The summer before freshman year of college, my mother told me, with concerned certainty, “You’re not going to read in college. You’re going to be busy.”

“Mom,” I responded with the lofty surety of youth, “Reading is a part of my life. I’m not going to stop just because I go to college.”

Three years later, I wonder which of us was right. The number of books I read per year has steadily decreased with each year I spend in college. As a kid, growing up in a remote village in Papua New Guinea, I used to read four books every Saturday, and at least the same number during the week. Classic literature, adventure stories, fantasy, and westerns – nothing escaped the scope of my radar. Isolated from civilization, I would willingly choose the world of fiction over the world of reality, and move seamlessly from the valiant mouse-heroics of Brian Jacques’ *Redwall* series to the embattled journeys of Alistair MacLean’s Bond-esque heroes to the romance and tragedy of Louisa May Alcott’s *Little Women*. Books were my freedom, my magic carpet ride to other lands.

Six years later, I am experiencing not just the double loss of my childhood and the country I grew up in, as my home, halfway across the world, fades into memory and I move on to adult life here in the U.S, but also the world which I spent most of my early years living in – that of books. Now a third-year at one of the better institutions of higher knowledge in the U.S., I no longer have unadulterated access to the fictional worlds I used to live in. It is a bittersweet paradox that, choosing often the world of fiction over reality as children, we do not realize the value of the fictive worlds we are able to live in so utterly. It is only upon growing up, and no longer being able to drown out reality to the same extent, and live so whole-heartedly and vicariously through other worlds, that we realize what we lost, and what we had. I no longer have time for books – not in the way I once did. Reading has receded to the borders of my life, pushed outward relentlessly by the varied pressures and requirements of undergraduate life, and life in general. I’ve gone a month within reading a single book – a fate I would have considered impossible at age ten or fourteen.

Yet I’m not concerned that I will lose books entirely. Rather, the frenetic pace and minimalist lifestyle that being a college student seems to engender has forced me to redefine what I see as my relationship to those fictive worlds – how I fit books into both my schedule and my identity. These days, it’s mostly fantasy and chick lit that I read – desperate to escape the mental challenges of the academic life, I turn to books less to reaffirm my love of literature, or to submit myself to an author in order to learn something about life or love or writing, than to simply escape, as wholly as I can, into someone else’s vision. When that urge arises it’s not the complex machinations of Tolstoy’s novels that I want to be faced with but rather the frenzy of finding a proper husband for a marriageable young woman, or the clearly sketched wars between good and evil in fantasy worlds in which magic is a living force. Summers, I engulf myself in Tolstoy and poetry and Jhumpa Lahiri while I can, knowing that my time to spend with them is all too short. Once back, I let impulse dictate what it is I choose to read in the few cornered hours that remain free. Genre is unimportant – all that I need is that sense of fictional worlds seeping over into mine, with all their vivid wonder.

It took college to teach me that as much as I enjoy picking and choosing, rifling through book lists and favorite author bibliographies and Booker-prize winners to find the books which fit my kinks, it is ultimately the mere act of reading that keeps me going. Books are not necessary to sustain human life, or even the human spirit – I’ve never believed that. But there is an intimacy, an ownership to the act of reading that I’ve found almost nowhere else. Opening a book is like sipping a mug of hot tea – there’s a sense of power in the choice to drink, and a sense of submission in the willingness to take in, but above and beyond there’s a profoundly personal nature to it – the feel of the mug in your hands, its warmth on your fingers, the knowledge that no one else will ever drink this particular cup of tea in the same way you do. Books are like this – eloquent, interacting directly with you. Unlike a football game or even a film, books are profoundly individual experiences, rather than audience experiences (both their greatest strength and greatest weakness), which means that no matter how far I stray they’ll be waiting for me when I turn around. Waiting to be opened, tasted, submitted to, engulfed. Books will always be a part of my world – an intrinsic part, which I will return to again and again, and an elusive, necessary warmth at the borders of my life.

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