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Jenny Justice

My Shelf, My Self: A Bookworms Ode to Books and Reading

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Jenny Justice
Jenny Justice
 2021-05-20

My Shelf, My Self: On books and Identity

I read, therefore, I am, an ode to books and reading.

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Photo Credit: Unsplash

For as long as I can remember, books have always been a part of my identity. Not just my life. But my conceptualization of who I am, what I do, why I am here, why I am me.

My deepest values, my favorite thoughts to think and dreams to dream, and my beloved therapists and dearest friends, are all found in, rooted in, shaped by, and gifted to me by books.

I surround myself with the books that I have read, and yes, want to read, that give me feelings of hope, connection, propel me towards personal growth and overcoming challenges of body, mind, heart, and spirit and that solidify and support the ways in which I have come to see the world, see society, and view the overall meaning and importance of life.

Books are the way I learn. I am currently reading about climate change, and reading books from genres and fields that I did not have the chance to study in high school, college, or graduate school. But, thanks to books, I can create my own individual course and expand my knowledge on issues that are vitally important to all of us. I highly recommend it.

Our society suffers from lack of book appreciation, it seems.

I started to read when I was 3, and it is what saved my life over and over again, growing up under too often tumultuous circumstances. Books teach us about ourselves, the world around us, and they also allow us to escape and to form empathy with others. Books bring us peace and books spark our creative and passionate fires.

I am just going to say it, yes: Books are everything.

I love reading and it is part of who I am, what anyone who knows me knows about me. I am quiet, I am nerdy, I have glasses, I like coffee, I yes, (let us get over this cultural shame or fear about this, about being smart, ok? and say it, proudly,)I am intelligent, and I love books and reading.

I am the person who will get every kid I know a book for their birthday and Christmas. And even Easter. Because books changed my life, and they change lives every day. But only if we allow them in and make them part of who we are.

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High school bookstore girl

When I was in high school I was so lucky to be able to work in a bookstore. My small town locally owned bookshop where my boss, the owner, was also the mayor of the town. It was the best part of my teenage years. I loved going to work every day after school. I loved working weekends and holidays. I loved my coworkers and I loved talking with the customers.

But most of all, obviously, I loved how I got to spend hours and hours with just books. In silence or listening to some nice Putumayo CD featuring music from around the world at a low volume. I loved shelving books, cleaning and dusting the bookshelves, and setting up displays. And of course, I learned early on that working around books meant most of my paycheck would be spent on books that I put in my always growing “to buy” pile each week.

College book nerd

The one thing I made sure to take with me when I moved into my tiny college dorm was my giant bookshelf full of books. I had to leave some behind and to this day yes, that still makes me a bit sad. But I didn’t have a personal computer. I didn’t have a car. I didn’t bring much of much at all, just boxes of books and some sheets for the bed. And my dorm room reflected who I was in my tiny corner of it, dominated by a giant shelf of books.

After college, working with books

My first job after college was probably one of the best fitting jobs for me, in theory. Ok working in and owning a bookstore are probably the best fits. But with my first official out of college job, I worked with an inner city nonprofit that had the mission of getting free second hand books to local kids. It was a wonderful job for me. I got to organize the library, spend time reading to kids, and get people excited about donating quality used books to this wonderful place.

I remember I would bring as many kids books as I could fit into a canvas bag with me on my city bus ride to and from work. And I would be brave and go up to kids and talk to them and ask them if they wanted a free book. Yes, a book pusher if you will. It was delightful and it was like I got to be Mr. Rogers for a little bit each day.

After this job, I worked in a few more local bookstores, big city ones and then I went onto Graduate school, largely so that I could spend more time with books, reading, writing, thinking, and growing as a learner and person.

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Connecting and healing with my family over books

I love it when reading is a family activity. I have always read to and will always read to my daughter, and I for sure do all that I can do encourage her to read and to role model reading.

A couple of days ago the internet went out and I have to admit, it was one of the most wonderful times of my life so far. No one could be on devices. No one was distracted. No one was watching YouTube. Instead my love and I were reading in bed, and it wasn’t even nighttime! And my daughter and her friends were making slime in the bathroom, being silly and engaged in hands on activities!

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Photo Credit: The author, currently reading, by the apartment complex pool, - yikes and sigh.

On books and identity in general

I believe that you can really get to know almost all there is to know about a person by seeing the books they have on their bookshelves, or bedside tables. And I know the feeling of connecting with strangers online or in public places based entirely on the types of books we enjoy. Book bonding is a real, and endearing thing.

I remember really enjoying most of Marie Kondo’s tips for decluttering, because yes yes yes all day let’s get minimalist in so many areas of our life and stuff having. But when she started tossing out books, that was a no-go for me. Books are not clutter or hoarding! They are family. They are pieces of my soul, on display, vulnerable and also, shareable.

There have been a lot of studies on the importance of reading to kids, but one that really stuck with me indicated that the mere fact of having books at home, having a lot of books at home, helped to make kids smarter. Amazing!

I will continue to surround myself with books, voraciously read books, talk about books, share books, enjoy reading to and with my family and friends, make new friends over books and reading, and to dream. Dream of owning more and more books, yes, but also dream of writing a book of my own, of truly making my identity into a book, as books have shaped and influenced so much of who I am and who I aspire to be.

So cheers to us, bookworms!