Sunday, June 5, 2011

Because reading is love

On Twitter right now there's a discussion going about YA fiction in response to this ridiculously agitating article from the Wall Street Journal. Check out the #YASaves tag for the whole deal.

I joined in easily enough because YA lit, and reading, gave me something to hold on to when I needed it the most – as reading continues to do to this very day. But this got me thinking. This year marks our tenth anniversary of arriving in Australia. On the 30th of October, it will have been exactly ten years since I first set foot on Sydney soil (and I was promptly harassed by flies…a true Australian welcome.) I have no problem admitting that I had an incredibly hard time. Really, I fell apart. I completely lost any sense of myself, and generally speaking I have very little recollection of anything that happened that first year.

Turning 14, becoming a full-fledged teenager, is hard enough in itself, but to loose everything you’d ever known at the same time…well, it’s devastating. I was depressed, properly depth of darkness depressed. I would stay in bed until mum forced me out, and I would barely eat or speak. Then my dad bought me a book to cheer me up and suddenly there was a light at the end of the tunnel again. If you'll forgive the cliche. I didn’t really buy books before we moved here (big library supporter), but after that first one, it became a cascade. I read books faster than my parents could have them ordered in for me, and now instead of sleeping all the time, I was reading. And sure, I was still spending 99% of my time holed up in my room, but I didn’t feel so utterly miserable and alone anymore. I had always loved books, but that year it became something else. It became intrinsically part of who I was.

And that’s the thing, you know. When you’re a teenager, you’re always trying to figure yourself out somehow, trying to make sense of the world. And in a way, you’re making yourself up as you go along. Some people complain that YA lit is too dark, but I don’t think they remember what it’s like to be a teen – being a teen is dark from a teens pov. To quote Andy Greenwald – as long as there are teenagers, there will be emo. Teens want something that makes them feel part of something bigger, something that gets it and doesn’t judge. And these days it’s not just about the books themselves, but about the community created around that. If it’s dark, so what, life is dark. Trust kids, teens, everyone, to know what they want. Censoring doesn't help anyone.

But to get back to my main point – I was entirely unmade when I moved here. I think back to the time before that now and I can’t remember what it felt like to be me, who I was, what I wanted. It’s like watching a recording of some other person’s life. I still wonder, ten years on, what I might have been like had we never moved. It’s just so impossible to imagine. Life strikes me as a series of dominoes, one things leads to another, and would I have discovered somethings if certain dominoes hadn’t toppled? Would I even recognise myself? Would I even like myself? Truth be told, I can’t imagine being happy.

And I don’t regret any of it for a moment. I love Sydney, I love living here, I love my friends, my life, the people I’ve met and the things I’ve done. Knowing how hard it was, how it nearly destroyed me, I’d still do it again – because I know how it turns out, and it’s worth it. Books were the first building block to getting where I am now though. It’s the foundation upon which everything I am is built, followed closely by music. If I didn’t have those things, I never would have made it this far. And those are still the things I trust in today because I know they can get me through anything.

Music: Your Protector - Fleet Foxes

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