Growing up, I was the kid who would rather be reading a book than doing pretty much anything else, with the exception of playing music. Books were magic. Characters were friends.
I was the rare kid in high school who read every single book that was assigned, plus a few extra. I remember we always had to report on so many pages of additional reading, and while most of my classmates moaned and groaned about this, I didn’t even think twice about it. I knew I’d be able to complete the “assignment” without trying.
In college, I was lucky enough to have a roommate who also loved books, a lot of the same ones I loved and a few new loves she introduced me too.
But then, somehow, into adulthood, the passion began to fade. Maybe it was the demands of teaching and all the time it required. Maybe it was having babies and all the sleeplessness that ensued. I know there was a spiritual leader I admired who made me feel like fiction was a waste of my time and possibly a poison to my spirituality. But then all the non-fiction Christian books started sounding the same. I just couldn’t do it. I stopped reading. And then, without even realizing the connection, I stopped writing too. No more journaling, no more poetry, no more songwriting.
So when I reconnected with a childhood friend and joined her writing group, I found myself so frustrated because I felt like I was choking the words out. They were stiff. They were lifeless. This was not a problem I’d ever had before in my whole life. Writing had always been like breathing, but not anymore.
I was a little slow getting the hint, but it dawned on me one day—words my teachers had said to me, words I had said to my students: If you want to be a good writer, you need to be a good reader.
Last year, I set a goal for myself to read 25 books before the end of the year. It felt embarrassing alongside the lists from friends who were reading 100 books. But it was what I thought I could manage. I made a list and chipped away at it, plus a few extras, and ended the year with 29 books in my brain and a torrent of new words in my heart.
This year, I upped my goal to 50, and I’m well on track to pass that again. And my creativity continues to come alive. Books are my obsession again. If I can’t manage any other creative pursuit because of life’s craziness, I can’t give up reading. It keeps the fire burning until I’m able to write or sing or art journal again. And no one will ever be able to convince me again that fiction is a waste of time.
Stories matter. Far beyond the craft of writing, stories have unlocked empathy and compassion on me. They have given me insight into people and situations. They have given me an outlet when I couldn’t find a way to express what needed to be said. They call me into rest when I would be tempted to push myself too hard. They offer points of connection and relationship. And yes, I’m pretty sure they make me smarter, and I won’t object to that.
So when my six-year old daughter comes to me and says, “Daddy told me you read almost every night before you go to bed. Do you think I could do that too?,” you’d better believe I said, “Yes.” And smiled inside because I’ve been waiting for this day.
Read, people. For the love of all that is wonderful in this world, just read. And tell me in the comments what some of your favorites are; it’s time to start planning my list for next year.
Also, my friend Suzanne is doing a super fun 31 days series on “shelfies”! Check it out and add some books to your list.