When students leave for college, they often bring something to remind them of home like a favorite childhood toy, a photo album, or a souvenir from a family vacation. For me, it was half a dozen of my favorite books stuffed into a backpack, ranging from mandatory novels for school to the stories I cherished as a little kid. Most of the time, they sit cramped on my dorm room shelf, awaiting human touch. More than anything else, they are decorative reminders of memories I hold dear. I don’t do more than occasionally turn their pages, but they are a piece of home.
My childhood memories consist of riding my bike to the library to pick up new books to devour and summer reading challenges. Every time you read 25 books, you won a small prize. It was a brilliant way to encourage kids to pick up a book, but I cherished the reading more than the tangible prize. Lying on the landing of the carpeted stairs of my house with a teetering stack of books at my side, I would read for hours on end—the Harry Potter series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, or even Magic Tree House. As a little kid gifted with the ability to immerse myself in a book, nothing could touch me.
Somewhere along the line, I changed—or maybe the world changed. Though I still fly through books during the summer when I have more spare time, reading for pleasure will probably never again be my first priority. That’s the brilliant thing about being a kid—you have all the time in the world and no real commitments to school or clubs or work or anything. In spite of the sea change my life has undergone in the last ten years, my favorite books made it all the way here to D.C. with me.
A few weeks ago, amidst a particularly stressful time, I grabbed one of my old favorites and began reading: The Book Thief. In the novel, Marcus Zusak writes, “I have hated words, and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.” Though I’ve seen this sentence reproduced onto tote bags, posters, and the like, reading them on the page again struck me. I realized how much that this book, and all the other ones I had loved as a child, made me who I am. The novel’s protagonist Liesel Meminger, an aspiring and ultimately successful young writer, inspired me as a child to produce my own words.
Some kids have very particular goals and dreams. They aspire to become firefighters or veterinarians or astronauts. I was never one of them. Instead, books allowed me into so many imaginary worlds that I didn’t feel a distinct need to think about what my future would be like. Instead of worrying about my career, I was focused on what I became as I immersed myself in the world of a book: a student at Hogwarts, a time traveler, or a Demi-God at Camp Half Blood. My childhood dream was simply to be part of a story, and books gave me that experience.
I still don’t know exactly what I want to do and be when I “grow up,” but I have learned who I am. I am someone whose dreams and ambitions were subconsciously formed by the literature I consumed over the course of my life. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road added a cross-country road trip to my bucket list during my senior year of high school. The Harry Potter series opened my eyes as a ten-year-old to the magic present in everyday life. The Book Thief, which I have read and reread probably a dozen times, inspired me to begin to write.
Being a reader as a child was the biggest contributing factor to my understanding of not only stories themselves, but also myself and the world around me. Reading brought me to writing—to a high school journalism class and to Google Docs filled with personal anecdotes. It brought me to The Voice’s general interest meeting last semester. This love for literature even spread into things like academics and college applications: call me crazy, but I actually liked writing my application essays. In a way, producing them was like producing short stories in the form of personal anecdotes.
Reading has brought me to other forms of storytelling, too, like theater. Though I’m more involved in the behind-the-scenes aspects of shows, all the hard work I pour into productions contributes to the creation of a story onstage. When I build pieces of the set, I create a setting for the story. When I support actors and directors from a stage management role, I help create characters and the story’s overall arc and movement. When I call lights and sound cues, I produce transition moments integral to storytelling.
There are very few things I love more than a good story. Good stories come in many shapes and sizes, and they are not one-size-fits-all. Every book, movie, play, TV show, or even article in a publication like The Voice reaches different audiences and appeals to different groups of people. In the case of the childhood reader, this could be as simple as an interest in sci-fi instead of fantasy. Sifting through the body of work out there is difficult, but it worked for me.
As a kid, I was able to find the stories that fit me best. The lasting effect of these stories is my desire to produce more. Hopefully, my stories can fit someone else and maybe even inspire others to create. I will continue to produce words I love and words I hate, and I can’t wait to share them with the world.