thank u, books

I hit 1,000 reviews on Goodreads recently, so I wanted to write a post expressing my love for books and how much they have saved me. I grew up in an abusive household and books gave me a place to escape even when I had to stay right where I was. Books have helped me accept and love myself, expand my empathy and compassion toward others, and connect with so many cherished friends, in real life and through the internet (looking at u, Goodreads friends).

Gay young-adult novels saved me from hating my homosexuality. Other than my mother literally telling me she would rather have a dead son than a gay son, I had a pretty easy “coming out” process, in large part because of the books I read with gay characters. I remember reading What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson, perhaps the first YA book I read with queer characters, and fanboying Alex and Nathan’s relationship so hard (the steamy shower scene, whew). Then I fanboyed Alec and Magnus in Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series, and then of course, Ari and Dante in Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Through reading these books, I learned to accept myself as these characters learned to accept themselves. I saw my sexuality as normal and healthy, and I felt so much less alone – because back in 2009, so many of the queer youth in my high school stayed in the closet. Compared to other queer people I know, I did not experience much internalized homophobia or difficulty with my sexuality growing up, thanks to the wonderful books I read and the amazing authors who wrote them.

Appetites by Caroline Knapp

What I would most likely describe as my favorite nonfiction read: Appetites by Caroline Knapp.

Feminist books played a big part in my recovery from and understanding of my eating disorder, as well as my overall feminist development. I remember finishing Portia de Rossi’s Unbearable Lightness in a DSW in Northern Virginia and thinking “oh, wait, this is what I went through, and it was awful.” And then I read Appetites by Caroline Knapp the summer after my freshman year of college for a research project, and the book blew my mind. Knapp’s insights about eating, body image, feminine socialization, consumerism, and self-love and self-hate within a patriarchal society really launched my feminist development, and I have returned to Appetites again and again over the years, going so far as to call it my bible. Two more highlights, among many others: The Will to Change by bell hooks transformed my understanding of toxic masculinity, as I read the book after developing a crush on a super mediocre white boy in undergrad and then despising myself for it. hooks showed me that instead of despising myself I could direct that anger to the patriarchy’s socialization of men instead. Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider reminded me of the importance of speaking up, of not internalizing the oppressor’s tools, and of honoring emotion in a society that glorifies white male rationality, all lessons so relevant in my role as an academic, therapist, and teacher.

I have so many books to thank for helping me to see the world as full of possibilities. Hanya Yanagihara’s masterpiece A Little Life imagines a world that prioritizes friendship, in which a life filled with trauma can also contain great joy and connection. Over the past few years, several Asian American women authors have released fantastic novels to great literary acclaim – Celeste Ng, Weike Wang, and Ling Ma, to name some writers I love – showing that the publishing industry no longer only belongs to white people, white men in particular. Gail Caldwell’s poignant memoir Let’s Take the Long Way Home further honors friendship by describing her bond with fellow writer Caroline Knapp, Knapp’s passing, and the grief and meaning Caldwell experienced in the aftermath. These books have helped me see beyond the norms of society – norms that prioritize whiteness, romance and patriarchy, and other dominant narratives – so I can feel hopeful, understood, and ready to act and advocate for change.

I love books for occupying my time so I don’t waste it watching trash TV like the Bachelor or dating mediocre men because society teaches me to always giving me a home to return to. Over time I have tried to practice intentionality about reading more diverse authors, and I know I can improve on that and reading more books about topics I am more unfamiliar with, like immigration, or economic policy, or international affairs. Still, when I feel lost, or sad, or angry, or outright defeated, I know I can return to my favorite books to remind me of what matters most and how I want to live my life. Books have given me so much throughout the years and I hope that through this post, as well as my reviews on Goodreads, I have expressed just how much they mean to me.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

What I would most likely describe as my favorite fiction read: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

What do books mean to you and what have they contributed to your life? What are some of your favorite books and what have they taught you? If you want to follow my reading habits more please feel free to add or follow me on Goodreads (you can find the link to my profile in the “Contact” section of my blog.) Yay for two posts within the same week, here’s hoping for even more soon.



Filed under Books, Personal

5 responses to “thank u, books

  1. So happy to see another post! Books helped me so much when I was assaulted last spring. For a while, I felt absolutely immobile, but one day I picked up Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart and felt the mist lighten a bit. Words saved me in a way nothing else could.

    • So sorry to hear about the assault, Valerie, and I’m glad that Sour Heart helped lighten the mist. I’ll bump it up on my TBR list for sure. Appreciate your vulnerability and am grateful for words for saving you as well.

  2. I love this. I also sought refuge in books as a child and I have learned about myself through them. Recently, in my re-reading of Iris Murdoch’s novels, I’ve discovered that many of my central principles came from them! I have used books to find out about the world and about diverse ways of living, to travel and to see into people’s lives. I could not be without them.

    • Yes, love this point about using books to find out about the world and diverse ways of living! I should have hit upon that point more explicitly, so thank you for doing so in your comment. Glad we can bond over our mutual appreciation of books. (:

  3. Vivek

    Hi Thomas,

    What a lovely post! As a child I also used books to escape from an emotionally and physically abusive household. Unfortunately they didn’t save me as around my early teens I seemed to read less for pleasure and more as a distraction to numb myself to the tumultuous emotions I felt at the time. Also I didn’t stumble across any lgbt or minority fiction in my local library at a time when I could have done with some moral support. Throughout my teens I slowly switched to reading mostly non-fiction by ‘rational’ (predominately male) authors on science, economics, and politics. I liked the certainty that they offered and the fact that they ignored emotions/subjectivity etc. just as I was doing internally.

    It’s only now in my late-twenties that I’ve started to properly read fiction again and let myself emotionally connect with the ups and downs of the characters’ lives. My therapist has made me realise the impact that the abuse has had on my life, relationships, and sense of self. I grew up very controlled by and enmeshed in the lives of my mother and some narcissistic ‘friends’. As I now have begun to explore what I want and who I am books have become invaluable in this journey. Thanks for all the books that you’ve highlighted here and on goodreads – as a gay british asian I find them very relatable and good quality reads.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s