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  • Her Voice at the Table Team

Why I Love...

Valentine’s Day is not just for the humans in our lives who we love and admire–at Her Voice at the Table, we wanted to show some love to books, literary genres, and other forms of reading and writing that we can’t get enough of! Get to know each member of the Her Voice Team a little better through their love letter for Valentine’s Day. <3

-- Caitlin Rathe

Kate - Audiobooks

Walking and audiobooks- a perfect combo!

Someone famous once said, “I love love.” Well, I also love love, but, in the good company of all English teachers, my heart belongs to my books. I’m sure I shock absolutely no one when I admit that books line the walls of my home. And for me, book love is not just about the stories inside; it’s the cover art, the cracking sound a spine makes when you open a book for the first time, the smell of the pages, the dates we will take together to a coffee shop or pub; I love holding a book in my own two hands. So, when audiobooks hit the mainstream a few years ago thanks to apps like Audible, I was not only uninterested—I was physically upset! 

But that was then. 

Today, I loudly proclaim that audiobooks are my Valentine. The affair began about six months ago when I heard author Lauren Groff talk at DMA Arts and Letters Live, and she noted that part of her writing practice is her nonstop consumption of books. During certain activities (running, doing the laundry) she pops in an audiobook, and then during others (going to bed, flying) she reads a physical book. She had my ear, not only because she’s one of my writer crushes, but also because I had been thinking about audiobooks all wrong—audiobooks don’t need to replace books—adding them to my arsenal just means I can always be reading! And I’m learning

that taking a walk while listening to a book is one of the greatest anxiety supports around. 

My favorite audiobook genres are romantasy and non-fiction. I’m currently listening to Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros, and you’ll find me in my car Scooter following that minivan in the right-hand lane in a school zone because I ain’t in no hurry to get anywhere when I’m immersed in a war college filled with hot cadets learning to fly dragons. #zadenriorson 😍

Caitlin - Science Fiction

For as long as I can remember, I have been a scaredy-cat. I slept in my little brother’s room (he had bunk beds) until I was 10 years old. I had a night light the intensity of a search light with a range of 10 miles at sea. These days, I still can’t watch horror movies, or read murder mysteries, or anything too thrilling because I have a hard time separating fiction from reality. WHAT IF the criminals following Liam Neeson decided to come after me and my family? How do I know the murderer in a true crime doc won’t escape from prison and sneak into my house? I’ve tried imagining the film crew behind the scenes in a horror movie, or the writer imagining and writing a scary scene in a book, but you guys, it’s still too real. This is where science fiction comes in. 

Science fiction takes place in an alternate reality totally disconnected from my real life. We don’t have flying cars, interstellar travel, or alien life on earth (yet!) which means any scary things that happen in these world’s CANNOT HAPPEN TO ME. I can inhabit these realities with no fear of repercussions in my real life! It took me a while to realize this is why I love sci-fi. It has the power to transport me to a world that echoes with our current reality but is far enough removed for me to enjoy. Some of my favorites are The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Three-Body Problem, and anything Asimov!  So, to my dearest sci-fi, I love you.

Caroline - Poetry

My earliest memories of reading and writing poetry began in second grade when my class would “popcorn read” different lines, working together to make sense of the poem’s overall meaning. I remember getting frustrated that no matter how many stanzas the poem had, I still struggled to make sense of a definite, clear meaning. I soon realized that poems were different in that they didn’t have a unanimous meaning by the end, simply because they aren’t supposed to. By nature, poems are creative outlets of expression with unique structures, fragments of thought, and word flow.

What started as an annoyance grew into a fond appreciation for the gaps and blurriness of poems because I realized the importance of using creativity and life experiences to shape my interpretation of poems. As I have grown up, I have found pleasure in filling in these gaps using my own creativity versus seeing the enigmatic aspects of poetry as daunting and disinclining. I love how one poem can result in ten different interpretations, based on unique creativities and identities, and I especially love how poems remind us to celebrate the beauty of diverse perspectives.

