Reading Keeps Me Alive

I remember writing, “I read to write better,” a few times when talking about books. This is true but it’s also a cop-out. So that I won’t have to tell you how, when everything falls apart and the body crumbles under not knowing how to go on, when I lose the ABC’s of my daily life – no, of my daily survival – I read like a motherfucker. Like it’s the last thing left to do on earth. Like it’s all I can ever do.

I remember reading Lautreamont’s ‘Moldoror and Poems’ through a throbbing migraine that had me melting on the couch with eyes plastered on words, obsessively reading and reading to completion before returning to my body. Fighting for recuperation. Fighting to exist. I remember being on the floor with T.S. Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’ breathing the off-white pages in, deeply, forgetting all about the camomile tea until it grew cold.  I remember crying over Marjane Satrapi’s ‘Persepolis,’ that part about female prophets, that part about her mother fainting at the airport, that part about her grandmother and jasmines. I remember collecting Henry James because of some passages in Azar Nafisi’s ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ then realizing I neither wanted nor needed Henry James.

Those are fragments that still stay with me from the year I couldn’t leave the house not more than ten times. The year I thought my life was over, that’s it, I wouldn’t recover from a grief that didn’t have a name in the languages I knew. The grief that pried me open inside out from my deepest roots, flushed me down the abyss and left me empty with a heart that must – already – go through too much.

I read to breathe. I read to hope.

Reading was all I could do in March, after news of my brother’s death hit like an earthquake, the kind that happened from a distance that only reaches you when your phone lights up on a painfully quiet night and the text message or call reaches you, destroying everything you once knew about the world. Again. There is never any time to acclimatize to shock.


My heart racing every time 6pm, 8pm, 10pm rolls in. Are you okay, are you okay, are you at least okay. Did the message send, did the call go through. Why didn’t the call go through. Dizzy, giddy, nauseous, who else, whatelse, whenisthisgoingtoend. I need less of these hours to be traumatic.

But, how. Where to start.

I needed a way to soften things. To rest. To remove myself from the space of guilt and regret and rage and loneliness. No, I needed to accept that this guilt and regret and rage and loneliness are now how I feel on most days, most of the time. I needed to find solace not away from these feelings but within them. I needed something that could keep me afloat while I resist the toxic patterns of my social conditioning – do I split myself into segments, do I compartmentalize my disasters like how I once thought this was entirely what a person should be doing (no, no, no), do I let go how do I let go and what, for what – I needed

something that could make me feel aware, again, of gravity and momentum and tastes, sounds, growing ulcers, and just enough fear to let me know not to enter that room when it’s dark, not yet. I needed tethering like I needed a sense of belonging, like how I have always needed a sense of belonging. I needed whatever it is one needs when they are learning how to embrace their peace, learning how to have faith in love, how to own the anger without being consumed by it.

I needed words, again, to show me what surviving any of this could mean. Something to help me find language for the nth time. Some kind of pathway or trail to show me what possibilities were really made of. Line by line, to re-learn the different ways literature teaches you how to see the world. How to see the world as a human being. I needed to reintroduce myself to continuity.

So I read.

This is Part One of a two-or-three part (I haven’t decided yet!) post on grief and reading. Part Two will highlight the books I read right before and right after the sudden loss of my brother, how they kept me afloat. My intention is to highlight the importance reading has as a method of healing, as well as to document these moments in my own words so as to lay claim on them. May these memories may grow less overwhelming to live with.



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