I just spent money I barely have on books I may never read.
I know I’m not alone in that. I, like many of my friends, have a wide range of books in my personal library. I take pride in my unique and extensive collection of Black plays! Y’all, it’s wild. Some of my anthologies, readers and books are first edition, out of print, and just good ass books. I’ve read a lot of them because of college. I still have almost every play I had to read in school. Because I had to read them and write about them, they all offered some critical perspective that I often find myself going back to. Sometimes I just read my written notes in them. That’s why I don’t do audiobooks like that; where do I put my lil notes at? Like I gotta keep my opinion to myself!? No. I read in conversation with the writer. And as a writer, when I write, I write to someone. I write in conversation. So I talk back in my books. I just love books so much. I’m that friend who will send you a book because you told me something kinda relevant 3 years ago in the bathroom at the club. A good book be having me so obsessed. Like when I read Assata by Assata Shakur. I for sure was at the DMV, beach, coffee shop, honestly anywhere I may have had to wait for more than 40 seconds, I was pulling that thang out, turning them pages rigorously. I just couldn’t get enough. I felt like I got to learn from Assta personally. Same with Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison and The Delicacy of Embracing Spirals by MIMI tempest. These are books that had me reading cover to cover (which I do not do often).
But it wasn’t always that way for me. I’ve been reading Ntozake Shange’s Sing a Black Girl’s Song, a collection edited by Imani Perry (who also wrote the best autobiography about Lorraine Hansberry which is in my top 5) and she talks about how Shange grew up with books in her home. Her parents read and bought books for her to read too. Toni Morrison worked at the library when she was like 14. And got in trouble for reading more than she would work. Lorraine Hansberry was similar, very well read. August Wilson literally dropped out of middle school and educated himself at the library. He read everything. All my faves talk about all these good books they remember seeing on the shelves in their homes and engaging with at their local libraries. But not me. The only good book I remember in my home growing up was the good book. I remember my mom reading Fly Girl by Omar Tyree when that came out. She carried it with her everywhere she went and my sister got to read it after her. But not me. I was watching Moesha and Kenan and Kel. I swear the only thing I thought about in elementary school was how I was going to be on Nickelodeon. I wasn’t worried about no books. Mainly because, ya girl couldn’t read!
It’s wild, I know. I love books so much now but growing up, I had very low comprehension skills. Having ADHD is so distracting sometimes. And it made it hard for me to really understand written words. So during reading time, I just admired pictures. I always struggled in grade school. Teachers begged my mom to allow them to hold me back a grade, put me in special classes and send me to special schools (it was the 90’s so everything was special). But my mom wouldn’t let them. She’d be mad at me for not trying harder but she never let them hold me back.
It wasn’t until 7th grade in literature class when we were given the opportunity to have a pizza party if we all finished reading a book about a working poor family on the Southside of Chicago who wanted to move into a bigger home. At the time, my family was living with my paternal grandma and in total, there was about 13 of us in the 3 bedroom apartment (1.5 baths). And I never say no to pizza! So I read the first act and I remember loving it so much. How the words were laid out on the page made me feel smart. Every single time I turned the tiny page, I felt less… special. I remember no one in class taking it seriously but not me. I read every line. There were no pictures to look at, instead I saw a world I knew about.
I love reading now. And I wish I could say after that book in 7th grade I was one of those people who you always caught with a book in hand. But I didn’t. I got better. I did pick up Fly Girl, which felt like a rite of passage. And I did get heavily into the Bible in high school. But it was a very slow journey. But that journey eventually led me to a pen and paper. Allowing me to create worlds of my own.
I love that for me.