When I was a little girl, I devoured animal books: Adams’ Watership Down, Sewell’s Black Beauty, Gallico’s Jenny, everything by James Herriot. These books taught me that every creature has a soul. They inspired me to start a “cat patrol” in my neighborhood and feed stray cats. I used to spend my entire allowance on cat food (and more books).
In middle school, a friend dropped the entire Belgariad series on my desk without any explanation. It took me two days to read through it. By the end of day two, I was a fantasy fiction fanatic. I had few friends, but I didn’t care. Books kept me company, and each fantasy world sucked me in completely. I spent every recess with Tanis Half-Elven, Haplo, Aurian, and Taran in my mind.
Later in middle school, I discovered Auel’s Earth’s Children, and I began to see what strong women can do (and to explore my sexuality).
In high school, I finally broke through the language barrier and began to read sincerely in English. My horizons blew up. Works like Bujold’s Shards of Honor, Card’s Speaker for the Dead, and Keyes’ Deadly Relations helped me shape my values and better define who I want to be.
When serving in the army, Harry Potter and other light works allowed me to escape a stifling environment for hours on end, even when I should have been working. (Yes, I got detentions.)
In college, studying for my B.Sc. in computer science, novels like Ahab’s Wife, Heart of Darkness, and Life of Pi allowed me to travel the world in the only way I could afford.
Halfway through college, a business book made me decide that I want to be an entrepreneur. I switched half of my courses to economics and started dreaming about my own publishing house.
Also in college, my then-undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder took a turn for the worse. This time, it was a fan-fiction novel about the strength of the family unit that helped me decide that 1) something was wrong, and 2) I should go to my parents for help. I still think these decisions saved my life.
As a graduate and entrepreneur, I’ve switched my attention to nonfiction books about business, leadership, story structure, and fiction writing. These books have helped me build my knowledge and skills, and they still do.
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Literature has the power to do all that:
- To teach compassion
- To enrich our inner worlds
- To give us worthy role models
- To help shape our values and beliefs
- To grant us escape to other worlds
- To explore lands we cannot physically reach
- To open our minds to new possibilities
- To understand ourselves better
- To build our knowledge
It’s all there.
My own romance with literature is nothing special. Many people could share similar experiences. Why is that?
When we write, we pack magic into each word we etch on the page. When we read, we unlock that magic and let it change us, either marginally or profoundly. We come back from a book as changed people. And so, slowly, one page after another, literature helps shape the future of humankind.
That’s the legacy writers leave behind.