Friday, March 28, 2014

Books that Changed my Life

"Greetings to you, the lucky finder of this Golden Ticket, from Mr. Willy Wonka! I shake you warmly by the hand! Tremendous things are in store for you! Many wonderful surprises await you! For now, I do invite you to come to my factory and be my guest for one whole day - you and all others who are lucky enough to find my Golden Tickets. I, Willy Wonka, will conduct you around the factory myself showing you everything that there is to see, and afterwards, when it is time to leave, you will be escorted home by a procession of large trucks. These trucks, I can promise you, will be loaded with enough delicious eatables to last you and your entire household for many years. If, at any time thereafter, you should run out of supplies, you have only to come back to the factory and show this Golden Ticket, and I shall be happy to refill your cupboard with whatever you want."
-Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl

“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that.” 
-Charlotte's Web, E.B. White

A Book that Changed Your Life…
Preparing for this speech, I found it hard to think about just one book that had an impact in my life. I wracked my brain through my favorites; Stephen King’s It, the Harry Potter series, An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, even the ever-beloved Little House on the Prairie collection. They range in genre, indeed.

I thought no, these won’t do.  Because all books I have read have had some impact on my life, one way or another. Whether it was the Bible to senior year’s AP reading requirements to Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. When I was little, I literally gobbled up books as if they were a McDonalds’ Happy Meal. Books were a smorgasboard of other worlds, other lives, other experiences. It provided a whole new perspective from the authors’ point of view. As a farm girl from a small town in Central New York, these imaginative texts and written words were able to deliver me to worlds that my parents couldn’t afford to take me to. I was in awe of any book that I picked up - whether it was fiction or biography, it transported me to the world that the author imagined to be true or real or worth talking about. To me, that was impactful.

I remember being under my covers at night with a flashlight when I was little – I was one of those kids that read deep into the night trying to be quiet while I turned the pages. I read books over and over again, just to relive the thrill of whatever was happening to the main character. For example, for those of you who read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, remember the feeling you had when he tore open the corner of that chocolate bar, and experiencing with him that first glimpse of glorious gold, that flash of metallic loveliness that made him rip the rest of the wrapper off in a matter of a second. Do you remember how many times you might have re-read that paragraph just to cheer for him all over again? I do.  I read it many times over. Or Charlotte’s Web, when the words “SOME PIG” appeared in the cobwebs that summer morning? The thrill you had when Wilbur stood proudly in front of the crowds, escaping the hand of the butcher, thanks to his good friend Charlotte? Or when Charlotte was dying and you may have found yourself crying right along with Wilbur? Even as a child the range of emotions books brought up within me was enough for me to read them over and over again. THAT, my friends, is impact. That is enough for you to go and take out all the books that Roald Dahl or EB White had ever written –  just to read more. (I Love the feature on my Kindle that recommends books for me --- it’s a never-ending list).

I still read books with the same fervor today, even when I was doing a dissertation and had to master the art of “skimming” through thousands of books and articles. That skimming never felt right to me, by the way. I was afraid I was going to miss out on parts of the book that would bring it all together. But they still are an opportunity to escape, to learn, to engage. To me, it brings all that life has to offer to words on a page.

Here are some facts:
14% percent of American adults are illiterate, that’s 32 million people in our country.
However, there are 774 million people in the world that are illiterate. 
66% of the worlds’ illiterate population is female.

I am extremely privileged that I can read, that I am in a place where books can make an impact on my life and my world; to make me think differently about a topic, make me think about my work and life differently…to me, these statistics alone are an impact. I would not be where I am today without a good book – it is hard to measure an impact of one book when there are so many still left to read. And here is where I equate reading to living life --- which was another question I was posed today– what life experience made an impact on you? Many – and I’m sure that there are many more to come that will make a larger impact. Which is why I write about my life experiences – I write because I’m captured by the magical effect that reading had on me. And I want to do that for others.  I asked for volunteers to “read with enthusiasm!” in the beginning…my first grade teacher encouraged us to do the same. We made sure to emphasis on areas of sentences and paragraphs that made sense – we made our reading come alive. I’m telling you to do both – read and live with enthusiasm.

One of my favorite things to do is to curl up with a good book and escape what ever might be going on that day.  A lot of people, I’m sure, like to read for the opportunity to escape. We all need to do that once in awhile; but there are also books that keep us grounded and ever present in our life and to gobble up those life experiences around us as if they were words themselves. I encourage you all to go home – pick up your favorite book, and read it again. And remember the ways and reasons of why you loved it. And then share it with me --- I’ll add it to my list.

Leah Flynn Gallant
Assistant Dean and Director for Student Leadership and Engagement