Megan - My Galentine's Loves: Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Lucy Maud Montgomery

Let’s just call them the sacred lady triumvirate of my youth: Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Lucy Maud Montgomery. They were my best earthly companions, women who wrote so many books that for birthdays and Christmases I would beg for sets of books, not just single copies. Before the internet, I had no clear way of knowing just how many books these women had written, so my pre-teen self was repeatedly delighted to learn there were even more. And there were always more. Once, a friend’s mom found a copy of Judy Blume’s Forever lying around and, thinking it was mine, handed it to me, scandalized. Puzzled, I took the book anyway because it was a Blume book I had never heard of—and, well, about a chapter or so in I learned that Forever is about teenage sex. Like, with pretty explicit language. What a range this woman has, I thought, more than a little embarrassed but thrilled to know that Blume had such a vast repertoire. (Turns out, the book’s owner was my friend’s grandma. True story!)

These lady writers were, are, and will forever be my lady loves, so here, today, I offer each of them their own little Galentine’s love note:  

To Beverly: Thank you for Ramona Quimby. Because of her, I know that the best fries are crunchy on the outside and mealy on the inside; that the cursive letter Q should not exist; that paprika is a flavorful addition to yogurt-covered chicken; and that to ask questions, even seemingly silly ones, does not make a little girl a pest—it simply means she is curious. My favorite Ramonas, Ramona and Her Father and Ramona Quimby, Age 8, were my early introduction to social class, as I watched Ramona’s father navigate unemployment and underemployment, his struggles disrupting a clean narrative of easy familial love. Such love is never easy, simple, or smooth, and your Ramona taught me that’s ok.

To Judy: Two words—book banning. Even before I learned of Forever, I always knew you were a little scandalous. My little 8-year-old self found Blubber sitting in a challenged books display at my elementary library, my librarian whispering to me about the curse words found in the pages. I scooped that one right up and came back for more: Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret was my first introduction to menstrual cycles and failed exercises to grow breasts and Starring Sally J. Freedman was my early look into how casual—and thus how sinister—antisemitism could be.

To my dearest Lucy: In June 2024, you are getting the sacred treatment you deserve, as you and Anne of Green Gables will be the focus of another one of Common Ground’s pilgrimages. While I cannot be there, a group of gals who know your worth as deeply as I do are dreaming of our own version of this pilgrimage, and one day soon we will walk and talk and read and place sprigs of Queen Anne’s Lace in our hair as we swoon over Gilbert Blythe, drink raspberry cordials, and revel in the beauty of kindred spirits.

Emily - Poetry

As I lay down in my bed every night, I’ve always kept the same routine. Most of the time, I pick up a good fantasy or romance book, but at least once in a while, I find myself drawn to poetry. This last week, I was stressed about school, turning in my senior blurb and photo, and nervously awaiting my acceptance to several colleges. Instead of being drawn to my current read, I chose Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. I immediately began to find solace in the words, reminding me why I turn to poetry instead of fantasy or chick-lit during times of trouble.

Poetry has always been open to interpretation to me, allowing me to bend its meaning towards my life and sitting in my feelings or escaping the world altogether and diving into someone else’s problems. Even as a child, I remember preferring poetry over all other genres. Its rhymes and flow made me feel comfortable before I was old enough to dig into complex chapter books with long sentences. Somehow, it has always been my home. From Amanda Gorman to Edgar Allan Poe, all of my favorite poets have spoken to me and given my advice in the same way my teachers or parents would. I’ll always love poetry for how it has made me into the person I am today, but most importantly, poetry has soothed my worries and lifted me up when I needed it.

