by Hannah Ueland
illustrations by Jeannine Erasmus
My earliest adventures were solving crimes with Nancy Drew and living on a train with the boxcar children. I have rowed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics with the University of Washington’s men’s rowing team. I have led with Meg, rebelled with Jo, wept for Beth, and travelled with Amy. Fortunately, I won the 174th Hunger Games with Peeta by my side.
Reading has been my favorite pastime since before I can remember. My parents would read to me Goodnight Moon, The Giving Tree, and Dr. Seuss. Throughout elementary school, the library and I were as thick as thieves. From the Fairy series to Percy Jackson to Molly Moon, I learned things that the average child may not know. Do you know that fairies come in all different colors? Do you know how to put someone in a trance? What about how to discover a robber with just your notepad and blue convertible?
One of my most memorable reading stories is from my second grade summer. My parents promised to buy me a special, old doll if I read 60 books. Of course, I read all 60 books that summer; but by the time I finished, the doll was sold out! I think my parents just wanted me to stop talking.
As I matured, my taste in reading did as well. Middle school brought my crazy fantasy phase, with books such as Inkheart and Gathering Blue. At the start of my freshman year of high school, I went through the classics phase, reading novels such as Jane Eyre, Little Women, and Pride and Prejudice. I spent hours curled up on a chair finishing books with 700-plus pages. Having a grandmother who taught AP English for 30 years at an all-girls’ school, I was always encouraged to fully appreciate the treasured classics. Every Christmas and birthday brought a stack of books shipped from Philadelphia! Now that I’m a senior in high school, science fiction and historical nonfiction entertain me. Science fiction, like the Winter or Legend series, keep me up late at night. Some of my all-time favorite historical nonfiction books are The Boys in the Boat, Seabiscuit, and Unbroken.
Each time I finish a book, the same motivation prompts me to pick up another: escape, adventure, meditation. Instead of reading for pleasure, I read because I feel as though I actually become the protagonist. I feel, speak, and breathe the character’s role in that book. It allows me to “try on” different and new identities. I was that fairy in the Fairy series; I was Percy soaring over the sea; I was Louis Zamperini in the Japanese prisoner of war camps during World War II. My mom can attest to coming into my room on many occasions to see me crying, laughing, or smiling at my book. When I read, I disappear from reality and join the storyline as the main character. Time flies by for an hour when it feels like five minutes. This is the feeling I want to convey to someone when I explain my passion for reading. I want that friend to experience the same emotional satisfaction as I do.
Since I became an avid reader, reading has become an integral part of my nighttime routine. As it does for many people, reading helps me relax and fall asleep, calms my nerves and relieves my stress. In a British study, participants who read for a few minutes had 68 percent less stress than those who did not. Think about each night before you go to sleep. Do you go on your phone? I’m going to assume yes. Becoming lost in a book and leaving the pressures of school or work behind could become your nightly routine. As a student, I understand that for many people, the last thing they want to do before sleep is to read even more; yet, I think we can all agree that we are much more cheerful in the morning after a good night’s sleep. A more optimistic outlook and happier presence can only make you a better student and friend.
Besides the calming benefits, books teach you things about which you will not be tested. There is no pressure with reading. Dr. Seuss wrote, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” More knowledge can only be a benefit. If you can set yourself apart at a job interview when your prospective boss asks you what novel you’ve read recently, how great would it be to delve into a conversation regarding the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915? Or speak about a racehorse named Seabiscuit who captured the hearts of so many in America during the Great Depression?
To me, the most important benefit of reading is that it can affect your attitude and life relationships. It can help you become a more compassionate person. One of my friends, who is trying to read more, asked me for a book that would engage her instantly. I had recently finished a book about the evolution of a friendship between two girls with wildly different personalities, so I recommended it. She ended up loving it! There are endless possibilities of genres serving all interests. I recently became co-president of the Quail Ridge Teen Advisory Board, where we read soon-to-be published books and review them for the store. If you want some interesting reads, check out our blog and see what we’ve been reading (qrbteenadvisoryboard.wordpress.com). Begin reading and see what, for me, has been the most rewarding part of my childhood. Engage with the world around you and broaden your imagination. Who knows, you may end up in some far-away place like Neverland!
Hannah Ueland is a senior at Saint Mary’s School in Raleigh.