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Storm Reyes talks today on StoryCorps about growing up as the hungry daughter of migrant workers, herself working full-time from age eight. She could never have any books; books were too heavy for a family constantly on the move to lug around. Then when she was twelve, the bookmobile came to the fields. . .

"I learned to fight with a knife long before I learned how to ride a bicycle"

when I saw this big vehicle on the side of the road, and it was filled with books, I immediately stepped back. Fortunately when the staff member saw me, kind of waved me in, and said, “These are books, and you can take one home. You have to bring it back in two weeks, but you can take them home and read them.” I’m like, “What’s the catch?” And he explained to me there was no catch. Then he asked me what I was interested in.

And the night before the bookmobile had come, in the camps, there was an elder who was telling us about the day that Mount Rainier blew up, and the devastation from the volcano. So I told the bookmobile person that I was a little nervous about the mountain blowing up. And he said, “You know, the more you know about something, the less you will fear it.”

And then he gave me a book about volcanos.

She also saw a book on dinosaurs, so she took that home, too. "I didn’t just read them, I devoured them. And I came back in two weeks and had more questions. And he gave me more books and that started it. That taught me that hope is not just a word."

Do you have any stories of being liberated by books? I know in the "We Need Diverse Books" campaign, lots of people have stories about the transformative effect of reading a book that featured a person like themselves as a main character, for example. For myself, books just opened up other worlds, made my life of the imagination richer, when I was a child, and as an adult, they've helped me see how much is possible. There are so many more possibilities in life than seems apparent from wherever you're standing. Books help you see farther.


( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 30th, 2014 02:17 pm (UTC)
My mother was a reader, her whole side of the family are all readers. When I was little and we all used to spend more time together, I always had a sense of what books were good based on how a given one would travel from hand to hand over the year. As I got a little older I realized that my father didn't like books. Like I'm sure is the case for many eldest boys, I kind of wanted to be as tough as my dad, but to be loved by my mom. In a cruel way, although I didn't understand it's cruelty until much later, I used reading to give me that toughness and feel close to my mother.

Of course it turns at that my dad couldn't read. I mean, you know he could read at a certainly level, but not in any way that would give him pleasure. Moreover he felt as though he couldn't read.

For my own part it was reading that gave me a place to be safe, to explore, to have wonder, and basically to be me when the circumstances of my childhood became difficult, and when I left home. Not only due to the very nature of reading, but in the sense that I felt that as long as I was reading, I was still being one of my family.
May. 30th, 2014 02:21 pm (UTC)
That's a wonderful story. No wonder your dad didn't like books--I can only imagine how he felt, seeing everyone else enjoying something that was such a struggle for him.

It's great that reading both gave you an escape and also let you feel connected to your family.
May. 30th, 2014 02:51 pm (UTC)
Reading the DSM-IV entry about Panic Disorder might have saved me.
May. 30th, 2014 03:50 pm (UTC)
How old were you when you had the first panic attack? (You've probably said before but I've forgotten.)
May. 30th, 2014 04:02 pm (UTC)
19. I was coming back to my dad's house after visiting the last wayward home for boys. My heart started beating too fast and feeling... strange. I parked in an empty parking lot and walked until the feeling started to subside. There was heat lightning in the sky.

I may not have said it.
May. 30th, 2014 04:08 pm (UTC)
Wow it sounds kind of momentous, with the heat lightning and all--I mean, if it had been me, I probably would have had an oppressive sense of portentousness.
May. 30th, 2014 02:53 pm (UTC)
My older nephew has just gotten over the last barrier to reading and into the land where it's fun. It's an amazing thing to see.
May. 30th, 2014 03:51 pm (UTC)
That's a real joy--and not all kids reach it. What sorts of books does he like?
May. 30th, 2014 04:03 pm (UTC)
So far, a lot of the stuff that is popular for his grade level. Diary of a Wimpy Kid's his current series. He also digs the Ursula Vernon books about the iguana who thinks he's a dragon and goes on adventures.
May. 30th, 2014 04:06 pm (UTC)
Nice. Ursula Vernon's art is really fun.
May. 30th, 2014 04:08 pm (UTC)
And I got to KNOW WHO THAT PERSON IS, which is always fun.
May. 30th, 2014 04:10 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I know only two things about her: she draws really cute honeybadgers, and I used to think her LJ name was Uru-slav, which I thought was like "Euro-Slav," like, someone Slavic. But then I realized it was "Ursula" plus V-for-Vernon. Ohhhhhhhh.
May. 30th, 2014 02:59 pm (UTC)
Books help me define who I am. I read certain books depending on the frame of mind I'm in, and relating to certain characters helps me figure out where I stand at different stages of my life, and how to deal with/figure out situations I'm in or problems I'm having. Certain books have made me realize and uncover things about myself, about things I do and believe, and how I see the world.

Actually - this is kind of goofy - but just a couple days ago, my friend and I were joking about her being a Ravenclaw, and I said I would probably have been a Ravenclaw, too. And she said that she'd actually always thought of me as a Hufflepuff. I got kind of depressed at this - the Hufflepuffs tend to be considered the "lamer" Hogwarts house. But then she found all these awesome things JKR has put out about Hufflepuffs, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was pretty accurate, but about things I'd always thought I'd needed to change about myself. And all of a sudden, those things didn't seem like weaknesses, but rather manifestations of myself that I should embrace and see as strengths to be used differently (things like not really being a leader, and being seen as cute and sweet rather than as outgoing or brave, the fact that I'm not that brave and am rather demure, being more of a pacifist...things I thought I needed to work on and grow out of). So really, it made me accept myself more, and showed me a new direction of growth.
May. 30th, 2014 03:52 pm (UTC)
That is *awesome*. It's so great that you were able to see those characteristics in a new light.

