I fake socially-competent really well. I play well with the other kids. I even make friends close enough to call near and dear. But if I’m being honest, the truth is books have always been my best friends.
The stories and words of others have always been with me. Built-in bookshelves lined the walls of my childhood living room. I was never punished with banishment to my bedroom. There were a lot of books there to entertain me, and my parents weren’t stupid. They even wrapped our birthday presents in newsprint and comic strips to further encourage our violent love of books.
And I never thought it was weird. Mom and Dad both read to us all daily. My brothers were equally obsessed and never missed a chance to escape suburban Ohio for adventures across the galaxy. I pretended to read before I could: I curled up in a chair in our living room with a large book propped up on my spindly legs, and I told the story I knew was in the book, flipping pages occasionally to make it really seem like I was reading.
The effect was somewhat ruined by my older brother telling me that I was holding the book upside down, but whatever. That is what older brothers are for, as far as I know.
I can’t imagine my life without books. I am disturbed by homes without bookshelves as the primary decorative feature. I am horrified by people who tell me dismissively, “Oh I don’t really read.”
It wasn’t until I got to graduate school that I realized that the thing I was already doing with my life- rather bossily telling other people what they should be reading all the time- was what I wanted to get paid to do. It pushed me into the political field and then the nonprofit field. All I wanted to do was advocate for literacy. After a number of years wondering how I could take that final step- moving from general advocacy to literacy advocacy full-time- I had to take the plunge and strike out on my own. Working within the DC machine no longer worked for me, and I dragged one cat and a uHaul full of belongings out to the wilderness.
Now, two years later, I’m no longer in a great wilderness, unless you consider Manhattan a wilderness, but I am continuing to stumble my way towards a profession that wraps itself around storytelling and never lets it go. My days are spent playing with fictional characters in my brain, and my nights are spent trying to get them to move coherently from grey matter through my fingertips and onto a screen. I am only sometimes successful.
Reading is so much more than putting black and white marks together on a piece of paper and making them form a story in your brain. The chance to travel, get to know other people and see the way other people live is unparalleled.
I still take it upon myself to shove books into the hands of everyone I know. If I love a story, and I think that you will love it too, I will tell you about. If I like you a lot, and you live near me, you might just head home one night with stowaways in your purse that I’ve stashed when your back was turned. Just ask my friends. It’s a problem.
Putting a really good book in the hands of someone you care about is actually awesome. I love nothing more than talking to my oldest niece about Matilda, which I gave to her for Christmas last year. We both feel an affinity for the little bookworm. How can you not?
I kind of feel like it’s my calling: put as many books in the hands of as many people as is humanly possible. How can you not absolutely adore giving other people the joy of story? It’s so wonderful and fulfilling.
I love the feel of a book in my hands. The weight of paper and ink and history convey so much. There is so much there to discover, both about yourself and about the world. Reading is a building block of communication. I cannot think of a skill or talent more important in the vastly globalized society in which we live.
Some day, I hope to channel this love of literacy, love of reading and love of sharing books into a career move that lets me do it, day in and day out. There can’t possibly be a richer reward than sharing something I love so much with others.
Rachael Berkey is a writer and reader currently living in New York City. In a previous life she got an MA, worked on Capitol Hill and helped run a nonprofit for young women. She has a blog and twitter where she shares her musings on books, Star Wars and whatever TV show she’s currently marathoning. Her days are spent as a minion at My Damn Channel, and her evenings trying to make sense of her first novel. Don’t get her started on her favorite book; she may never stop talking. You can follow her @bookoisseur, or check out her Tumblr. You can also watch her show on YouTube, Drinks with Rachael.
Photo credit: Ben Trivett