Books. Beautiful books. Old musty books with yellowed edges and folded down corners. Brand new books with crisp pages and brand new spines that I love to crack open the second I get them in my hands. Words upon words of love, loss, sometimes sex, and rich characters are what, at times, bring me solace. A story can lift you up or tear you down. It can grab at your heartstrings in the worst or best way possible. Sometimes even the heart wrenching, tear inducing stories can do their own part in helping you heal.
The first book that ever made me feel real legitimate emotions that I can remember was To Kill A Mockingbird. Completely cliche, I realize. But there I was, a fifth grader, listening to one of the most wonderful teachers I’ve ever known read it out loud to our entire class. The rich characters, lessons, and the crushing desire to have anyone in my life like Atticus is something that I will never forget.
For the most part however I’m not a reader of great classics or highly philosophical works of literature. I’ll leave that stuff to my husband and other great minds. For me it’s all about escape. In college I devoured Nicolas Sparks books because I was a glutton for punishment; I loved the way they made me cry. Working at a call center left plenty of time for reading when things were quiet. It’s still one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, despite the thirty plus pounds I gained from sitting in an uncomfortable chair and snacking for 12 hours at a time.
Dean Koontz was also an office favorite and his worn out paperbacks made the rounds to all the girls in the office. My first Dean Koontz experience happened while driving from Oklahoma to Colorado in my sister’s car. She had checked out a copy of Seize the Night from her library and we listened in terror while driving along endless fields of nothing in the dark. Christopher Snow remained my number one book crush for years.
Koontz and Sparks were pretty essential reading for me through young adulthood. Apart from awful propaganda driven books on the dangers of rock music and Satanic worship that my mom fed to me, they were my first real foray into good (at least to me) reading. There were also the Christian versions of The Babysitters Club books mixed in there as well. The only Judy Blume book I was given access to was Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret and that book just created more questions for me. Questions that I couldn’t ask my mom. Questions that I, in turn, asked my big sister who would become my go to source for learning all things about growing up, being a woman, and not being a close minded church kid like everyone else in my life at the moment.
Adulthood has brought two gifts to me in the way of literature. And those two gifts are Rainbow Rowell and comic books.
Rainbow what? Rainbow Rowell, my Lord and Savior. Now it may seem odd to dedicate a lengthy section of this piece to one woman, but she’s just that important to me. Rainbow, should you ever happen to read this and feel alarmed I don’t blame you. My incessant tweeting to you in hopes that you’ll give me gold stars barely scratches the surface. Maybe...yeah...just stop reading now before you file the restraining order.
I was standing in your run of the mill discount book store one day when I saw it. I almost hate to admit it, but I’m one of those people who do, at times, judge a book by its cover. If a book has a beautiful cover I will immediately gravitate towards it. And this book...with its mint green beauty, gorgeous illustration of a girl who, if you shaved 100 pounds of her body, could’ve been me, and big pink colors splashing the word “FANGIRL” across it was like a magnet. I immediately picked it up, ran my fingers over the raised print and flipped it over. The recommendation from John Green sold me. There was no decision making to be had. It was mine.
That night I stayed up until three in the morning reading. That was the first time I’d done that since studying in college. I couldn’t wouldn’t didn’t dare to put it down. Have you ever read a book and thought, “This is mine. Someone was thinking of me when they wrote this. It belongs to me.” Exactly that. That’s what happened.
I could discuss with you, at great length, all of my fangirl tendencies. They range from Harry Potter to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and all things Joss Whedon to beautiful British men and filthy fanfiction about a certain detective with a head full of beautiful curls.
FANGIRL. The story of a girl obsessed with a boy wizard and hiding behind writing endless words of fanfiction is my hero. The book. It’s my cozy blanket. It’s my mug of hot tea after a really shitty day. It’s my husband curling his arms around me, being the big spoon, when he climbs into bed with me after a long night of work. It’s hugs from my kids and words of love and adoration. It’s everything.
