Each time I go into the living room or come home, I am overwhelmed by the books that are here. It’s like when you go on vacation and you wake up, look out the window, you know that feeling in your heart? When you realize what’s in front of you? The books in my cube are very special because I understand a bit of just how many books aren’t included in this tiny cube. Because they are here, it makes them that much more special. They are the perfect books for me, at this time. Primarily, reading them gives me so much joy. I have that same feeling when I look at my personal library.
Acandysomething who is a book vlogger said it so beautifully in her video: you don’t need to own books to be a reader. She has a much smaller shelf than me. Some of these books have travelled the world with me, truly. Combined, they’ve been to London, all over Korea, South America and all over Canada. They’ve been stored in boxes while I travelled and lived abroad, they’ve been recently accumulated and shipped to Canada and they’ve been accumulated since I’ve been home. Together, they make up what makes me. They represent my history, I’ve taken out a few but the more refined ones are still here. Philosophy and Eastern Philosophy have been a part of me for as long as I can remember. Writing poetry even longer. Most recent topics are Korean, linguistics and Russian Lit.
I began reading books that were interesting to me. Very early on, I didn’t know anyone else who read the types of books I did. When we got book orders in school, my books were always different from everyone else’s. In middle school, my best friend at the time got me into Christopher Pike. We were inseparable during those years. The rest of my school was into R.L. Stine and other books. There were some other Pike readers, but not as many I thought. I simply loved the mysticism that he included in his books. They always had some deeper layer of magic, the kind of magic that lives in secret around us today. The Last Vampire series’ main character is named Sita, after the ancient epic, The Ramayana. This sparked my interest in Eastern Philosophy once I learned The Ramayana was real. I thought it was part of the story Pike invented. That was a life changing book for me, a YA book for a teenage reader. Sadly, those books aren’t part of my own current library. Maybe I’ll get around to replacing them. But until then, I have this one; Indian Philosophy from my Eastern Philosophy course.
So, why do I keep these exact books in my library? Because reading is having a conversation with great authors. The writer took the time to gather their thoughts, reflect, years of refinement and editing then they present them finished or not into a book. Years of changes, various translations, book burning, cultural history, piecing together fragments of tablets or unfinished manuscripts have created the book that rests on my shelf today. I can’t know all that went into creating these books, there is simply too much history; personal and cultural that went into their creation. From the author’s point of view, I can understand barely 3% of it which is from my own history of creating poetry.
Poems are refined, they aren’t written. I think this is why I gravitate towards the classics, they have longer history. Books like Steven Pinker’s are the result of his years of study, which I simply respect. Reading any of these books is my chance to have a conversation and an internal monologue with great writers. It’s profoundly exciting to be a part of that. Conversations with real people are wonderful too. But often, they are repetitive. In the world around us, we tend to talk about the same things. A book is just a more refined conversation. Talking about books gives us something new to talk about, that we may never had the chance to before. And of course, we can arrive at the same conclusion or descend into a similar conversation.
As for reading lists, I’ve have a number of personal experiences, that are universally common to all people in one shape or another. Experiencing the words, “I am”, is wholeheartedly, the most profound moment in my life. Knowing that my thoughts can become aware of the experience of the words, I am. That 100% experience of being present is something I hope for every person to have.
Experiencing that gives me profound confidence in some of my choices. One of those areas of choice is reading. Over the years, I’ve read from a variety of lists that include all the key players, Diary of Anne Frank, Hamlet, Catcher in the Rye, Tom Sawyer, Lolita, Crime & Punishment, Tao Te Ching. I’ve also read a couple books that give me an understanding of underrepresented people and their history, In Search of April Rain Tree, Roots and Funny Boy. I feel like I’ve read enough from the standard ‘must read’ lists. I’m not saying I’ll never read one of the great books from those lists again. I’m saying I don't need to for now.
My reading goals are to reach out towards what I personally need. And it’s ok for me to make that choice, it’s for me to make. Books about underrepresented people are more interesting to me also. Today, if I have a choice between reading Virginia Woolf or Malcolm x, I’ll go with Malcolm X.
I’m aware that I’ll only read a speck of the books I want to. So I want to spend that time with books that relate to my spirit and that aren’t dictated to me by a list. I think these lists are a great starting point. I think their purpose is to lead people towards that moment of I Am. Then they can go on to make their own informed decisions about what to read next. Then their reading journey can become more personal and deeply fulfilling, as it should be.
The reading quest is such a beautiful one. It leads us to such great things. It can also be a very personal experience that reveals more of who you are.