I always thought Hufflepuff got a bum deal, in terms of press and popularity.
May. 30th, 2014 03:03 pm (UTC)
Oh the liberation of books! I don't have much time, so I will just say that 1) Mary Renault's and Mercedes Lackey's fiction about LGBT people were an effective anti venom to the homophobia my parents tried to teach me and 2) when I hit puberty and my parents doubled down on the "act incorrectly and get sexually assaulted" threats/teachings I read a great deal about sexual assault and self-determination in response, which helped so much.

More later I hope….
May. 30th, 2014 03:56 pm (UTC)
I feel so grateful that I had pretty open-minded parents, and so humbled when I think that some folks--like yourself--had to seek that out in the world.

I'm trying to think of anything even a little analogous, and I guess--it's small, but--one thing is when I realized, through books, that lots of cultures practiced co-sleeping. My parents were totally against that, loved their privacy, thought it was important for us to grow up and sleep alone, etc. Finding out that other cultures don't feel that way AT ALL validated my childhood desires and my adult instincts.
May. 30th, 2014 05:54 pm (UTC)
That's a gorgeous example of how books can teach us there's more than one way to live.

(I had a bit more time so I came back.) In fairness to my parents, they encouraged me to read: they just didn't realize that books could liberate me not only from what they wanted to ameliorate for me, like racism and anti-intellectualism, but what they were trying to impart, like fundamentalism and so on.

More on the global liberating power of books: my long-ago review of Guns, Germs, and Steel: http://browngirl.livejournal.com/16555.html

And remind me to find where I wrote about Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes for you.
May. 30th, 2014 03:36 pm (UTC)
Both of my parents are readers so I grew up with books. (Piles and scads and oceans of books. Also cats. I'm probably lucky the cats didn't cause a bookalanche and crush me to death. The cats liked me. They probably would've felt bad about that. There were so many books that once a friend and I even made forts out of them and had a paperback book fight. Much less cold than snowball fights, but the books hurt more when they hit you...)

There's this bit at the beginning of The Woman in the Wall by Patrice Kindl where the main character is describing her father who is of a "retiring disposition" and somehow managed to misplace himself in the Library of Congress. The first time I read that I thought "Oh, hey, that's my dad!" :D (Fun book, that. My favorite Patrice Kindl.)

Meanwhile I was socially inept for various reasons probably not entirely related to growing up with readers for parents. So books were not only a good fort building material, they also provided me with friends when the cats were feeling anti-social. Which is about as liberated as I'm likely to get in this lifetime. Heh.
May. 30th, 2014 03:58 pm (UTC)
Much less cold than snowball fights, but the books hurt more when they hit you… --oww, yeah!

So books were not only a good fort building material, they also provided me with friends when the cats were feeling anti-social. Which is about as liberated as I'm likely to get in this lifetime. Heh.
--It's a good amount of liberation!
May. 30th, 2014 09:31 pm (UTC)
Escape was my main impetus toward books, at least my conscious one. I'm told I craved books from the gitgo, and began reading letters at eighteen months, so maybe it's just a Thing.

I loved reading about people not like me.
May. 31st, 2014 04:17 pm (UTC)
Wow, at 18 months!

Yeah, I wanted books to take me far away--in time, in place, in worlds--just far away.
May. 31st, 2014 04:19 pm (UTC)
In my baby book, it says that I read the word BEER off the side of a truck at eighteen months. Which makes sense, because I cannot remember ever not knowing how to read, though I do remember the frustration of trying to figure out words I didn't know, because the adults would say "Sound it out" but English doesn't really work that way.
May. 31st, 2014 06:02 am (UTC)
I didn't feel very comfortable with being a little kid and I wanted to be somewhere else all the time; books took me there. I did think it was unfair that all the really good books had male protagonists, but I had no trouble identifying with them and not the stupid girls.
May. 31st, 2014 04:19 pm (UTC)
I was lucky in finding a good number of books with good female protagonists, but I was happy to read about boys, too.
May. 31st, 2014 10:14 am (UTC)
Both of my parents are avid readers, and we've had walls of books for as long as I can remember. I'm told that when I was an infant in the playpen and got fussy, I could be calmed by pushing the playpen to where I could lay down and stare up at the spines of the books. As an intensely introverted child always ending up the "new kid" thanks to the military, I found books to be undemanding friends that I could take with me. I was in a grade school where the teachers would read to us in addition to assigning us reading, and since it was San Francisco in the '70s, there was a wonderful diversity to the books I heard and read. I learned a lot about different cultures and my own, and I also started writing thanks to my love of reading. I learned the fundamentals and many of the details of my family religion due to reading, but I also learned where and how my religion and its subculture went wrong. I've been learning the wide diversity of the human race, and I've been learning how important it is to embrace universal human rights and social justice. So it's not overstating it to say that books have shaped my life and my soul.
May. 31st, 2014 04:24 pm (UTC)
Yeah, books as a tool of self-teaching: tremendous. So much awe and admiration for how you've used them to create your self, and make yourself into someone with deep understanding and empathy for people in many different places and situations.

I think I've turned to books for strength sometimes--some of the things I've learned in stories (and nonfiction too, but more from stories) have helped me carry on.
Jun. 5th, 2014 11:48 am (UTC)
I got liberated by riveting books about age 10, an escape I still rely on. The early books were Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's Magic, the Narnia books, The Princess and the Goblin, and The Amazing Vacation.
Jun. 5th, 2014 12:20 pm (UTC)
I know all of those except The Amazing Vacation--which I'm now very curious about!
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