Beyond The Book is an essay I wrote for my English composition class that required exploring five of my most influential reads and detailing how they shaped my world view. I really enjoyed writing this paper. I did not realize how far back in my reading the themes of strong, boundary pushing woman reached or how much I loved reading about history.
Beyond The Book: My Worldview as a Reader
Wash dirty face and hands.
Put on PJs.
Pick out book.
Yell from the bedroom… “mooooommmmmm!”, at least four times.
Reading at bedtime was a ritual in our house. My sister and I shared a bedroom — the yellow room. We had twin beds with yellow quilted polyester covers under yellow rice paper lampshades that were made with love and PG13 swear words by our mother. I loved those lampshades.
We grew up in a small community. How small? So small, that I cannot add Harrigan Cove as my ‘hometown’ on Facebook. Grocery shopping and filling up the car with gas is still a thirty minute drive for Mom and Dad. Since we did not have regular access to a library, and the drugstore carried more Harlequin than Hemingway, Mom signed us up for Books by Mail. We filled out mint green cue cards with topics of interest and mailed them to the big city. The main library staff would select the titles and send back piles of books in manila padded envelopes. We waited for those envelopes with the same anticipation as a five year old on Christmas morning. We were inviting the whole world to our front door. On my third attempt, I realized that if I did not add my age to the card I would receive the kind of books that would have been rated “R” if they had been movies.
Eclectic tastes introduced me to books that both fostered and challenged my worldview and set me on a life-long path of pushing limits. In teaching us to read, Mom made sure our bed was so much more than just a bed. Every night she turned it into a vehicle that took us beyond the boundaries of what we knew and expanded our horizons. As a reader, my worldview grew from private written discourse, time traveling, and investigating the fictional and non-fiction roles woman play in history.
A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN
I read as a means of expression, employing private discourse. Writing journals is an action in my life that began when I received my first diary. It was white with pink trim, had gold letters and the classic lock and key that could be pried open with a Popsicle stick. Reading and writing go hand in hand. Readers often translate what they read through their own experiences, digging for meaning and truth that becomes their worldview. For me, books that explore the writing process, writer’s memoirs and stories that celebrate courage, especially in woman, have been some of my most influential reads.
I was married with a child the first time I read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. In her own written discourse, Woolf explores why “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write…”(4), and this idea caused me to look back with nostalgia on the day I came home from summer camp to a room of my own — in the basement. It took me less than an hour to pack up everything I owned from my side of the yellow room, except the rice paper lampshade, and move into the wood paneled bedroom my father built for me. I felt so independent and grown up.
I only spent three years in that room, but they were important, teenage boundary pushing years. Like many writers, rambling on patient paper allows us to both explore and capture our world. As Ernest Hemingway so eloquently shared in his memoir A Moveable Feast, “…Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”(6) My room belonged to me and I belonged to my journal and my pencil. I had my own room, a safe place to experience and explore the loss of leaving childhood things behind as well as assert my independence. It was the last time I would have a room that was truly my own.
I still write, my space is a little spot on the World Wide Web that I can access from almost anywhere. Sitting in Hemingway’s seat at La Closerie des Lilas on the Boulevard Montparnasse, I can open up my laptop and find myself in my own little world. I write because deep down the process teaches me something about myself, but I’m sure Hemingway would agree, it never hurts to have a little money and a room of your own.
In addition to private discourse, I also read as a means of metaphorical time travel. I am interested in understanding the social structures of our ancestors and how that often dictated behavior as well as station in life. Charles Dickens wrote about the underdogs in Victorian society and included social commentary in his characters rhetoric. In A Christmas Carol, the ghost of Christmas Present has this exchange with Scrooge: “‘There are some upon this earth of yours,’ returned the Spirit, ‘who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.’”(69) Very little has changed in 150 years. Scrooge was experiencing a bit of time travel and was given the opportunity to reflect on his life through the visits of three spirits. Scrooge is not just an observer of his past, present and future; he questions the spirits, engages with their worldview and is given the opportunity to change his behavior. How fortunate that in reading A Christmas Carol we too are given this same opportunity.
I also read to travel through time because it helps me understand references in popular culture and I take pride in that. Then there are modern books that take us on a journey through many cultures and deep in to the past like Gospel. Wilton Barnhardt writes about a quest for a lost biblical gospel that is being searched by Professor O’Hanrahan to validate his life’s work and Lucy, an ambitious student sent abroad to track the Professor down. Here Barnhardt describes Lucy’s first night outside of America: “Lucy curled up in the rough, clammy sheets and stale-smelling doggy blanket provided for Braithwaite’s guests. Not quite enough to defeat the chill. Lucy exhaled a few times, alarmed that she could almost see her breath. She got up and put on her sweater and climbed back into bed. It was all so English! How exciting it was to be in Oxford! (24) Whether by page or plane, I am always excited to travel. Another stylistic approach that Barnhardt uses to help us travel in time is incorporating the gospel in the chapters. The first sentence of the novel is: “I had lost my faith, Josephus.”(1), from the ‘lost’ gospel. Using text from the gospel, as well as giving textual reverence in the footnotes highlights the interdependent relationship between our past and present– and that is it. We look for connections to our past because they help us have a well rounded view of today and quite honestly give ourselves a better position to argue from.
THE GUMPTION OF WOMEN
As well as reading for writing exploration and time travel, I enjoy reading about the lives of spunky young women finding their way in the world. I grew up in the land of Anne of Green Gables, so it probably comes as no surprise that I would love the precocious spirit in Anne and other coming of age heroines such as Scout Finch and Addie Pray. I carry a keychain that says “All serious daring starts from within.” It is from Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings, a memoir not only of a writer’s life, but of a woman writer’s life. I do not wear it to remind me of my spirit; I wear it to state it. Growing up with these characters fostered my need to ask questions and to not worry about being called stubborn.
Another reason I read about woman’s history is because I want to know about the evolution of the feminist and I want to share it with my daughter. Lucy in Gospel struggles with her faith while experiencing the bigger world out there, and the Governess in Turn of the Screw struggles for control of her charges while trusted in a position that is probably above her skill and goes completely mad. These women and many others inspire my desire for awareness of woman’s history and the roles we have played. Amelia Earhart once said, “Courage is the price that life extracts for granting peace”. Brave, fictional and non-fictional woman have laid open their lives for us to explore, understand and share so we can continue to explore possibilities.
My precocious little girl reminds me every day of the characters I grew up with and admired, and it is exciting to see her start to discover them on her own. I love those not so quiet and often rushed moments at night when I am reminded how important books were, not only in shaping who I am but for teaching me it was okay to explore my ideas, ask questions and to value these characteristics as tenacious and courageous. My daughter is a boundary pushing, twenty-question-asking kind of girl. It is incredibly frustrating at times, but I know the apple did not fall too far from the tree and I have faith that her spirit will serve her well.
Reading at bedtime is a ritual in our house.
Lay out PJs.
Bath time and one last potty.
Pick out book.
Yell from the bedroom… “Peyton!” At least four times.
 See Sylvia Plath’s The Bed Book.
 See Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl
 See Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird
 See Joe David Brown’s Paper Moon
Barnhardt, Wilton. Gospel. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. Print.
Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 2004. Print.
James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. 1954. New York: Dell. Print.
Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast. New York: Touchstone, 1964. Print.
Welty, Eudora. One Writer’s Beginnings. USA: First Harvard University Press, 1995. Print
Woolf, Virgina. A Room of One’s Own. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, inc, 1929. Print.