Natalie - Rereading Books I Loved as a Kid

I hate to admit it, but I was in a deep reading slump at the start of the school year. I just couldn’t dig myself out of it. Nothing seemed to hold my attention and words fell flat on numerous pages. I tried every genre I could think of, even those that I used to enjoy, yet the activity still felt like a chore. It wasn’t until I found my pile of childhood books collecting dust at the bottom of my bookshelf that I felt energized to read again! Unfortunately my original copy of Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief – the book I was yearning to get my hands on the most – was lost to the winds (the winds being the endless bins at Half Price Books). Yet, I managed to find a workaround: downloading it on my Kindle. I was ecstatic as I flipped through the novel, reliving key moments alongside characters I held – and still hold – near and dear to my heart. Percy Jackson came at a very formative time for people my age. Middle school is a time when kids are undergoing rapid changes that are often out of their control. Percy allowed me to conceptualize my world through the fantastical challenges that he faced. 

There is something about re-reading a book that I loved as a kid that reignites my passion for reading – I get through every one that follows at near lightning speed. In approaching an old piece of work, whether that be a chapter or children’s picture book, with a fresh set of eyes, I can develop a new sense of appreciation for small details I would have otherwise disregarded as insignificant. I deeply understand how comforting books from our past can be – especially those you don’t have to labor over to comprehend even the basic premise. The nostalgia that re-reading well-loved books brings might just rival the more mentally rigorous and philosophical books of adulthood today!

Jessica - A Love Letter for Self Love... and Self-Help Books <3

Since I was young, I’ve been a helper, a giver, a “people-pleaser.” I would often play “Waitress” with my tiny notepad and pen and walk around a family gathering taking drink and snack orders, while aunts, uncles, and grandparents praised me for being so helpful. When my mom traveled for work, I cut off a piece of my blanket, a blanket I loved so dearly, so she could keep it in her purse, and feel like I was always with her. When my parents divorced, twelve-year-old me would set aside time on Saturday mornings when I was with my dad to clean his house since he was a bachelor again; I believed a clean house would make him feel more “normal” and less alone.  Any praise or celebration of me that I recall from childhood through my adult life has been centered on my propensity to serve others; it is just who I am. It wasn’t until months before my fortieth birthday that I realized my default to be everything for everyone all the time was not genetic or instinctual, but actually learned and reinforced by a lifetime of experiences, interactions, relationships, feelings, and coping skills. And though it sounds virtuous and selfless, it can pack a mean punch of anxiety and resentment.

In 2021, I was completely burnt out. I struggled to be around some of the most important people in my life. I felt like I had nothing left to give and everyone still wanted more. I realized it was time to help myself, and I couldn’t do it alone. I had done therapy off and on since my late teens but spent more of my time talking about the people around me, not myself, which is probably why I never stuck with it. With this new therapist and at this point in my life, I was going to have to dig in to my identity, which led me to this place, and ultimately to my love for the “self-help” genre of books. My current therapist quickly picked up on the fact that I was a reader and the way to my heart and understanding was through expert texts. She provided me with a list of books she believed would speak to me, and I ordered each one on Amazon with next day shipping. Two of those books are Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself and The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditations on Codependency, both by Melody Beattie. I devoured the first book and, like a true codependent, ordered copies for everyone I know…ha! All joking aside, these are the two books I come back to over and over again, because they’ve taught me about true self care.

This Valentine’s Day, I am turning inward and celebrating self-love. I hope that my partner, my children, my parents, my extended family, my friends, my coworkers, my students…even the kid who bagged my groceries on Sunday…feel loved in every interaction with me, because, like I’ve said, that’s who I am. But I know that I don’t always love myself the way I should, which is why the second book I mentioned is so important to me. I completed a year of daily meditations in 2022 and picked the book back up on January 1st of this year to revisit the resonant reminders. The daily practice of reading a meditation and taking a moment to pour back into myself is what this lover needs every day, not just Valentine’s Day, so I’ll leave you with my highlighted takeaway from February 14: “We have started a journey of learning to love ourselves. We have started the process of opening our heart to love, real love that flows from us, to others, and back again. Do something loving for yourself.”

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