Illustration by Sania Choudhary
My dad once told me that reading is the closest thing to looking into someone else’s mind, and the more I read, the more I see what he means. Being exposed to every thought of a character, to be able to see exactly what goes on in their head as they confront different situations, creates an intimate relationship between that character and the reader that is difficult to make between two real people. I sometimes understand the characters in the books that I read more than I understand the people around me, and the characters I meet in books can, in turn, sometimes make me feel more understood than any real person ever could. Someone can tell me that they understand how I’m feeling, but no one can take me into their minds and really show me. No one but the characters in books can.
I do believe that to a certain degree, we are all alone. Not necessarily that we are lonely, but that it is impossible to ever completely understand a person outside of ourselves, to see everything they’ve seen and to feel everything they’ve felt. I also believe that we all have a subconscious hunger to be understood, to have someone show us that we aren’t the only ones that get butterflies in our stomachs or have tears roll down our faces or have our hearts race, to have someone not only tell us, but to really show us that they’ve been through it too. And there’s nothing that can satiate that need like reading can. As I grew up, my feelings and life situations changed, and the things that I wanted to feel understood for changed.
Reading encouraged me to take the time to listen to stories of those around me and to really try to understand them. And somehow, through taking the time to deeply understand others, it also helped me better understand myself.
But because there’s such a vast collection of literary works, so many different stories of people that have been through multitudes of various experiences, I have always managed to find one that makes me feel understood. Reading allowed me to better understand my own thoughts and emotions in a way that I couldn’t have explained to myself, and it also exposed me to emotions I have never before felt or thoughts I would have never had.
I remember that when I was in elementary school, my favorite books to read were about characters that were in middle school. This was because, as any third grader might agree, middle schoolers just seemed cooler. I wanted to be one. And the only way for me to get an idea of what it was like was to read about it. My favorite parts were about the schedules with all the different classrooms and also the idea of lockers. In a way, those books prepared me for middle school more than anything else. I remember being so inspired by the characters that I would even try dressing like how their outfits were described in the books, or sometimes try talking the same way, or sometimes even trying the same things they did with their friends with my own. In one of my favorite books from when I was younger, the main character and her best friend had a journal in which one friend would write every night and then they would switch off the next day. It was a safe place for them to rant and talk about their feelings in their own comfort. I remember telling one of my close friends about the idea after I read it, and our little journal eventually became one of our shared treasures. When I entered middle school, I shifted to liking books about older teens and high schoolers more, maybe because I was already experiencing what it was like to be a middle schooler and wanted to experience being something else, something even more thrilling.
Reading also taught me that everyone has a story, a perspective. Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget that, to get so caught up in just seeing things from our own views that we forget that others have their own as well. Reading encouraged me to take the time to listen to stories of those around me and to really try to understand them. And somehow, through taking the time to deeply understand others, it also helped me better understand myself.