe place was nowhere to be found.
Closed Chapters and Heartbreak
Eventually, I couldn’t handle the heat. I became too embarrassed to carry books to school. I stopped asking my parents to place orders from Scholastic, and when the book fair came to my school, I didn’t dare go for fear of anyone seeing me, although my nine-year-old heart was broken.
As with all heartbreak, my heart eventually healed. I moved on to middle school, where I developed new interests and made friends.
Reading and I never actually “broke up.” As my schooling progressed, I still had a higher-than-average reading level, and English was easily my best subject.
But I never fully embraced it again. Over time, I realized I’d become one of those people who read only for school, if that. In fact, it seemed as if most of the people I interacted with had the same view.
Without my love for reading, I was no longer the “nerd” I was in elementary school. I also had friends and I was no longer lonely. More importantly, I was no longer picked on. So my interest in books waned, along with my feelings towards academics.
This later caught up with me when I was in college. The habit of prioritizing other things ahead of my academics proved crippling in my higher education journey.
I didn’t take school seriously and my grades suffered because of it. I also met people who loved to read and had intense discussions about books. Frankly, I was shocked to meet people who actually enjoyed reading for fun.
I graduated from college, but I can’t help thinking I’d have done better in my classes if I didn’t turn my back on my elementary school love.
My Love for Books
I thought my love for books was something that would hurt me, but my indifference actually hurt me more.
If I were talking to my nine-year-old self, I’d tell her to find a balance. I would push her to step outside her comfort zone and make friends and explore other interests, because of course, there’s more to life than having your nose in a book all the time.
But I’d also tell her not to be ashamed of the joy she gets from the stories within the pages, from the plots and tall tales formed by the words, because there’s something powerful in a quiet activity that can show you different worlds and teach you things you never considered.
So I agree with the Cleveland librarian. Let’s “make America read again.” That way, kids will be excited to learn, and they’ll have a valuable tool in their hands that will help them get a great education.