I've always thought that I loved words. Growing up, I filled countless journals with them. There was the thrill of bringing a new journal home - just waiting to be filled with the ramblings of my brain and the desires of my heart. Words helped me make sense of the world. If I could put it on paper, then I was one step closer to understanding it or making peace with it or finding joy in it.
I fell out of the habit of journaling in college, and I've only recently found my way back to it. I've felt the words stacking up inside me - pushing on my heart and begging for release. Falling into this crazy world of blogging was the first step towards letting those words fly out of me. I'd always loved to read and to write, but blogging has given me a project to invest my time in. And it's also helped me realize something important:
I don't love words. I love STORIES.
I thought that I loved words, but really I loved what they created. It's the finished product, the end result, that gets me excited. The pieces are important, but the way they fit together matters more. Words weren't what helped me make sense of things - it was the act of telling the story that did. And I may feel like words are pushing their way out of me, but truth is that I want to tell my story - even if I'm the only one who sees it.
I could tell you: I'm twenty-five. It may help you place me in a certain category - letting you guess generally where I'm at in life, what my childhood was like, etc. - but it doesn't tell my story. I could tell you that I'm married. But you won't know when I met my husband, how we fell in love, or why I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. The word won't tell you the story - that's something you learn as you get to know me.
A word may help you define a thing,
but it doesn't actually mean you know the thing.
Words are the bricks that build the house but, as a house isn't defined by its bricks, a story can transcend the words used to tell it. And what you call a house - colonial, farmhouse, ranch - doesn't tell you who lived and loved in it. It's a word but not a story. So, words like "young adult" and "classic" don't have that much weight with me. It's one single brushstroke over a canvas made up of thousands of colors and textures.
This has all been rumbling around in my brain because of everything I've read recently in reaction to posts criticizing YA. Here's the thing: the click-bait YA post was dumb. But the reactions of "ugh, adult fiction is so boring" or "oh, classics are so dense" don't add anything to the conversation, and neither does "YA is just so much better." Substitute YA in those first two sentences, or the other two words for YA in the third example, and it sounds like the same story, different word. Here's what I think you should do instead:
Find the stories that interest you...
... but challenge yourself to try new stories sometimes, too.
I'm sure you've heard the saying: "People never change." I agree to an extent, but I also think that's a load of crap. I'm not exactly the same person at twenty-five that I was a fifteen. Generally, I'm still the same person, but my experiences have shaped me. Does the Grand Canyon change? I mean, it's still a giant hole in the ground... but the shape of it can still be altered over time. I think it's the same with people.
The stories you love today won't necessarily be the stories you love tomorrow. The stories you hated yesterday may be the ones that speak your heart today. You know how you find that out?
Try new things with an open mind.
Deliberately sample from all of the options available to you.
Sure, don't waste your time reading things that you hate, but don't assume that you'll always hate the same thing or that one bad experience means something isn't right for you at all or ever.
I want to find stories that move me, that inspire me, that change me. And I don't care how they're told or who tells them or why they're told a certain way. Why should that matter?
Over time, I've cultivated a curiosity for stories.
On many occasions, someone has commented and told me that they love that I read such a wide variety of things. I always find it interesting when people say that (and I truly love that they do) because it's not really a conscious effort on my part. I may gravitate towards certain stories more than others, but I try to live and read from a place where I'm eager to experience something new. I genuinely enjoy the process of discovery!
That doesn't mean I'll read anything and everything - I have certain personal "boundaries." I believe stories can have a profound impact on our hearts and our minds, and there are stories I consciously choose not to put in my mind for various reasons. But the principle is still the same: the reason I read such a variety of books is because I don't care how they're labeled. I want to get a sense for the story inside, and that's how I decide what to pick up next.
A book is two stories merging: yours and the one inside the pages.
The joy of reading is in finding the stories that speak to you. It probably goes without saying, but those will be different for every single person. Stories can invite two people in, ask you both to sit down and leave each person feeling completely differently about the same living room. What makes a story so fantastic is that the influence goes both ways: you bring something to the story and the story brings something to you. No two people will have the exact same experience.
A book becomes mine in a way when I read it, and someone else's experience with it doesn't lessen or amplify my feelings for it. And personally, I like to see how one thing can mean so many different things to other people! It's the reason I'll search out reviews where someone felt the complete opposite of me about a book. We aren't the same people, so in some ways it's like we didn't read the same book. So instead of arguing about words or trying to defend the things we love, I'd rather spend more time doing this:
Look for the stories that speak to you, gather those around you
and celebrate the fact that you've found something you love.