The following is inspired by my encounters with adults and with teenagers over the past twenty-four years. It is also inspired by my faith and my love of literature. It is intended to be both humorous and edifying.
And, of course, only God knows if I will ever have daughters to read this letter. But for now, it’s for the blog, which at times is like a child to me. And perhaps through this blog post I can help a few other women.
Read. If I could teach you one thing in your life, well, actually, it wouldn’t be to read. It would be to love the Lord with all that your heart, mind, and soul. But if I could teach you two things, I’d teach you to love the Lord and to love to read.
Please read. Read things that inspire you, things that challenge you, things that make you ask serious questions, things that make you think, that make you laugh, that make you cry. Read.
Read literature that helps you to live, to love, books that will help you to become a better person. There are books that I have read and re-read a dozen times because every time that I read them they have a different impact on me. I’ve reread the last few chapters of Anne of the Island so many times that I could practically recite them to you. I know The Ordinary Princess inside-out and upside-down…and I own two copies of it, one of which I keep in the front seat of my car. You want to know what happens in Certain Women? Have a seat because I’d love to tell you, but I’d love it even more if you sat down and read it for yourself. (Certain Women lives under my bed with my copy of Little Women and my other copy of The Ordinary Princess.)
And each of those books has helped me to become the woman that I am today. Anne Shirley, Elizabeth Bennet, Meg Murray, the March sisters, Vicky Austin, Beatrice-each of these heroines has shaped a part of me. Gilbert Blythe, George Knightley, Adam Eddington, Henry V, Aragorn-each of these men has a played a role both in shaping my present self and showing me what I want from my future.
That’s the power of literature.
Literature has taken me on journeys to a thousand worlds both real and fictional. I’ve traveled through Middle-Earth with Frodo and hurried across melting ice in Narnia with Lucy. I’ve been to Antarctica with Vicky and Adam. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wanted to spend curled up in Mr. and Mrs. James Dillingham Young’s $8/week flat.
Derbyshire, Prince Edward Island, Africa, Florin and Guilder, Paris during the French Revolution…literature has given me wings.
The War of the Roses and the reign of the Tudors, the American Civil War, the Spanish Civil War, the Trojan War, the Third Age of Middle-Earth…literature is about as good of a time traveling device as the TARDIS. And have I ever mentioned that I thoroughly enjoy traveling through The Time Traveler’s Wife? But I digress.
Reading has taken me through time and place. And from those times and places, I have learned about the human condition, the human soul. I have learned what it means to love and to hate, what it means to be Good, the meaning of service. I have learned how to love and how to live.
That’s the power of literature.
More importantly, literature has made me (I believe) a better and stronger person. While it’s easy to judge Lizzy Bennet for her pride or her prejudices, it’s a little harder to look at her and say, “Oh, crap, that’s something I struggle with too!” Or a person might look at Emma Woodhouse’s need to meddle in others’ lives and shake their head, but it’s a little harder to realize that I can (and do) have tendencies to do the same thing.
Reading provides a (sometimes unwanted) level of self-awareness.
If you know me well, which, well you’re my daughters so you may or may not know me well, you know that I am a self-declared modern Elinor Dashwood. Now, I have to admit (because I try to be honest) that Elinor is not perfect. Similarly, I am not perfect. I do have flaws. I have a tendency to become easily frustrated but to not share these frustrations with others, to vent my emotions to easily when I am alone in my car, to stew over my emotions (both the positive and the negative) et cetera. (One of my flaws is actually a refusal to admit that I am flawed. I must be human or something.) But anyway, I have a tendency to idealize Elinor because I look at her and think, “Man, that’s me! That is ME! She must be fan-freaking-tastic.” And then, I see things in her that I’m not so crazy about. And that’s hard (harder than seeing flaws in Emma or Lizzy, if I’m being honest) because I’m seeing flaws in her that are also flaws in my own character.
(Side note: Reading the chapter on Sense and Sensibility in Peter Leithart’s completely amazing book Miniatures and Morals was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. It made me aware of some of my own weaknesses, and while I needed to have my eyes opened, it hurt like crazy to have to remove the proverbial plank from my own eye. But again, I digress.)
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Okay, wait a second. You want me to read. You want me to love literature. And now you’re telling me that reading literature will cause me to recognize my own flaws. Count me out.”
I know. That’s why I’m going to darnedest to get you hooked on reading and literature BEFORE I let you read this letter.
But regardless, I want you to look at literature and to see both the good and the bad, the positive and the negative. While Pride and Prejudice has awakened an awareness of my own pride, the character of Mr. Knightley in Emma has taught me a great deal about humility and love. Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing has taught me the benefits of a merry spirit and joyful heart. Hermione Granger of Harry Potter fame has taught me the importance of strengthening my mind to help others.
(By the bye, Hermione is another literary character with whom I share a few characteristics. And while I would love to say that I’d be right next to her in the heat of fighting a battle, that’s not it. We’re both know-it-alls. And seeing her has awakened my awareness of my own tendency to be a know-it-all and has helped me to look at myself and say, “You know, right now might be a really great time to shut my yap and keep my supposedly enlightened views to myself.” Like I said, literature can be enlightening, and sometimes, that hurts. But I’m digressing again; I’ve got to work on that. I wonder what literary heroine that makes me like.)
Literature is a window to the human soul. It opens our eyes (and hopefully our minds and hearts) to the world around us. It shows human history and how people have evolved and not evolved over the course of the past several thousand years. It is also a way to understand both ourselves and the world around us. Literature has the ability to open our eyes to the lessons of the past and to inform our hearts and minds to impact the present and the future for good. It has the power to change us both at an individual level and at a societal level.
Reading (and thereby literature) has the power to shape the people we become from a very early age. It has the power to change the world.
That’s the power of literature.
Literature can make you laugh. It can make you cry. It can make you think. It can inspire change.
So read. Change your destiny and read. Please.
With all of my love,