Notes From A Lifetime of Literary Privilege by Kelly Lauer

Guest posting on the blog today is my super bestest reading friend Kelly, from Reading With Analysis.  I was supposed to post this last month for Banned Books Week, but with the move, Vegas trip, and everything in between it got lost in the shuffle! SO! Do me a favor, and please welcome Kelly back to the blog!

As a reader, I have always been lucky.  Not only was I born in a comparatively prosperous, middle-class neighborhood in southern California (and thus privileged in so many ways, including weather and proximity to delicious Mexican food and rather diverse culture), I was born to a reader who likes to own books and who has a deep-seated hatred of being told what to do.  I was always surrounded by books, and they weren’t always the anesthetized, “family friendly” books so popular among other conservative, religious folk in the eighties.  If my mom wanted to read a book, she bought it, even if the other ladies in church, had they known, would have been scandalized.  It was wonderful. Still is, actually.

My mom owns so many books, it’s a marvel.  And her tastes are incredibly diverse.  In my house there were romance novels nestled up against thrillers, bookended by memoirs and biographies and self-help books and books on prayer, the Bible, biblical history, and lots and lots of books about Jesus written by white men.  In fourth grade, after I had read my way through all the (interesting) books my (religious) school’s library had to offer — every Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, nature book, elementary science book, or unauthorized “biography” of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding in sight — I went home and started sneaking books out of my mom’s collection.

wtrfgwrIn fifth grade, I changed schools and had a new library to explore, but my mom’s books, full of windows to adulthood, beckoned.  I loved Where the Red Fern Grows and cried when I got to the end (which unfortunately occurred in class, while everyone else was reading the third chapter.  Let’s just say I got a lot of 10-year-old side eye that day, and I couldn’t even explain to them why I was crying… it would ruin the story…), but I also cried at the romance novels I read in secret (and didn’t understand at all).

Through fourth grade I had an established place in a hierarchy, a history with the other kids, and a PK best friend to help me contextualize the world and feel comfortable in my place in it.  From fifth grade on, I was just a too tall, too earnest, too naive kid in a sea of cynical children and teachers who aligned in a thoroughly foreign (to me) hierarchy of socio-economic status and “coolness” in which I had no place at all.

But there were always books.

Books didn’t care if I didn’t know what the curse words meant.  Books didn’t care if I missed all the sub-context.  Books really didn’t care if I wore that neon green stegosaurus sweatshirt every freaking day.  Books don’t judge; people have the corner of the market on that one. And books were always there for me, because I was lucky enough to be surrounded by them and to be my mom’s daughter.

The awful thing about people applying the same judgment to books that they use on their peers — only accepting the pretty ones, perhaps, or the ones whose stories and values present no challenge to the status quo — is that they limit access to those books that might be most beneficial to a child or young adult or adult who needs a story that presents an alternate view.  By silencing or censoring books, people end up silencing and censoring those people who most need to find a way to be heard.

So here’s to the libraries, and the librarians, the book stores, and the book addicts of the world.  Here’s to the writers who create worlds for displaced souls. And here’s to the readers who give a collective middle finger to the banned book list.  Also, here’s to my mom for being my librarian and only occasionally telling me to be quiet.

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18 thoughts on “Notes From A Lifetime of Literary Privilege by Kelly Lauer

  1. Great post, Kelly! I got a little teary-eyed at the end there. 🙂 The school library and my mom’s bookshelves were definitely huge influences on me as a kid. We were lucky to be surrounded by so many books and open readers.

    • Thanks! I was a little maudlin when I wrote it…

      When I switched to a public school in 5th grade, the first friend I made was the librarian. She was so nice, and she took pity on my poor, unfortunate soul (and not in a creepy, turn me into an ugly plant way) and introduced me to a world of books. The library at my public school was so much more diverse than the private school library had been.

  2. LOVE this post! It’s exactly how I felt about books as a kid and how I feel about them as an adult. One of my missions in life is to create as many readers as possible. I started with my own kids, moved on to nieces and nephews and now my own little grand-daughter who has the makings of a voracious reader. The best gift you can give a child is the love of reading. The second best gift is a book.

    • Thank you! There is something so comforting about books and the endless possibilities they contain, and you are so right about those gifts. 🙂 I get such a kick out of my daughters’ love of books and stories…

  3. Wonderful post! I love the part about books not caring if you get the subtext or understand the curse words – books are patient, and willing to explain things to you over and over, and if in the end something is missed, there’s no shame. You put a point on why books can be so comforting, even when the material is uncomfortable. They give you a chance to face a challenge or problem without requiring that you are fully prepared to defend yourself or even to change something – not until you’re ready to, at least.

    • Exactly! And books can also be an effective mirror to gauge one’s growth, whether intellectual or personal. In high school I discovered the value of rereads, that some books seemed to be very different things upon a second, third, or fourth read, but the only thing that changed was me.

      • I think I almost prefer re-reading to reading the first time. Especially with non-fiction books, I sometimes find myself using the first read to create a scaffolding in my brain so that on the next time through, I can pick the bits I like and hang them where they fit best, so I can process everything just so. Then on a third read, I furiously redecorate everything until I get it all right.

  4. Fantastic post, Kelly! I really enjoyed the imagery of giving the collective middle finger to the Banned Book List. I have made a point of suggesting banned books to my daughters as soon as they’re ready for them!

    • Thanks! It’s fun to read books that push you to look at the world a little differently. My boss does something pretty nifty with her kids: she reads any book they recommend in order to counteract that natural complacency that comes with adulthood (you’re old enough to know what you like, so you just stick with stuff in that comfortable zone). Isn’t that cool?

  5. You took the words right out of my mouth! I also grew up around books and with a mother who loved reading about a wide variety of subjects. No book was off-limits to me. I love the part about how books don’t judge – so very true!

    • I’m so glad you are similarly lucky. It was fantastic growing up around books, and I’m so glad I’m passing that same environment on to my children.

    • It is a beautiful book. Mary Ann Rivers referenced it in THE STORY GUY, and I was like Dude. I would TOTALLY get that tattoo. (If you haven’t read THE STORY GUY, you totally should. As soon as possible.)

  6. Pingback: The Comforts of Reading | Soliloquies

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