Since we moved to isolating as a family in mid-March, my children, ages 5 and 7, have been filling their days with stories. First it was Harry Potter: they ran around the house, wands out, casting spells, and at night we watched Harry and his brave band take on the Man with Two Faces, the basilisk and Tom Riddle, and a sneaky rat of a human named Wormtail. Then it was The Lord of the Rings: the boys dressed in their Halloween costumes of two years ago when they were Frodo and Legolas, and ran around with their wooden swords and the bow their dad had fashioned out of a piece of plastic pipe, fighting orks and protecting the ring of power until it could be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom. Most recently, it’s been Star Wars: battling between the light side (blue lightsaber) and dark side (red lightsaber) in an effort to bring balance to the Force. At night we watch the ennealogy in order, cheering on Obi-Wan, Luke, and now Rey, joining generations of movie fans who will always remember their first jump to hyperspace, their first dogfight between a classic X-Wing and a Tie Fighter.
We all need stories right now. When we turn to the world around us for clarity, there’s little to sustain us. Statistics, fake news, political pivots; if these are the stories with which we put ourselves to bed these days, it’s little wonder we have trouble sleeping. We’re anxious, and tired of uncertainty; at the same time, we can recognize reasons to be grateful. And one of the things that tops my list of gratitude, after my lovely family, and the privilege that I have to continuing teaching even during this pandemic, after my health and the opportunities I have every day to get outside and get moving, is the power of stories and storytelling to sustain our imaginations and to offer us hope and escape, even just for a few hours.
Me? I’m logging hundreds of pages a week in reading time, and most of my chosen books would get a side glance, if not a lifted eyebrow or an out-and-out stinkeye, from those who profess to love “literature,” for I’ve been burying myself in tales of mystery and suspense, or shadowhunters and demons. Of course I’ve also found time for some poetry, and some Jason Reynolds, so it’s an eclectic list--but mostly, I’m drawn to stories that give me a classic showdown between good and evil. I’m not looking for moral complexity, or philosophy on the human condition--though if that’s your happy book place, believe me, I’m not judging!--but instead want to be soothed by these worlds in which the worst looks like it’s about to happen … only to be beaten back by a small and loyal band of friends who can save the world.
So this summer, I urge you--lose yourself in a story. Revisit a favorite series from your early adolescence, or read a picture book to a younger sibling. Pick up that vampire romance or that dystopian novella you’ve been meaning to read. Or go for the classics--look up Charles Dickens, Albert Camus, Jane Austen, or Zora Neale Hurston. Let yourself be transported into another world, a world that may make yours feel simple in comparison. We all need stories right now, stories that open up possibilities in the world around us, and our place in it. Maybe for a few hours, we can imagine that we can save the world. And when we return to reality, at least there’s one more thing to be grateful for: while many of us may feel isolated right now, these stories connect to us to one another, and may also remind us, however gently, that we are not truly alone.
View Tampa Prep's 2020 summer reading lists.