(Img via DarwinsLibrary)
When you type in "Book Evolution" in your search engine of choice, you will likely be presented with a bevy of web pages that discuss the evolution of stone tablets to scrolls to printed and bound books to digital readers/tablets. While I could discuss both the advantages and disadvantages of the printed word versus eBooks til I'm blue in the face, that is not my aim in this particular post. This post attempts to reflect on my "book taste" evolution, and how it parallels (or not!) other evolutions in my life.
What does it mean to evolve? Forget specific dictionary definitons. To me, to evolve means to progress, to advance, to become more complex and less simplistic. Like the evolution of humans, or the evolution of the eBook, the longer I live, the more I experience, the diverse individuals I meet, and yes, the books I read - each of these things contribute to my evolution as a human being. However, these things do not exist independent of one another. My life, my experiences, my friends and acquaintances, and the books I read all mirror each other in some way or the other.
I must start at the beginning. Some of my earliest memories are of seeing my Mom and Dad read the newspaper together in the mornings, and of Mom reading a book in bed at night, before sleeping. My older brother, Mark, devoured Archie comic books and would share them with me as I got older. Dad often told me bedtime stories, with my favorite being the Biblical story of David and Goliath, and Big Bird and Little' Bird's Book of Big and Little, which he recited from memory, and with different voices for the characters. Books and stories have always been part of my life, in some form or fashion.
As a girl, I was a bit of a tomboy with an adventurous streak, and so I consumed The Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drew series with fervor. When Mom subscribed me to monthly deliveries of The Baby-Sitter's Club series, I found joy in living vicariously through girls who were both different from and similar to me. When I would finish with a set, I'd let my best friend, Taliah, borrow them, so we could compare notes on Claudia Kishi's latest art project and Mary Anne and Logan's budding romance. This was an innocent time in my life, when I had little to worry about, short of making good grades in school, and hoping more books would come in the mail.
Unfortunately, my parents divorced when I was a young teen. Despite a gaping hole in my heart and my life, I fell in love with love, and fancied myself a romantic. I read and wrote poetry as if it were my life's work! Shakespeare, Frost, Browning, Keats, and Byron captured my heart and taught me much about what Peter S. Beagle calls "the lift of longing and the crash of loss," though I know much more about those subjects now than I did then.
Not too long after that, I became obsessed with true crime/thrillers, and would scour the library for any book by Mary Higgins Clark, Lisa Jackson, and Catherine Coulter. The characters dealt with complex issues and scary situations, and often, they made it out relatively unscathed. I also shared this genre passion with Mom, so talking about the books we were reading provided good bonding time. My fascination with the human psyche continues today, but with true crime TV shows. No wonder I have such weird, vivid dreams!
In my late teens and early twenties, I stumbled upon The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, and thus my love for Fantasy, and a deeper love of the written word, was born. I devoured works by Brian Froud, Terri Windling, and Neil Gaiman, and even wrote a few short stories in the Fantasy genre for a college Creative Writing class. Admittedly, I was living in a bit of a fantasy world, too, where I imagined the life I wanted and was sure everything would eventually turn out the way I wished. Oh, the naivete!
Funnily enough, it wasn't until 2008 (when I was 22) that I started reading Young Adult novels again, starting with the Twilight series (no groans, dear readers!) After that, I was hooked! Reliving my teenage years and those strong emotions that almost every situation elicits from the fragile yet tenacious teenage spirit was the soothing balm to a heart I didn't know was hurting. I had moved to Houston from Florida by this point, and was largely friendless. I gained so many friends through the characters I met, and their "voices" were an unforgettable comfort to me. Despite the fact that I was no longer quite the target audience, age-wise, for the books I was reading, I was able to see my teenage self reflected in many of the charcters I met. I was able to reflect on the choices I made at that age, and to make sense of the confusion of that time from a distance.
When I finally got around to reading The Hunger Games, I was in such a fit of fangirling that I decided to go online and see if there were others like me out there who couldn't stop thinking or talking about the book - and then I discovered book blogging in 2011! Life truly has not been the same since I posted my first review on "BlookGirl." In a way, blogging saved me from myself, despite my self-imposed hiatus between 2013 and 2015. It was through the local book blogging community that I met my first real friends in Houston, and one in particular, Maria (CariBlogs), who always told me the truth (and still does) at my lowest point in life, even when I didn't want to hear it.
Fast-forward to present day. I have returned to university to earn my Bachelor's degree, I am employed at a company with room to grow into my chosen career, I'm engaged to be married to a wonderful Indian man, I have a few incredible friends who never fail to enlighten and uplift me, and I feel true peace and contentment in my heart. Trust me when I say this is a complete 180 degrees from where I was in life not even 3 years ago.
At 29 years old, just as my life has evolved in both richness and complexity, so has my taste in the books I choose to read. I still enjoy my Young Adult titles, yet they are no longer my sole satisfaction. Having become friends with people from other countries and cultures, having returned to school, having visited other countries that are not as privileged as America, and having developed a sincere interest in world issues, I now seek to read books with a bit more "weight," if you will, and with more of a focus on political and social issues that are faced by individuals in other countries, and on other races and cultures.
Having said that, I feel it's also important to say that I will always read Young Adult, and I will always support YA authors. These authors take risks with their characters, their writing styles, and with their subject matters, and they give a voice to the younger generations that follow after me. Some of the YA books I've read in the last few years will stick with me forever, and I will continue to recommend them to my "adult" friends. I've seen other readers my age sheepishly admit that they still read YA, and they seem almost apologetic about it.
Never apologize for the books you like to read, dear reader. Books give a voice to the voiceless, and are a friend to the friendless. There's nothing "sorry" about that!
I have love in my heart for each and every book I've read over the years. Books have been my friends, my teachers, my lovers. Some have made me laugh out loud, some have made me cry ugly tears, and others have made me mad, mad, mad. Most of all, books, or rather what is in the books I read, have helped to shape me into a better daughter, sister, friend, lover, student, and human being. They teach me empathy, compassion, and tolerance for others. They've shown me the ugly side of humanity, and they've taught me that there is still -always- hope for humanity. There is a season and a purpose to everything under the sun, and I believe this is true for books and our relationships with them as well.
What about you, dear reader? Have your reading tastes evolved over the years, or maybe even months? Do you see any parallels with your personal evolution?
I'd love to hear your story.