| to read (verb) | /liʀ/
In two months, I will take up my studies again and prepare a second Master’s degree in Anglophone literature. My imminent re-entry into academia has made me contemplate the reasons why I chose to study literature so many years ago. It’s an easy answer. Indeed, after so many people questioned my decision to major in English and French literature (“What the hell are you going to do with that degree?”), I quickly grew accustomed to defending my choice.
Since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Of course, there were phases during which I also wanted to become a relentless Harvard lawyer or an empathetic psychiatrist or a ground-breaking epidemiologist…but those dreams were short-lived, and I always found myself coming back to books. Because science and math never made sense to me the way literature did. How could there only be one possible answer? And no room for interpretation? A and B don’t always equal C…life is so much more complex than that, isn’t it? These subjects made me feel restless and confined. For example, I didn’t enjoy writing lab reports for my mandatory chemistry courses in college, because I couldn’t insert my personality, my voice, into those assignments, and the writing felt hollow and sterile.
And reading formed the foundation to my self-confidence at a young age. I was a fretful and introverted adolescent who envied her friends’ effortless beauty and affability. I’ve never self-identified as beautiful, and I’ve never been particularly athletic or artistic either. And in small town East Tennessee, this translates to “invisible.” I thus decided to cultivate my intelligence, reasoning that, if I couldn’t be beautiful or athletic or artistic, perhaps I could be smart (not that these qualities are mutually exclusive). To me, intelligence was a trait that no amount of loneliness could strip away.
To this day, I find myself fighting self-deprecating remarks with reassurances that I am so much more than just a body. And as the voices grow louder, screeching their profanities, I think back to a quote by James Baldwin: “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”