To All the Books I’ve Loved Before

Image courtesy of the author.

It started as a fake relationship. I would skim titles and covers and pick the heaviest ones with the densest text,
hoping to impress my classmates. Public displays of affection consisted of leafing through the pages during silent
reading, occasionally using a dictionary to attempt to decipher whatever passage I had flipped open to. There
were glimmers of understanding until I moved on to the next in rapid succession, serial dating.

I maintained this facade until second-grade reading quizzes exposed my superficial understanding. It was an
unexpected blessing to have my pretentiousness stripped away and forbidden love shattered the image I had
cultivated as I delighted in Nancy Drew, Geronimo Stilton, and Beverly Cleary.

I devoured hundreds of books from Black Beauty to The House on Mango Street in a single summer, freedom
from self-imposed limitations enabling me to grow from neophyte to avid reader. Nights percolated with an
expectant energy as I embarked on a clandestine post-bedtime affair, ensconced under my duvet with a flashlight
in one hand and a book in the other. The compact one-bedroom basement my mom and I lived in at the time
seemed bigger than it was and the AeroBed we slept on became a magic carpet whisking me away. I soared
through rich roiling histories, transported from palatial museums to foreboding mausoleums. I fulminated against
injustice at freedom suits, braved sun-scarred deserts, and built castles in the clouds, magnificent enough to defy

Eventually, I could truly savor the books I had pretended to read and I had learned to cherish the simple, honest
words that stood the test of time over grandiloquence and prose purple enough to clothe Byzantine emperors.
To Sonia Sanchez, Maya Angelou, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Audre Lorde, and many others…

You helped me come alive. Your writing allowed me to envision myself as bigger and braver. I poured my heart
into college-ruled notebooks, crafting the stories I wished to read about girls like me. Although a kaleidoscope of
butterflies whirled inside me, I bubbled to life when I had the opportunity to verbalize the ideas blossoming in my
head, emboldened by passion. My hand punched through the air in class and the girl formerly scared to stutter led
Socratic seminars.

You inspired me to be a voice for those shunted to the margins. Through advocating for English Language
Learners and the special needs community since junior high, fighting social ignominy, working to uplift
underserved girls in rural India, and supporting homeless women in downtown Dallas, I stand against
dehumanization and discrimination.

You emboldened me to tell tough stories and stand up for Asian-American representation. I remember the sweet
aroma of cardamom steeped in milk overwhelming our small kitchen and massaging ghee into flour for halwa
poori, a traditional Indian breakfast, alongside my grandmother, milky-white patches of vitiligo visible against her
caramel skin. She had her life torn apart during the Partition of India and Pakistan.

My mother worked day-long shifts at convenience stores while pregnant with me and used food stamps to buy
baby formula. Our story and the amalgamation of Hindi and English we speak at home is beautiful rather than
broken precisely because it is ours. I have found a place on the shelf for our story and make room for others
through championing representation.

To the books I love…

You smoothed furrows from my forehead and turned all the grays to gold. You had story-studded eyes and poetry
on your lips and I found I did not mind the coffee-cup ring left on your prologue nor the annotations in unfamiliar writing. I ran a finger along your broken spine lovingly and reveled in your comforting weight in my hands.

I will never be truly well-read nor well-versed in all of life’s lessons but you made me feel as well-loved as a dogeared, tea-stained, good old book.