I have read and loved so many books over the years, dog-eared the pages and filled my journals with quotes, gone weak-kneed at a single perfect phrase and turned over sentences like beach glass in the waves, that I could no more list all the books I’ve read and loved than count pebbles in a riverbed or stars in the Milky Way.
I have read and loved so many books, and each one of them has in some way—big or small—made me who I am. I have read and loved so many books, and without them I, Traci Chee, as you know her today, would simply not exist.
Books change you, I think. That’s part of their magic. When I was in school I tore through the Redwall books by Brian Jacques and the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. Later, while I was poring over 1984 and Heart of Darkness and Catch-22 for English class, I was also showing up at midnight to grab a copy of the newest Harry Potter and desperately counting down the days until I could get my hands on the final installment of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. When I got to college, I discovered the wonders of Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I listened to Adrienne Rich read poetry (it was transcendent) and wrote research papers on Toomer’s Cane and Auden’s The Sea and the Mirror. I have read and loved House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and the Phoenix Saga of The Uncanny X-Men, which my aunt loaned to me when I was nine.
Every one, I have read and loved. Every one has changed me. To take the smallest of samples, here are three I would not exist without.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
I first met Meg Murray, the gawky, four-eyed, brace-faced heroine of A Wrinkle in Time, when I was well on my way to becoming a gawky, four-eyed brace-face myself. Meg Murray was not strong. Meg Murray was not beautiful. Meg Murray was stubborn and hot-tempered and she was damn good at math. She didn’t look like me on the outside, but deep down, Meg Murray was me.
And in that, she was a revelation. Meg Murray made me believe that I, too, could be the young adventurer going out into a galaxy populated by outlandish creatures and dark planets. She made me believe that I, too, could be beautiful, in all my brainy, non-athletic glory.
She also made me proud to be an older sister, who could stand there and love her little brother so much that she could save him from the evil IT pulsing at the heart of Camazotz.
Meg Murray taught me that I could be important and loved. Just as I was.
Watership Down by Richard Adams
There is one book I read every year without fail, and that book is Watership Down by Richard Adams. It’s like the friend I can call up after a year of not speaking and have everything be exactly as it was. I know what’s going to happen and I can laugh at all the jokes and I know that everything is all right with the world.
While ostensibly, Watership Down is about intelligent, talking rabbits, I also think it’s about leadership and loyalty and love. It’s about doing right by who you’re with and appreciating them for who they are and what they can do. To some extent, I also think it’s about stories and how fleeting our lives are and how we must do something worth doing with what we are given. Like Hazel and his rabbits, we have limited time in this world. We touch a few lives, if we’re lucky. We make them better, if we can. And after we’re gone, there are two things we leave behind: the stories we made, and hopefully, people to continue telling them.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein
I read and loved The Lord of the Rings before the films came out, but without the films The Lord of the Rings would not have become so much a part of my language, so much a part of how I connect with people. If you love The Lord of the Rings (books and movies) we will probably be great friends.
I was a sophomore in high school the day The Fellowship of the Ring was released in theaters. It was the last day of school before winter break, and my friends and I rushed to the movies as soon as school let out, just to be at the head of the line for the first showing at four o’clock. (Yes, four o’clock. It was a small town and this was before the era of midnight showings.) We did the same thing every year until we graduated, the same year The Return of the King hit theaters.
I marathoned the extended editions with my college roommates, until each one of us had an assigned character and we could recite our favorite quotes by heart. I still watch them when I’m feeling blue and still quote them in random conversation.
“Hey, Traci, want the last of this ice cream?”
“DON’T TEMPT ME, FRODO.”
The Lord of the Rings made me believe in loyalty and goodness and friendship that shapes the ages of the world. “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” I don’t know if I believe that’s true, but I hope. I live, and I try to be brave and steadfast as Samwise Gamgee, and I hope.
Books change you, I think. And to think that I’m taking part in this powerful, extraordinary thing—sending something out into the world that may one day become a part of someone else, in some big or small way—is incredibly humbling. So I work hard at finding the story I need to tell, and telling it as best I can. And I hope that if someone reads and loves my words one day, reads and loves them and embraces them as part of who they are or who they want to become, that their lives are somehow brighter for it.
We love having people guest post on the site and today, we have a special guest post from author Traci Chee. Traci is the author of The Reader, releasing September 13th.
The book is the first in the Sea of Ink and Gold series.
A stunning debut set in a world where reading is unheard-of, perfect for fans of Inkheart and Shadow and Bone.
Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible.
With overlapping stories of swashbuckling pirates and merciless assassins, The Reader is a brilliantly told adventure from an extraordinary new talent.
*partnership with Penguin Random House for this post.