I’ve never met an avid reader who was also an asshole; I’m convinced the two are mutually exclusive. I’m a white, financially secure, American who empathetically did “the skedaddle” with Jeanette Walls in THE GLASS CASTLE, endured footbinding through Lisa See’s SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN, feared Biafra alongside southeastern Nigerians in HALF OF A YELLOW SUN (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), struggled as a teenager with Scout to understand things that cannot be understood in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, considered (for the first time) the impact of Germany’s occupation in France during WWII with help from Kristin Hannah and THE NIGHTINGALE, and on and on and on. And on.
When I was a kid my mom would say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Living vicariously through all these amazing characters is what brought the saying to life for me. A failing memory won’t allow me to source this, but I was once in a conversation where someone compared life to a baseball game where some start out at home plate, swinging at pitches of various speeds and complexity, and others start at first, or second, or even third base– so much closer to scoring a run by birthright. To carry the metaphor further, some never even get a chance at bat.
Usually assholes think they are inherently better than others. Often, like me, they were born on a base. While books allow those starting at home plate to take a swing by opening doors through education, they also enable those of us lucky enough to have an “easier start” to glean insight and understanding about what’s going on in the dugout. What I’m saying is, books bring people closer. They spark compassion and are a catalyst for change.
For the past two weeks, my evening reading time has been hijacked by the Olympics. It struck me that this long standing tradition serves a similar purpose. Yes, there are doping scandals and rivals that can’t use the word “healthy” as a descriptor (much like there are books that are absolute garbage), but largely it’s an event watched in great awe of the boundary-less talent and determination that exists in this world. The looks on the faces of the victors during medal ceremonies brings me to tears EVERY TIME, regardless of country of origin. You can see– right there on their faces– the effort and sacrifices that preceded the medal around their neck. There’s a moment, when I lock eyes with theirs, that I feel like I’m reading their story.
Confession: I realize that I’ve failed to fully connect these two thoughts and wrap this post up with a tidy bow, but I’m mighty tired. So, in summary, yay! books and the Olympics, boo assholes. Goodnight.