At the risk of sounding melodramatic, every one of Rainbow’s books have hit a chord with some part of my life. In FANGIRL it was Cath dealing with her issues of abandonment in regards to her mother. It was the social anxiety and resistance to new situations and people. It was finding that person..that one person...my Levi..the one who was made for me. Landline was written for 36 year old me. The working mother with a nurturing, kind husband. It was marriage and the sometimes difficult nature of keeping a marriage together. Every book means something different and beautiful to me.
I wrote a little about my dedication to Rainbow on Facebook a couple years ago, and it went like this (No I didn’t tag her in it. But should she ever see it and decide that this is the life for her I would gladly comply.)
"You guys more than likely know by now that I adore my husband. Along with adoring my husband however I have pretty severe boy crazy tendencies. It's the foundation to any healthy marriage, being able to freely express your appreciation for other people of the opposite (or same really) sex.
My super embarrassing Tumblr proves it. In it you will find pictures of Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan over and over again. However, Rainbow Rowell has been posting magnificent tweets about Daniel Radcliffe today...complete with imaging scenarios where he goes out for a night of karaoke...and that's when I realized that she's my biggest crush of all. I'd walk to the ends of the earth for her if she asked me to. I'd walk til I had nothing left but bloody stumps where my legs & feet used to be, then I would drag my wasted body the rest of the way. I'd do her laundry, wash her feet, babysit her children, then read fanfiction to her in bed while sipping on glasses of wine and eating chocolate."
And now that the idea of letting me get too close to you is a terrifying thought, I move on to the world of discovering comic books for the first time a couple years ago as a 34 year old woman. A world that used to interest, yet terrify me. A world that I still feel a bit too intimidated to truly be a part of, so I rely on Cory to feed my fairly new found addiction.
It all began with an amazing comic book called Saga. I tend to resist things that other people are so sure I’ll love. I think it’s that insecure adolescent buried deep down inside who still wants to hold fast to the idea that she’s completely different from everyone else. I can’t like what you like because then we’ll all be the same. Scout Castoe, an original hipster since conception more than likely.
But Cory wore me down. More like, he annoyed me until I finally caved. I was hooked. While I won’t waste your time with a lengthy synopsis of the magic that is Saga I will tell you to make haste. Run to your nearest comic bookseller or library. If they don’t carry it bonk them over the head and shout, “BUT WHY?” then find yourself a better bookseller or library. Start with the trade paperback of volume 1, read, then feel free to thank me.
While I can barely draw stick figures, I have always been drawn to the visual arts. It was a love that began during my freshman year of college with an arts history class. Slide upon slide in a darkened room accompanied with history lessons on who, what, when and where is how it all began. Even now as an adult I entertain the thought of an art history degree at some point before I die.
What Fiona Staples does in Saga is nothing short of astounding. And Brian K. Vaughn’s writing was perfect for a comic virgin like me. He keeps the reader engaged without giving me a moment to feel bored or distracted, two things that have caused me to abandon many a novel in the past.
It’s a love story. Love between partners, but also love between parents and their offspring. It’s about survival and the lengths that these characters will go to just to keep the people they love safe. It’s about sex, war, tolerance and the impact that literature can have on society. In short, it’s perfect.
And it was my gateway drug. While I’m still learning the ropes and feel intimidated by the male dominated world of comics I can’t wait to discover more. Watching our daughter Faith devour them one after the other brings me so much joy. Elliott, our son, was such a reluctant reader until he discovered comic books and graphic novels. The other day he declared to Cory that he does, in fact, love reading, and we attribute that to nothing more than patience and the wonder of comics.
Don’t be afraid to dive in. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, not just with comic books but all books. Read brave. It’s just two words but two words I’ve been using as my mantra for the past few years. I’ve been reading things that I normally wouldn’t even give a second thought, but opening up my mind to new words has brought stories into my life that I now can’t imagine living without.