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The Girl Who Read
I knew a girl who was obsessed with reading.
From a young age, she loved to read. The shelves in her room were fully occupied with everything from fiction works to biographies. She made a trip to the library every morning and a weekly visit to the local bookstore. She would start her day with a passage from a favorite and read herself to sleep each night. Other people’s words dictated her life. Alone at lunch, Ernest Hemingway was her friend. At night, locked in her room as she heard yelling throughout the house, Harper Lee pacified her. On rainy days in, Kurt Vonnegut welcomed her. The Brontes were her sisters. She wondered with Ray Bradbury and questioned with George Orwell; she dreamed with J.K. Rowling and screamed with Steven King. Her collection ranged from classic to contemporary; from drama to sci-fi to historical to realistic and every genre in between.
The library traveled with her to college and followed her afterwards. She never threw away a single novel, no matter how torn up it may be. Every work contained a poignant message. Each book was family, be it a mother or father or distant relative. Not one was unimportant. Each had its place and each was valuable. Before long, the various shelves of her home were filled to the brim, each two books deep and holding as many as possible. She began to place them on the floor near the bookcases, some towers going so high they nearly reached the ceiling. They were placed in the closet, under the bed, and on the nightstand – wherever a book could fit. They were at first organized; nonfiction next to the door, poetry placed on the windowsills, series stacked in the kitchen. Walking through the apartment was an obstacle course; one wrong move and books could come crashing to the floor. Since she never cooked, the oven became storage. Books lived with food in the fridge. The larger the number grew, the more chaotic things became.
Notebooks occupied certain shelves. Pages and pages designated for copying passages. In every free spot, a quote was thrown onto the page. With every new book, a new favorite quote was found, and the girl would rush to record it in a free journal. When she ran out of notebook space, a quote would find its way on the wall, vividly written in black ink. Every wall was covered in words; with so many that they could barely be seen clearly. Was that Tolstoy or Twain by the window? She sat in her apartment, reading and rereading, painting the walls in the words of authors. She wrote on cabinets, tables, nightstands – any furniture she could – when the walls had no vacancy. She drew the curtains closed and marked words onto their fabric. She embroidered quotes onto clothing, wearing the words of Dickens and Shakespeare on her chest.
As a present to herself, she tattooed famous words of Salinger onto her wrist. Within a week, three other sentences were permanently inked onto her body, messages forever stained in her skin. By the end of the year, her entire torso was marked. She quit her job, deciding time would be better spent with her library. At one point, she stopped eating. She would forget any need for food when she would be lost in a novel. She went days without nourishment. Thriving off literature was her method of living. She stayed inside, leaving only to buy books or have the man downstairs tattoo more words onto her body. She was entirely covered, head to toe, in words, each one written in black in the same classic font. She cut her hair short to ink a passage on her neck. A single word of importance was on each eyelid – “LOVE” and “READ.” The word “BIBLIOPHILE” was across her chest. Her dreams were filled with the same stories she read.
At the times she was out in the real world, she remained in a fairytale state. Strangers and friends alike couldn’t talk to her. She had immersed herself into reading to such an extent that she never noticed when she began to speak only in the words of writers. All her sentences were composed by others, and lines from books were used whether they properly fit the situation or not.
A stranger would ask:
“What is your name?”
“What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” would be her response.
“How are you these days?”
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
“Do you like my shirt?”
“"It makes me sad because I've never seen such - such beautiful shirts before.”
“Are you off to the library again?”
“I've been drunk for about a week now, and I thought it might sober me up to sit in a library.”
“What is your story?”
“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”
Once, long ago, she wanted to write. To create books like those she loved so much. And yet, the more she read, the more the desire to write left her. How could she write anything that matched the work of Fitzgerald or Joyce or Austen or Proust? How could she form poetry when there was Shelley or Keats or Byron or Blake? Rather than create, she would simply appreciate. It was always easier to live through others’ words than to speak her own.
As years passed, her state grew more intense. Sleep was infrequent, almost gone entirely. The dreams that once soothed her turned sour. Her eyes were strained and sore from overworking. There was always more to read. Her frail form was constantly hunched over a book on the floor. She forced her weak arms to lift books. Pages cut her dry hands as she struggled to turn pages. The sentences on the page stared at her sardonically, laughing and sneering at her. She watched as the faces on covers twisted into spiteful masks. They taunted the girl to tears. Friends turned foes, the books betrayed her. She was no longer a companion to them, but a slave. She couldn’t think. Every thought formed in her mind was warped. Her brain was bound to the books around her, her hands were shackled to novels, and her legs were chained to shelves.
The girl laid herself down on the hard floor. She was alone for the first time. Holden Caulfield would not answer phone calls. Atticus Finch never showed up with a book in hand. Jane Eyre did not have tea, Romeo was not at the window, and Anne Shirley, her childhood friend, walked out. The girl cried, and this time, there was no comfort, only cold, lifeless papers.