A reader’s origin story...
Every reader has an origin story — a specific moment when they knew books would forever be as linked to them as the limbs on their bodies.
For some, it might have been the one book their parents read to them every night. It might have been the book a family member passed on. It might even have been a book that was kept from them, or the one in which a reader finally sees themselves reflected.
I can think back to a specific moment when my mother discovered my love for reading and nourished it the best way she could; thank you to National Geographic and the people whose houses she cleaned for discarded them.
While that moment was vital to my life as a book lover, I cannot call it my origin story. In fact, what I now see when reflecting on my life is that it’s impossible to define one particular moment when I first knew I’d be a lifelong reader.
My origin story has multiple beginnings and continues to change whenever my eyes read a book that exposes a side of me I hadn’t yet discovered or understood. And the story continues as I find a language for my life experiences through books that highlight similar experiences.
It also changes depending on the avenue in which I discuss books. In the beginning, it was only discussing things I read with my parents. In my teens, I mulled them over alone. And now, I discuss them virtually on Instagram with thousands of other readers across the world, as well as in person at local book clubs throughout Washington, DC.
I even expect it to change during the time I’ll be writing this column because I’m the type of reader who looks for opportunities to understand life through the written words of those who’ve lived similar moments.
I’m the type of reader who seeks to find herself in books.
Multiple books have contributed to my origin story. The list is long and evolving, but like the pivotal songs on the soundtrack of your life, I can narrow it down. Here are some that will forever remain in my heart:
The Giver by Lois Lowry. Though this was required reading in school, I was completely blown away by the weight of society that Jonas experiences as the Receiver of memories (to maintain peace and stability in his Utopia). At the time, I couldn’t put my finger on what it was about this book that launched me into needing more like it. I can tell you now that, as a daughter of immigrants, I deeply identified with Jonas’ struggle to carry a secret that, if released, would devastate and destroy everything he loved and knew.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells. One of the first books I remember owning and reading outside of school. It came in a box with other unwanted books that my mother managed to save from the homes she cleaned. I was too young to read it and truly understand the story, but I was drawn to the cover and the idea that I could pick a book for myself!
So Far From God by Ana Castillo. The first time I remember seeing myself as a Mexican queer woman entirely reflected through a character in the pages of a book. At the time, I only had feelings that I didn’t fully understand or have the language to pin down, but seeing that women like me existed in books was life-changing.
Siddhartha and The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse by Hermann Hesse. Recommendations from my father that helped me learn I could attempt to understand someone through their favorite books even if we struggled to understand each other outside of them.
The Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling. My first “book club” experience was reading this entire series with my mother, who, despite struggling with English as her second language, made a point to read and discuss these books with me.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Pulled from the bookshelf of a girlfriend at the time. These books taught me that my love language was spoken by someone who shared my love of books and expanded my world as a reader. Spoiler alert: I ended up marrying her and can now blame her for my excessive book-hoarding problems.
All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir by Nicole Chung and Good Talk by Mira Jacob. These two books remind me that with any new experience in life, I can seek refuge in books. When I became a mother, they helped ease so many of my anxieties; as I navigate being a parent, I revisit them often for inspiration.
The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen and illustrated by Dan Hanna. The story that showed me books will be my tools as a parent hoping to raise an empathic, kind, strong, and caring human being. Because aren’t we all just pout-pout fish hoping someone will see us for who we truly are?
The beauty of this list is that it will continue to grow as I live my life as a reader. And my origin story will ultimately be a very long list of all the books I lived life with. What books contribute to your origin story?
Lupita Aquino — better known as Lupita Reads — is the co-founder and current lead of LIT on H St. Book Club at Solid State Books. She is a passionate reader active in both the local and online book community through her Instagram blog, @Lupita.Reads. You can also catch her tweeting about books over at @lupita_reads.