The Stories We Carry

The Stories We Carry

Posted: February 13, 2021

I feel like you can learn a lot about a person if you know their favorite books. Not the books that you tell other people to impress them and let them know you paid attention in English class. But the ones that made you feel less lonely when you were in a dark space. The stories that were so good they made you believe magic was real for a little while. The books that you’ve moved out of the donation pile countless times because it hurt too much to part with them. The dog-eared, bent-spine, discolored pages of a book that took you on a journey and has come along for yours.

One year for my birthday I asked my friends to give me a copy of their top book. Even the ones who weren’t “readers”. And they all came up with something. I got everything from Hop on Pop to The Good Earth, and made it a point to go back and discuss their picks once I’d completed them. All of them lit up in a similar way, excited to share how the book made them feel, what place in life they were when they read it, and how it changed them, or said something that they didn’t have the words for until that moment.

photo of bonfire
"The reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest (people) of the past centuries." – Descartes

It’s about connections- these favorite books reflected their people because something about the story had connected to them in a tangible way. Whether it was remembering the feeling of safety they had as they were read a children’s book, or identifying with the struggles of an oppressed people. I feel like sharing a good book brings us back to a more tribal time, when communities would gather around a fire to swap stories when it was dark and anything was possible, and to be a good storyteller was to own the night. I knew my friends a little better after reading their picks, and even though there was no campfire, there was a new connection.

Pictured here are my treasures. These are the ones that have stayed with me over the years. You’ll notice that they’re almost all YA lit, with Ella Enchanted remaining at the top. I mostly read more “adult” books now, but the ones I cherish the most are the ones that first made me see the power of a good story. I think it’s important to let people know that they don’t have to study the classics to be a reader. The important thing is valuing the connection you feel from author to reader, and then person to person.

books laid out in a circle
Prince Charmont is still the standard by which I measure all romantic counterparts and I’m not sorry.

There’s this saying that there aren’t any original thoughts anymore, but I think that’s sort of beautiful. We’re sharing the same emotional highs and lows that humans have felt for hundreds of years, and there’s comradery in that. It’s why certain books that so deeply explore this universal theme of the human condition become classics. Even though the thoughts may not be original, they can be presented in ever-evolving, fresh ways. You may have been told the story of Cinderella countless times, but when one retelling hits just the right way, suddenly an universal tale feels personal. And a children’s book becomes one of the stories you carry.

If you have the time, I’d happily recommend asking those closest to you what their favorite books are, even if you’re the designated reader of the group. You might just see how much common ground our overlapping lives truly have.

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