Book Riot recently published a piece describing the experience of reading the Right Book at the Right Time. Writer Kat Howard (@KatWithSword) goes on to describe how this means engaging with difficult texts at times when you are ready for them and similarly indulging in lighter texts when also seemingly necessary. I can think of several important times when I did this successfully and felt a need of mine met in a way I am still to this day very grateful for.
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison – I’ve never met a person who read this book and didn’t like it. I was fortunate enough to read this in both my senior year of high school as well as my senior year of college. In my senior year of high school, I was beginning to learn about the privileges I benefitted from as a result of my race and why I needed to be made constantly reflective and conscious of them. Similarly, at the end of college, I gained a deeper enduring understand of what my privilege will mean in the world at large and apart from my bubbles of where I grew up or where I went to college. The importance I ascribe to re-reading will be left for another time, but suffice it to say I find it essential to return to texts and experience them over and over again in different stages of life. This book is the perfect fit for this exercise.
- 11/22/63 by Stephen King – This was a book I read right after making a major location change in my life. It’s not a book I would typically pick up as I always maintained that Stephen King was just not for me. However, I was feeling sad having to leave a book club community that nurtured me during my time in my former home, and this was their next pick; I read it to feel connected one last time. At 880 pages, it was literally a long and difficult journey; the story itself, however, was even more devastating. You cannot take a reader on a journey like this and not have them come out the other side a little bit changed. I’d guess the significant loss of community in my own life made this book that much more powerful.
- Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn – The same book club I mentioned above was reading this the first time I joined. I’ve mentioned before how this book began my post-college journey into reading non-fiction for fun. Beginning that new life after college wasn’t easy (does anyone transition to Real Life seamlessly?). This book contained information on some astonishingly cruel and urgent problems for women in other countries, so while a challenging topic to read about, it gave me incredible perspective and was very important at that time period.
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – I read this book in college in a Modern American Literature course. This book is considered essential reading for any lit major, yet reading through the lens of a pedophile is by no means an easy task. I try hard to avoid being narrow-minded and fully believe in reading controversial texts. This, nevertheless, needed to be a requirement for me or else I never would have read it. This book will forever change my experience with reading literature in the canon, and I could never have read it in any other context aside from a college course.
- The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan – To end on a happier note, this book was a blessing to me in my first year teaching. I’d always appreciated YA books, but this was a book that began a series that created an experience very similar to reading Harry Potter for the first time. I was content seeing this as “professional development” cuz hey – it’s for the kids! But really, it gave me an escape during a tough time, and I still view this as one of the most important books I’ve ever read. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart also fits this criteria and time frame in my life.
Books are not always therapeutic; I often read for fun, information, relaxation, or again to find some community. But if and when they have some occasional, grander influences, I will continue to be grateful for the solace and/or perspective they can bring me during crucial times in my life.