I have a confession to make. A teacher confession. As a high school literature teacher, I feel that I am somewhat deficient in the "books that I've read" category. Especially in the "must have read" and "classics" sections. I've never read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Death of a Salesman, 1984, or Hamlet. Never read any Dostoevsky or Tolstoy. Every year in my Senior Literature class my kids each select two novels to read and critique. Chances are, I have not read those either. And sometimes this makes me feel like a fraud. Just a little. Maybe.
As for the non-fiction--I love a quirky memoir or a personal essay, a passionate pedagogical philosophy or a quiet reflection on life. Nothing wrong with that. The first time I read David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day I was studying abroad in France. I laughed and laughed at his English approximations of how he must have sounded trying to cobble together a coherent thought in French (thus, the title of the book). Also while living in France I first read Joan Didion's Slouching Toward Bethlehem. Her personal essays and journalistic pieces touched me, like a soft-spoken friend sitting nearby. Which I so desperately needed at the time, being a little homesick myself. When I moved from California to New York I took comfort in her own description of this same journey. She shared how her newly fashionable dress in San Francisco felt a little dingy and outdated as she stepped off the plane in NYC. It can be intimidating, ya know? Joan knows.
There are so many others, too. But I keep coming back to Virginia Woolf. It saddens me that she must have led a somewhat somber life, she must have felt lost and adrift. Which is strange to me because she's given me so much grounding in my own life at times. I first read A Room of One's Own as a senior in college and I think in some fundamental way this book changed me. Or deeply affected me, at least.
This metaphor is a powerful one for me. Or maybe it is a symbol, since the room is both the room itself, and representative of a larger idea. Either way, I am always reminded to hold fast to my room. And luckily, I live in a time and a place where that is possible. And fortunately, my husband is the type of man who reminds me to have a room of my own even when I lose sight of it. To go after my dreams. To pursue the unthinkable, the untouchable. To nourish my better angels.
And in this way, I really don't give a damn about a theoretical required reading list. I have my list. And a room of my own.