When I entered high school, I realized that I wanted to be a teacher namely because of my passion for helping others (cliche, I know, but the truth is what it is). However, I had no idea about what subject area I wanted to pursue because A. I could work with any age group and B. I was [at least] a decent student in every discipline.
A trip to Asheville, North Carolina reminded me of exactly why I chose English over other content areas. As my fiance and I wandered around downtown, enjoying all of the eclectic charm and architectural beauty Asheville has to offer, we found a used bookstore. I love all bookstores, but used ones provide a particularly interesting experience. Their sensory qualities are different than Barnes and Noble, and their atmosphere almost always seems nostalgic. Perhaps this air of the past is because the books on the shelves hold hundreds of memories and experiences from former readers. I always like to read what is inside the covers of used books. Sometimes the books were originally a gift, and the giver wrote a sentimental message to the recipient. Sometimes, one can snag an autographed copy of a book and realize that readers and writers live on the same planet together. In short, literature keeps us connected to the past while simultaneously evoking us to apply its wisdom to our own lives.
In Asheville, I found my all-time favorite used bookstore treasure. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God has been my favorite book for about five years now, yet I never owned a copy until yesterday. I have no idea why; I have reread the work multiple times, but always checked it out from the library rather than purchasing it. As I was perusing the ocean of a store (they had an incredibly extensive selection), I stumbled across a solitary copy of Their Eyes Were Watching God. As I opened it, I noticed that the previous owner had pasted a Zora Neale Hurston stamp inside the cover. According to the blog “USPS Stamp of Approval (http://blog-stampofapproval.com/tag/zora-neale-hurston/), these stamps surfaced in 2003 to honor Hurston’s legacy. While this may not be an artifact of her lifetime, it is an incredible relic with which to honor her, and I added the book to my collection without hesitation. I wish I knew the book’s previous owner so I could than him or her for sharing this prize with me.
If this chronicle of my experience has not illustrated enough why I chose to enter the field of English Education, I will leave you with a quote from Hurston herself: “Nothing God ever made is the same thing to more than one person. That is natural.” The experiences that readers have with books will always be different. I initially read Their Eyes Were Watching God during a period of great transition in my life. I continually retreat to the solace I found in it during that time of uncertainty. Someone who lived in contentment during their reading of the novel might receive a totally different message from it. Yet, we have the book in common, and our experiences with it bind us together (even if we never meet or know each other).
If anyone will be in the Asheville, North Carolina area soon, I highly encourage a visit to The Captain’s Bookshelf!