To All the Books I Have Loved

April 15, 2019
Letter in an envelope surrounded by clothes
Art by Kirsten Hemrich

As my final semester as an undergraduate college student winds down, and as my time as an intern for Iris comes to an end, I’ve been taking time to reflect on the last four years.

My first year of college I went to VCU, and it was a very difficult time for me. I was depressed and wanted nothing more than to leave Richmond and leave that school as fast as possible. But I knew I wanted to finish one year there, so I looked for ways to cope with my unhappiness.

When I was younger I constantly had a book in my hand. Reading was my absolute favorite thing to do. I read Harry Potter at least 20 times, and I was constantly losing myself in fictional worlds. But as school and life got harder, I also found it harder to find space in my overflowing brain to read and let my favorite fictional characters in. But during my time at VCU, I rediscovered my love of reading. Instead of sitting in my small dorm room with nothing to do and letting my sadness take over, I would walk down to Shockoe Slip, visit the Fountain Bookstore, and pick out the next YA novel I would binge-read.

That year was tough for me, but I have such fond memories of reading those books. The stories and the characters have stuck with me all this time. Sometimes I saw bits of myself in the characters, other times I saw flashes of a person I wanted to be. The characters I loved were witty, brave, knew how to use their voices, and took control of their own situations. They fought for what they loved, stood up for themselves and others, and grew and changed. At the time, I wished I was like the characters I read about. I couldn’t imagine a world where I learned to use my voice and stood up for what I believed in.

A few days ago I went to a book festival where I got to meet two of the authors whose books I read while I was in Richmond. Throughout the day I was feeling great! I was super happy to be there, excited to hear all these authors speaking. When it came time to actually speak with these authors, I found myself growing extremely emotional. I’m happy to say I didn’t break down in a room full of strangers, but I definitely came close. At the time I had no idea why I was suddenly feeling the urge to run to the bathroom and bawl my eyes out, but after a few days of processing I think I’ve figured it out.

Of course seeing these authors brought back memories of when I was depressed in Richmond, and I think I was also overcome with gratitude towards the authors for writing books and characters that entertained me and that I felt such a connection with. But I also think part of the reason I was so emotional was because I realized that I had become more similar to the characters I loved. Before, I wished I could be like them. The characters and their actions seemed so out of reach to me. I realized that now, I am more like them than I’ve ever been. I’ve started using my voice to speak up for myself and others. I’ve made huge, huge changes that completely unraveled my life as I knew it for the better. I use my voice to speak up for myself and the people I love, I take control of my own situation, I own my mistakes, I own my decisions, and I own myself. So here’s to all the authors who write words that touch people in ways they can never imagine, and here’s to all the book characters that are with me today and who I have yet to discover.

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