I’m sure it comes as no surprise to all of you that I like to read. I mean, if I’m going to ramble on and on here, it’s only fair that I read other peoples’ ramblings from time to time too.
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved books. In third grade, I was so obsessed with Little House on the Prairie that I convinced myself that I needed to move to a farm and live like it was 1835.
I love talking about books, too. I literally wrote my college essay about reading. Yet, whenever I’m asked what my favorite genre is, I lie and say that I don’t know.
But I do know. My favorite books are books about sick people.
When I’m at the bookstore, it’s what I look for on every shelf. Because no matter what mood I’m in, books about sick people never get old. I could read them over and over again (and I have!).
So how did I go from Laura Ingall’s biggest fan to the person who’s visited Goodreads list of “Fiction Books With Chronically Ill Main Characters” more often than they can add new titles?
I believe that we read for one of two reasons: to escape or to understand.
When I was little, I read to escape. The world was so big and loud, but if I just opened a book I could be anywhere else. Fairy dust and magic trees and little cabins in the woods were so much more comfortable than real life where I had to *talk* to *real people.* But over time, the little worlds in my books got farther and farther from my own. Fairies don’t know what pain is, and there are no hospitals in Little House on the Prairie that I’m aware of. And so, I stopped reading to escape, and I started reading to understand.
That’s when I discovered books about sick people.
I read about polio, heart disease, arthritis, kidney failure, anorexia, the bubonic plague…the list goes on. I didn’t care as much about what happened to each character as much as I did the fact that they’d all been handed something they didn’t want, yet their stories kept going. They were kids, too, and they had friends and played sports. They had bad days and were given bad news, but they still graduated high school and won track meets and were happy in the end. They were in all kinds of pain, and still, they were okay. They were me. And even though they weren’t real people, they had real feelings. Growing up, they understood me better than most real people could.
All the “sick people” books didn’t just help me feel less alone. They taught me to be proud of myself, and not the person I was “despite” being sick, but the person I am because of it. They taught me that chronic illness wasn’t something I had to keep to myself. That feeling sick wasn’t my fault. To not be afraid of the medical world, that it’s good to ask for help, and that not everyone is going to be kind.
Years later, having learned all these things, I still read my “Fiction Books With Chronically Ill Main Characters” as a comfort. Every time I finish a chapter or start a new one, I am reminded that chronic illness is not something to hate or hide away. It is a part of my story, and if I can love all of those characters who are just like me, than I can love my own book too.