In the latest Madison Books newsletter, James and Connor write that “one of our booksellers… is taking her talents eastward to enrich, enlighten, and energize everyone around her just as she’s done for us in Seattle. We’ll miss you, Erica, and let you have the last word as we sniffle on the sidelines, waving goodbye.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’d want to leave Madison Books readers with. And the thing I keep coming back to is how much I’ve learned about being a person from books, and how reading broadly has improved my life and made me a better person. I see a lot of people who come into our store knowing what they like and what they want, and staying within a fairly narrow range: they’re looking for books about World War Two or Beach Reads or a hefty biography or the latest novel. And I get that! People like what they like, and knowing what you like is important.
But I think that when we read beyond what we think we’ll like, we have such a unique opportunity to grow, and I think that at least for me, those moments of growth are what make me such a dedicated reader. Those moments are what I read for: for learning about HELA cells and inequity in health outcomes from Rebecca Skloot. For learning about the African immigrant experience from Chimamanda Adichie. For learning about raising a donkey from Christopher McDougall. For learning about the Black Panther Party from Angela Davis and Assata Shakur. For learning about the history of nuclear research on Long Island from Kelly McMasters.
When I read books that feel far away from my experience, I have the highest experience of that feeling of transport, the reason so many of us read in the first place. I once had a teacher (Rebecca Lee, author of Bobcat) who described great books as those you’d “exchange your life for.” When I pause everything to read, I feel so lucky to have the luxury to do so, so grateful for my eyesight and the ability to move through books with relative speed. And I think if we ask just a tiny bit more of ourselves as readers, we give just a little bit more of ourselves to the world around us.
So if you’re not a poetry person, pick up Adrienne Rich anyway. If you’re not about the memoir, give Alexandra Fuller a try. If you love those WWII books, read one about or by a woman. If you think novels have nothing to teach you, read Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad. Young adult books are for everyone, just ask Angie Thomas. If you think a nature book will put you to sleep, find a book by Mary Roach. And if you think religion or self-help is too proscriptive, Thich Nhat Hanh might be able to disabuse you of that notion. What I’m saying is: read beyond your bounds. Read far beyond what you think you’d like, and see what happens. Worst case scenario, you’re one book closer to your frequent buyer reward.
—Erica, Madison Books, Seattle, WA