In the fall of 2014, I suffered an emotional trauma response related to my history of childhood abuse. The depression and anxiety that resulted were so fierce that it took every ounce of energy to simply wake up each morning and get through my day until I could escape into unconsciousness once again. I did very little other than sleep, work, and attend counseling and church. My reading life especially suffered.
Then 2016 arrived. The first week of January, my sister mailed me a copy of a novel she recently read and loved, thinking I would enjoy it as well. So I started reading and found myself hooked from the opening pages. I finished it in a day and immediately craved more. I scoured deals on Amazon, devoured a creative memoir, launched into a fiction series simply because I was captivated by its cover, and settled into the comfort of a classic. By the time March arrived, I had finished fourteen books—the same number I’d read during the previous eighteen months combined. Until then, I had never comprehended how profoundly reading impacts my internal wellbeing, but it felt like being able to finally breathe after being underwater just a little too long.
That’s when I realized: I am a reader.
I grew up devouring books, a habit eagerly fed by my grandmother and her local corner bookstore, but there is a difference between someone who reads—even someone who reads avidly—and a reader. Readers need to read. For readers, books—their words, stories, and ideas—are a fundamental part of their internal scaffolding. As Anne Bogel states so beautifully in her book I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life, for readers “books are an essential part of our lives and of our life stories. For us, reading isn’t just a hobby or a pastime; it’s a lifestyle. . . Books grace our shelves and fill our homes with beauty; they dwell in our minds and occupy our thoughts. Books prompt us to spend pleasant hours alone and connect us with fellow readers. They invite us to escape into their pages for an afternoon, and they inspire us to reimagine our lives.”
Bogel subtly unpacks this as she discusses “the personal nature of reading—what shapes us as readers, what we bring to the page.” She courses through experiences felt by every reader, exploring the shame and pride over what we have or haven’t read, the serendipity of stumbling upon just the right book, and the self-revelation found in how we talk about, organize, and track our reading habits. Bogel digs deep into the significance reading brings to each of our lives, transforming it from an external and superfluous past-time into an integral component of the whole person.
From childhood through adulthood and into the twilight of life, the books we read offer us escape, entertainment, companionship, solace, catharsis, and even therapy. They teach us truths we never knew before and offer fresh perspective on what has grown familiar. They elevate the mundane of real life into living art, leaving breadcrumb trails for us to follow as we increasingly embrace our lives, the possibilities they hold, and the world in which we live them out. But while reading provides a means of staying connected with ourselves, Bogel gently reminds that books also draw us out of ourselves and keep us connected to the flesh-and-blood humans we interact with every day. Whether with strangers or friends, “when we share our favorite titles, we can’t help but share ourselves as well.”
Through both confessional and memoir styles of prose, Bogel shares herself in snapshots of her bookshelves, coming-of-age stories, and her own bookish revelations. As she does so, she invites us to do the same. By the end, I felt I’d been granted the privilege of knowing her, but even more importantly, of knowing myself a little bit better, all within the warm and safe camaraderie of a bookish kindred spirit reminding me that no matter what we read, readers must read, and there is no shame in that.