Doctor Who, Season 4, Episode 8: “Silence in the Library”. I sat, leaning forward and staring at the TV, eyes wide, the Doctor shows Donna ‘The Library’, an entire planet storing every book ever written in all of space and time. Such a library would be incredible to visit, I could easily spend lifetimes there. But it’s the stuff of… well, science fiction. I don’t have a library nearly as extensive as a planet, but I do have a bookshelf. My bookshelf houses books that especially impacted me, ones containing characters whose traits mirror my own experiences. Books that inspired me to be different, to be greater.
I could find these first books by touch alone, my hands have raked over Percy Jackson and the Olympians now and again since I was 10. Annabeth Chase was my first glimpse of the person I could be. Naturally smart but always seeking to know more, she used her intellect and curiosity to her advantage on every page. By her hand and in her honor, I google various topics brought up during a History lecture, desperate to get a deeper understanding and subsequently falling into a rabbit hole watching videos about the development of language for hours. I sit in awe at dinner, the adults having lively discussions ranging from the newest political issue, to quantum physics and abstract ideas of a sci-fi future. The next day at school I try to recreate that atmosphere amongst my friends, a modern day salon.
Teal hardcover, clothbound, my scribbled notes filling the margins, the wonderful Jane Austen’s Emma; a beautiful novel with an amusing main character. Emma Woodhouse develops the ability to learn from her mistakes and correct them. While her actions were usually well-intentioned, she often forgot to take into account the feelings of those she was helping. Emma learns from this and becomes a better person. I made mistakes freshman year, where I unwittingly abandoned some of my friends. After realizing this, I worked to fix what I had done and make amends. It took humility and self-awareness for Emma to right her wrongs, and I can see my own growth in learning to admit where I fall short.
This next one is new, paperback, the spine barely broken. Song of Achilles fed my love for Greek mythology and matched my own character in Patroclus. Reserved amongst strangers but free around those we trust, we are both passionately loyal to those we deem worthy. Rain hammering down on me as I place the box of cookies on my best friend’s doorstep, the same cookies I was about to eat before getting a text that she was sick. I’m quiet in Math, taking down the notes and silently helping the girl next to me with equations. In English, I am outspoken, shoving down my self-consciousness and pulling everyone deeper into discussions about Walden and Hamlet. Different environments bring out different sides of my personality, each with its own vital contribution.
A fading illustrated cover, worn from years of my mom and me flipping the pages. Jo March captured my attention when reading Little Women. She is fiercely independent, determined to make something of herself in a time where few wanted women to succeed. For me, independence wasn’t found in trying to establish myself in the world of 19th-century publishing. It was in moving back to America at 12 years old, after 10 years in Australia. Walking confidently into the middle school cafeteria, learning how to be myself, trying new things in a new country. In November of 2020, I jog across the street to the next polling site, holding my jacket closer in the frigid night, putting up candidates’ signs for Congress, fighting for a better world and knowing that in some alternate universe Jo is staking them into the ground right beside me.
I may not have a planet-sized library. Yet I can clearly see the books that have marked my life and given me things to aspire to. Although my heroes and influences may change, these childhood stories are interwoven with my own. They hold parts of me, parts of my personality. These books and my future collections will shape where I go, what I do next, the understandings I gain, and the influence I make. Inspiration and characteristics are best taken from fictional characters, the good ones always have an arc that leads them to being better people than when they first started out. Isn’t that what we all want for ourselves? To become our best versions? Oftentimes book characters can be a blueprint for our next steps and our next era of growth. Always reading and always developing with them is a path to a better future for all of us.