Reading was in my blood long before music was. Just shy of my 1st birthday, my father was teaching my older brother how to read. The tale as I’ve heard it claims I would sneak up to his closed door and sit against it, pressing my ear in to hear what they were doing. When they finished, I would sneak in, steal the books, and try to figure out how to read them myself. I don’t remember anything from that long ago, but knowing how much I adore and look up to my brother to this day, I imagine my desire to read had more to do with wanting to do what he did and be a part of his life than reading itself. Just as well, though: he and my parents both instilled in me a deep love of literature. In the early years, my brother absolutely absorbed books. In the first couple of months of first grade, he’d read the entire Lord of the Rings series; his teacher didn’t know what to do with him. I was lucky to have such an inspiring role model.
Reading has always played an important role in my life. It is something that brought my family together, and friends together. It led me to certain people, communities, and events – and away from others. (Fun fact: in elementary school, I was captain of my school’s “Battle of the Books” team — from which I made lifelong friends with whom I still see when I go home to Ontario! Also, we won the championship almost every year… #dorks) It taught me to approach the world with wide eyes and immense curiosity, and an understanding that most people I encounter have vastly different perceptions of the world, and I could learn from their stories and let them expand my own if I’m open to it.
I realized over the past few years that I’d mostly stopped reading fiction. I guess I’ve gone through phases, always unconsciously. A close friend from my early years at Curtis recently thanked me for bringing poetry into his life. “Me?” I asked. “Poetry?” “Yes,” he responded. “You were ravenous for it. I’d never met someone who loved poetry like you did.” Huh, I thought. I don’t remember ever being obsessed with poetry. And then I started to notice, how effortlessly and significantly poetry permeates my life. Funny how easily we fall into habits, unbeknownst to us. Now I make a more conscious decision to read a poem a day. Recently, I’ve been reading 100+ pages of poetry a day; mainly Mary Oliver, W.B. Yeats, and W.S. Merwin.
Anyways, I’d stopped reading fiction. Over the past few years, I simply didn’t read as much in general (I’m sure we can all relate to the fact that it can be difficult to find & prioritize the time!), and when I did, I was mostly interested in using my limited reading time “productively”: trying to learn about neuroscience, psychology, or keeping up with the Next Big Idea book club. Only recently has fiction come back into my life in a significant way. At first, I found it fascinating to use fiction as a way to experience different perspectives. I searched for books that provided the other perspective on something I have trouble understanding, from politics to social issues to religion and beyond… And ultimately, that’s what fiction can provide us with, right? A window into another world we may not be able to understand on our own; an opportunity to understand another perspective with more depth and richness.
This year, I’ve been lucky to travel a lot for my career, and I’ve thankfully gotten into the habit of reading in every stagnant moment. Whether I’m on a bus, subway, plane, or train, I’ve been passing the time with a book, and between that and keeping my phone in a separate room at bedtime and reading until I fall asleep, I’ve been shocked at how many books I’ve whizzed through. Here’s the stack of books that I’ve read or am currently reading so far in 2019 (it’s a little larger than a normal 3 month period for me, as I also had a performance injury and had some extra unplanned free time in January that I needed to distract myself in!):
First, just a note to say that I treasure every single one of these books and could not recommend them more highly. They are all exquisitely written; 3 of them made me sob an embarrassing amount (remember, I’m reading predominantly on public transit… more than once a stranger has asked me if I was okay…); and they all provoked a great deal of thought. And that’s what art is supposed to do, right? Move us to our very core; shatter our beliefs, rip us out of our comfort zones, make us reconsider how we perceive the things that surround us. I would not consider myself a fast reader, mainly because I read a few pages, get hit hard by something, underline it or write it down, and then sit there thinking about it for 5 minutes before flipping the page. Not so efficient! But that’s part of the process that I enjoy: letting my mind expand, wander, and consider something I never have before. I believe, and I hope, that it makes me a better, more thoughtful, more empathetic and open-minded human being — and a more relatable, more sensitive artist.
This mini book collection runs the gamut and is fairly eclectic. From a novel about the AIDs crisis in Chicago in the 1980s, to police brutality in 2019, to growing up in severe isolation or unfathomable poverty, to the gun crisis we currently face in America and pro-life/pro-choice arguments… not to mention non-fiction books about the science behind joyfulness, how we make decisions, and recounting stories of patients suffering a wide variety of cognitive dysfunction – and poetry so sublimely beautiful I feel as though I’m sitting in a lush field near Blackwater Woods… these books have transported me to such a variety of places, years, and communities in these past couple of months. It’s the cheapest (and perhaps most illuminating) method of travel I can think of.
Fiction is not frivolous, as I may have thought a few years ago. Sure, it can serve as a means of escapism, which is nothing insignificant or less worthy, but it can also be an illuminating educator; an opportunity to experience something, anything, more widely and richly from anywhere in the world. That’s pretty cool, if you ask me.