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Reading Beyond Your Experience

I’ve always believed that reading transports and transforms you, not only in the way it introduces you to new worlds and new experiences but also in the way it endears and entices you to characters while causing you to wish for the death and destruction of other characters. Reading reveals your true nature. It reveals how within you there is both love and hate. It reveals your assumptions, your privilege, your generalizations and challenges you to confront your true self.

Reading, this very magical, mystical experience is why I trained as a reading teacher, why I represented authors as an agent, and ultimately why I launched Harrelson Press with Sam. We believe reading transforms and transports and that language has the power to heal and challenge even the most difficult and ingrained beliefs.

The reality of our culture today is that the majority of our population doesn’t read. We skim searching for sources, posts, and people who agree with us. When your mission is to be affirmed, you will find affirmation because of the myriad of content that exists and is readily available. When your¬†mission is to never stop learning, you will open yourself to words, stories, and experiences of other people and to the possibility to you are in fact wrong about some things you were pretty sure you were right about.

I can’t help but think about the cosmic, divine coincidence that I finished a young adult novel called How It Went Down the night before I awoke to news of the largest number of people killed in a mass shooting in American history. I read this book as part of my commitment over the past year to purposefully read books written by authors who have been systematically discriminated against in the world of publishing, including women, people of color, and people from lower socioeconomic status.

This journey has led me to recognize and analyze my own privilege. Privilege I was sure I didn’t have. Privilege I was sure hadn’t had anything to do with my pursuing and achieving two Master’s degrees, accepting a Fulbright scholarship, or living into a call to minister as a woman in the Bible Belt. Privilege I was sure everyone was afforded.

I was wrong. I discovered I was wrong by reading stories written by people whose experiences I have never had and quite honestly probaly will never have.

People like Cheryl Strayed.

People like Ta-Nehisi Coates.

People like Yaa Gyasi.

People like Toni Morrison.

People like Margaret Atwood.

When we don’t read, we hear our own beliefs, our own privilege in our hearts and minds echoing, “You’re right. You’re right,” again and again. Reading changes that voice to, “Are you right? Are you right?” Asking you to reflect on how you see the world and why you see the world the way you do.

What we need more of is not certainty, but uncertainty that leads to reflection asking us to question what we have always thought was true; asking us to question who we are and who we will become over and over again as we learn more and understand more about other people’s experiences.

Speaking Into the Air

My friend Elisabeth and I have a weekly podcast about publishing, running, dogs, and whatever else is on our minds that day appropriately called Thinking Out Loud. I had to do some convincing her to actually podcast with me and as we did our weekly podcast, I still had to convince her at times not to go and retreat under her desk because it’s scary putting your words out there for people to hear and read. What if someone doesn’t like something you’ve said? What if you say something wrong (I do this all the time on our podcast, just listen to this week’s episode!)? What if no one listens?

But there’s also something powerful and mystical about speaking into the air. You don’t know who will hear your conversation. You don’t know if your experience will connect and help someone else who is trying to start their own business, trying to write a book, or simply trying to discover they are not alone. You don’t know, but you speak into the air and hope those words, that conversation, will land where it needs to land.

And you do this again and again, week after week, to remind yourself that you are not alone and that there’s someone else out there who is working just as hard as you are to create and to offer something to the world. Something that might inspire. Something that might challenge. Something that might just change how people see each other.

You have no idea if it will work, but you still keep speaking into the air, hoping it will.

Why It’s Hard for Me to Read Books Now

We have now published 3 books in print and after agonizing after each and every detail of the formatting and book cover, it makes it hard for me to read other books.

I notice things I didn’t notice before. (Is it just me or are all the copies of Ken Follett’s Edge of Eternity printed crooked on the first 5 pages? No, really they are. I got a ruler out and measured it.) In the midst of noticing these things, it distracts me from reading the book, even books I have been longing to read.

I wonder about the glue choice and why the publisher didn’t upgrade or perfect bind their books. I wonder about bleeds and spacing and why the print is so small in so many books.

Sure, there are things about our own books that I wonder if we’ll change in the next printing because the fact of the matter is publishing isn’t a stale profession and is changing more and more everyday. I wonder these things, but I can’t help but smile when I hear:

Oh wow, you can actually read this font!

The spacing between these lines makes me so happy.

This cover feels so good.

It’s the little details that count. I know we haven’t been at this long, but I sure am proud of what we’re doing at Harrelson Press for our authors and our readers.

We’re taking care of the details so you can enjoy the awesome stories our authors have written.