When I was younger, I had a vengeful relationship with reading. I loved being read my favorite books before bed, but when it came time for me to read to myself, I lost interest. Additionally, my dad had a rule in place that my siblings and I had to read 100 pages in order to watch an hour of TV. Luckily, 10-year-old girls are very rational beings. Instead of simply reading a book for school or even a magazine (which was allowed), I usually threw a fit and refused to read at all, saving all my TV watching time for when I went to my mom’s house.
I liked being the contrarian, but I also really liked watching my after-school shows, so somewhere along the way I started to actually read a few books. Something magical happened. I realized that reading was almost like watching a TV show in your mind. But my real love for reading came through the discovery of my first true book series. It wasn’t “Harry Potter,” or “Twilight,” or “The Hunger Games”; those would all come later. No, this series was the quintessential telling of what it’s like to be a girl. There was romance, sabotage, gossip, shopping and a whole lot of combatting self-esteem issues. It was thrilling, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
In case you’re some sort of uncultured swine, this fabulous book series was none other than Lisi Harrison’s “The Clique.” I wish I could be less dramatic when I say that this series changed my life, but it did. It introduced me to the wonders of falling in love with characters and traveling alongside them through good times and bad. It also led to my love of writing. I wanted to create my own world that people could escape to when their real lives got boring or sad. Reading is such an integral part of my life now that I can’t even reach the mind of the little girl who threw tantrums about reading a book.
I am now a bonafide reading fanatic. I still find my niche in the sappiest of YA romance novels, but I have learned through the years that it does not really matter what you read. All that matters is that you read something. It’s easy to get caught up in the latest gadgets and technologies of today and let reading fall to the bottom of the “things to do when bored” list. Yet reading is such a personal and emotional activity that has survived throughout history. It is how our ancestors learned and how their ancestors learned before them. It links us with the past; it predicts the future; it brings us to different worlds; it makes people immortal.
My collection of books is something I can never seem to exhaust. I read and re-read my favorites so often that the pages are permanently loved with dog-ears and tears. While ethically I understand that printing books on paper has its environmental downsides, reading, for me, is a total sensory experience. I don’t think I could ever give up a real book for an e-book. I know times are changing, and that investing in an e-reader would save me time, money and ecological footprint size, but somehow those things are lost on me the minute I walk into a bookstore.
Bookstores are magical. I could search for hours and not even realize how much time has passed. Being in them always reminds me of going to Borders with my family as a kid to listen to a story-teller read children’s books. We left the house in our pajamas like the true rebels we were, and we would wander around the ginormous store weaving in and out of shelves displaying thousands of alternate realities. Bookstores quickly became my happy place, the place I could escape to and find the right world for me. Slowly, however, the bookstores near my house started closing. Borders shut down, taking our magical pajamaed evenings with it. My happy places dwindled, leaving only a few remaining solaces.
I can’t help but support the few and mighty independent bookstores that are braving the good fight against technology. These businesses offer culture and community to neighborhoods, spark a love for reading in children (of all ages) and preserve a longstanding history of printed books. If you’re at all sparked by this humble attempt to save the happy place of a little girl in her pajamas, I implore you: take a trip to the local bookstore. If you need more of a sign that it’s time, April 29 is Independent Bookstore Day, and four St. Louis stores— including Left Bank Books in the Central West End—are participating in a day of festivities and giveaways perfect for swaying the opinions of bookstore skeptics.