“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” ~ Cicero
When I was growing up, my dad traveled extensively for work. While I didn’t completely understand why he “always left,” as I said when I was very young, I would get excited when he would bring back presents.
I would revel in the books he would bring back from the many places he traveled, and I eventually came to associate presents with books.
When I was four, my dad came home from a business trip with just a box of chocolates. I was upset that he hadn’t brought back any “presents” this time around.
Books have always been an important part of my life.
My innate obsession with books has only in recent years blossomed into a deep appreciation for the power that literature has to connect us with people, places and ourselves—to nurture relationships and transform lives.
Below are just four of the many ways that books can impact our lives.
1) Building relationships with others.
From when I was a baby through when I was in elementary school, my mom and I read together almost every night, amusing ourselves with Bert and Ernie’s shenanigans in the Sesame Street books and arguing about whether the mouse in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie was a boy or a girl.
Reading with me when I was little was one of my mom’s many ways of expressing her love for me. Through reading together, we bonded.
For example, in elementary school, I discovered the American Girl series, which fueled my fascination with American history. Like many of the other girls my age, my favorite American Girl was Samantha, whose stories took place in Victorian-era New York. As it happened, my mom was also interested in Victorian history at the time. We time-traveled together, looking at photos of Victorian architecture, decorating my room in a Victorian style and even having tea parties like Samantha did.
Reading is a potent method for strengthening bonds between people, whether between a parent and a child, friends or intimate partners.
2) Experiencing other cultures.
My dad introduced me to the vast world of Latin American literature.
Immersing myself in Latin American history through literature has incited in me a desire to travel throughout the region, and even to learn Spanish. To date, I have only explored Brazil and Mexico, but I am excited to bury myself in the lands of some of my favorite Latin American works.
Even if one’s exposure to a different culture is primarily through books, one can still feel a profound connection with it, illustrating literature’s ability to connect us to far-off places.
3) Remembering our interconnection with other living beings.
In college, I was inspired by my sister, an animal rights activist, to try vegetarianism.
Though I was determined to do my part to reduce animal suffering, I failed several times, giving in to my enjoyment of the taste of meat.
I took a psychology course on child development through the lens of literature. We re-read many of the classic children’s books that featured anthropomorphized animals as main characters, including Charlotte’s Web and Make Way for Ducklings. This re-exposure to the portrayals of animals as sentient beings with complex lives and emotions played a major role in my ultimately becoming a full-time vegetarian.
4) Getting to know ourselves better.
One of my favorite genres is memoir.
Memoirists make a choice to be vulnerable, to expose the deepest parts of themselves to the world. In sharing their stories, they force us to dig deep inside ourselves.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from reading memoirs is that we’re not alone. Someone, somewhere is experiencing struggles similar to our own, allowing us to make better sense of the issues we’re dealing with. This has been the case for me as I’ve read memoirs by authors who have had mental health issues and authors who have immigrant parents and attempt to navigate their hyphenated identities.
The memoirs I have read have given me the courage to delve into uncharted territories of myself and to share parts of my own journey with others, as I have started to do through elephant journal.
Books can be more than just forms of entertainment or collections of facts. They can also be mechanisms for cultivating our relationships with ourselves and with the world around us.
If we allow them to, books have the ability to change us and to reveal to us people, places and even parts of ourselves we may not have otherwise discovered. What we do with these new discoveries has the potential to leave a lasting impact on our own evolution and the evolution of all living beings.
Author: Pavita Singh
Editor: Toby Israel