Originally written for a Tennessee high school literature class

The white hot agony that tore my body at the blast, was nothing compared to my mental torment. In my final moments, seeing the unfamiliar face through the windshield, I knew I had killed just an imposter. Despite the bomb strapped to me, despite screams of the crowd, Chiang Kai-shek would live. But my life was over. As darkness closed in, the copper rich taste of blood in my mouth was nothing compared to my bitter knowledge. My passion, my dreams, and my life had all been utterly futile.

I don’t want to be envious of the joy other women find with children. It’s not who I am. They can’t possibly know I just buried another stillborn baby. That despite my previous failures, my selfish, desperate desire brought another baby into a world he will never experience. They didn’t hear my prayer at the grave, that neither he nor his brothers will hate me for that in eternity. All they see is my grief, as I turn from their happiness. No wonder they all avoid me.

I am neither heartbroken and barren, nor am I dead, but both worlds are contained within me, because I read. In a book by Andre Malraux, I tried and failed to kill Chiang Kai-shek. In the writing of a childless mother, I tasted the despair of love unfulfilled and a yearning for completion. Without feeling real emotional or physical pain, I gained experience. Simply because I read.

I once heard that wisdom comes from experience and experience comes from bad choices. But there are two ways to learn from experience, aren’t there? One is to personally make mistakes and reap the scars. The alternate is to learn by observing others. Sometimes that is done personally, but reading also opens us to experience – and hard-won wisdom – of people across the world and other cultures.

Few writers hold the interest of readers with just the fabric of our own lives. Thrilling plot points and vivid descriptions will capture attention, but leave readers with little of substance in exchange for invested time. ‘Good’ books change readers, also offering nuggets of knowledge or wisdom that alter lives forever. Such pearls are harvested from experience most writers can never hope to acquire in a lifetime.

Other than writers, who learned the value of reading.