By Anna Blome, Bud Class of 2017
One fall day several years ago, I approached my 6th grade English teacher with as much consternation as I could summon to tell her exactly what I thought about The Treasure Island. I absolutely hated it! If I had bought the paper copy instead of the electronic one, I would have chucked it into the fire. From that day on, I wore my perpetual dislike of school assigned books like a badge. Catch-22 was confusing, Beowulf was too old, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern was annoying. But that all changed when I became a junior and was assigned three books: East of Eden, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Pride & Prejudice.
All three of these books struck a chord somewhere deep down inside of me. While all other school books went to Goodwill when I finished reading them, these precious three remain in my bookcase. At the time, I didn’t really put much thought into why I liked some and not the rest. I just put it down to personal preferences when it came to writing styles. But what I recently realized was that I liked books that had some sort of female voice. Both Pride & Prejudice and A Streetcar Named Desire were told mostly or entirely from the female perspective, while largely focusing on females. Meanwhile, the two main women in East of Eden were singular in that their decisions and personalities were key to the story being told. Reading stories like these made me feel included and heard as a young woman.
So, it was only made sense that these are the books that stood out to me. Reading about complex women, who struggled with real-life issues, normalized my existence for me. Over seven years of assigned readings, it’s incredibly disheartening that I found only three such books. The books that dominated my reading list were mostly written by white men. Their respective plots and messages inherently reflected that, purposeful or not. And, I don’t think this was just the case at my middle and high school. Representation matters. No matter what kind of book I’m reading, I’m always looking to find a bit of myself in between the pages. Existing in today’s world is hard and exhausting. There’s the constant worry over whether one fits in. Being able to read a book and see yourself or some aspect of yourself is important because it serves as a form of valediction. By limiting our reading lists to stories told by just one type of person, anyone who doesn’t belong to that group is marginalized. They’re told that their stories, and by extension their lives, are less important. While I’m not suggesting we discount the old classics, it is crucial that reading lists also draw from a diverse range of authors, who depict different lifestyles.