I like to think my love for books is innate, but it also has a name. My fourth grade teacher was atrocious. She was truly horrid, and quite honestly likely hated children. Hopefully she’s retired now, and off collecting dust somewhere with the likes of the Trunchbull and Delores Umbridge. But in 1994 she was an educator, and she taught fourth grade, and I was in her class. Honestly I can’t remember any specific thing she said or did that made me think of her this way. Only that in her presence, I could do no magic, and nothing could be extraordinary.
Then one day she was absent; out for the remainder of the year to tend to an unexpected tragedy, and another stood at the ready to fill the shoes so long occupied by that enemy of exploration. Her name was Mrs. Ketcher, and she would become the face of my love for literature.
Mrs. Ketcher had kind wisdom. She talked to us, saw us as equals, passed out her school photos to each of us when we asked. And she read. The first book I can remember being read to me was through her voice — Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’dell. It wasn’t just that she read it. She read it out loud, with fervor and respect for the artist who had penned it. Even now I can pick up the book, recite those lines, and recall the internal sentiment of a delicate prose. So I was never the same.
I grew up on the backend of the most poverty-stricken county in the state of Oklahoma. Destitution, squalor, and entitlement abounded among people so poor they figured the world owed them something just for surviving the hardship of their circumstance. The books I adored became an escape; one where I could leave the close-minded cynicism of the tiny space where I lived and travel abroad. Those authors of my youth taught me to open my mind and my heart to the worlds I found in their pages. In turn, I stretched the boundaries of the box of hatred and intolerance I saw in so many of my peers and found comfort in the realization that I just didn’t belong among them.
I read countless stories. I walked the corridors of fair Verona with Shakespeare, sat in the attic with V.C. Andrews, and clasped hands with Ray Bradbury to discover an alien race. I grieved with Anne Frank. I witnessed the brilliance of E.B. White through the eyes of a spider. Alongside Rebecca Wells I joined the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Susanna Kaysen drove me crazy. I fell in love with Laurie and Jay Gatsby. I cried for Piggy and Miss Havisham. And I watched R.L. Stine murder a lot of teenagers.
In darkness, their words instructed, lighting the way. Because of them, I became. I spun my own stories and I gathered strength to escape the chains of sameness and create a new normal.
Now, in a time when so many are unsure, discouraged and helpless, hope calls. It’s behind the cover of a decorated paperback and it’s the reason for this voyage. One hundred books in one year. Ultimately, it’s not the destination, but the journey itself I find intriguing. I don’t even know if I can do it. If I can, I’ll celebrate. If I can’t, I’ll rest in the knowledge that I sat in the halls of great minds and gained understanding. You’re welcome to join me.