Stored Readers' Life-Changing Reads Part I
As part of our amazing Hachette/Virago 13 book giveaway bonanza, Stored readers were invited to share a book which empowered them. A story about a story that made them stronger. Made them more empowered. Made them feel all the things.
They then kindly gave us permission to share their answers with other Stored readers, and well, here we are. See the first instalment of their answers below.
But while we have you, don’t forget the competition has been extended until August 10 - so it’s not too late to whip up a coupley sentences of your own about something you’ve read that’s been special to you.
And it doesn’t have to be about a book. Heck, it could even be about an article, a limerick, or the Dolly Doctors you poured over with your mates in Year 9 before sneaking down to Maccas in the hopes of seeing some boys you were too scared to actually talk to.
If you don’t think you have 300ish words to write, why not partner up with your book club, workmates, or flatmates and send a combined entry - the prize is big enough to share!
Go on, tell us your story stories and snare some top qual literature to pimp your bookshelves and your brain shelves.
The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling
There are so many women who empowered me in this series, but I'll focus on my main idol Hermione Granger. This book taught me it's okay to be smart and have a voice. As a young woman I was always dimming my shine, usually for men. Hermione taught me you can be brave, smart, pretty, kind, funny, and strong all at the same time. She empowered me to be myself, unapologetically.
- Jocelyn Visser
Fight Like a Girl by Clementine Ford
I had the honour of meeting Clementine when she was in NZ last year. I am not being dramatic when I say this book not only changed my life, but it saved my life. This book empowered me to be loud, to trust my voice. Clementine taught me it's okay to be angry, to pick your battles, and that you don't have to be a perfect feminist all the time. You can put yourself first, in fact you should and f**k anyone who isn't okay with that. Clementine helped me find myself and become my best friend, empowering me to be a better feminist and be kinder to myself.
- Jocelyn Visser
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
A book which inspired me as a young girl (11-years-old) and the first ‘proper’ book I read was Little Women. For those unfamiliar with this classic, it is a coming of age story, centred on four teenage sisters and Marmee, their Mother. It follows their lives as they grow up in poverty and face the many trials and tribulations of women living in the 1860s. There is love, heartbreak, death, jealousy and triumph.
This book remains dear to my heart for a number of reasons, with the most important being that it ignited my passion for the written word. Although my Dad an author and my Mum a serial reader, I was always resistant to picking up a novel, I thought it would be “too boring” and “hard to read”.
One day when having some quiet time in my room I plucked Little Women from my shelf and started to read. Wowee was I in for a treat, the writing, the descriptions AND a focus on all female characters! One week later I finished the 449 wonderfully written pages and I was officially hooked on reading.
Other than being the catalyst for my love of books, I was able to identify and learn something from each of the characters. The romantic, beautiful but also envious Meg, who was certainly the least progressive of the female characters but in the end marries for love instead of wealth (my prepubescent self-swooned), Beth the sweet and shy sister with the biggest heart and most selfless nature (RIP Beth, you taught me to share more), then there was spoiled, vain, sassy Amy who I really didn’t like (I could not deal with the fact she ended up with Laurie) but looking back on it now I guess it was pretty amazing that she travelled to Europe and chased her dream to be an artist (Amy you’re okay I guess).
Finally, headstrong, tomboyish Jo, who deserves her own paragraph. Jo was very different to her sisters, she didn’t want to conform to the expectations of a 19th century woman and at one point wished she were a boy. She sold her hair, “her one beauty”, to help pay for Marmee’s trip to visit their ill father, she read in her spare time, longed for excitement and adventure and was the most ambitious of the characters.
She shockingly refused the proposal of her long time, handsome, wealthy friend Laurie because she wasn’t in love with him. She went against all the norms and although in the end she does marry and settle into a more ‘feminine’ role she is still one of the most badass, fictional female characters out there.
These four sisters, particularly Jo, is exactly what any pre-teen or teenage girl needs to read about and it is only through writing this and reflecting that I realise the impact it had on my young self (so thanks for setting this competition).
I of course did not turn into a feminist or mini Jo overnight, I still loved dresses, princesses and wanted my Mum to just let me grow my bob out (why, Mum, why?!).
I also slotted into gender stereotypes in many ways growing up, but what this book did do is plant the seed to becoming the strong and empowered woman (feminist at that) I try to be today.
So thank-you Louisa May Alcott for writing a book which triggered my love for the written word and showed me the strength of women.
- Virigina Harper-Duff
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
This book empowered me in a really soft way, it empowered me to accept my mental illness. I have struggled with depression since the age of 12. For years I just thought I was broken and alone, that this was life. When I read the Bell Jar, I felt I was Esther, like that Bell was descending over me and suffocating me. Reading those struggles, my feelings repeated back to me, made me realise I wasn’t alone. Other people went through this and other people have gotten out the other side. She says at the end something about the Bell Jar always being there, but it lifting up and give you fresh air, and that helped me accept that my depression was a journey, with no "better" as a specific destination. I've learnt to live with it, use its empathy to give me power and kindness, and acknowledge that the struggle has made me strong and brave.
- Jocelyn Visser
Are you there God? It’s me Margaret by Judy Blume
Judy Blume, with her frank, honest and funny writing has been empowering young girls for generations. I read Are you there God? It’s me Margaret in Form 1, on the brink of puberty. As I’m sure your readership can attest this pre-pubescent period is an awkward and scary time for girls, fraught with crushing insecurity.
At 11-years-old, crossing that tween bridge, you are starting a new school and desperately trying to be cool. You don’t know your new friends well enough to float the mortifying questions keeping you up at night. Your parents might as well be from a different planet, rather than a different generation and some, like me, didn’t have sisters to lead the way.
But you have questions! So many questions! And, it is in this way that Judy Blume empowered us.
Take the chapter where Nancy is mad at her friend Gretchen who has just gotten her first period. Nancy thinks Gretchen is not sharing enough of the details, despite a predetermined pact that whoever got hers first would tell the others “absolutely everything”.
“I’m telling you, aren’t I?” Gretchen asked.
“Not enough,” Nancy said. “What’s it feel like?”
What’s it feel like? With that question, Blume so perfectly illustrated our impatient curiosity about the world ahead and promised, implicitly, that she, at least, would try to fill us in. She understood the pact: she’d gotten there first and would tell us absolutely everything.
The book also explores what it means to be religious. Margaret’s Dad is Jewish and her mother is Catholic and she, without a religion, feels left out. As a bit of a useless Catholic schoolgirl myself perhaps this made the book feel more pertinent. I do remember sex ed at school started by explaining that sex was only between a married man and woman and only when they were ready for children. Therefore, there was no need and we would not be discussing contraception.
Although, Are you there God? It’s me Margaret didn’t discuss sex it still felt deliciously naughty. We passed it around like contraband and blushed when reading it like we might with 50 Shades of Grey today.
I was surprised when looking up the book today that it was written in 1970. Perhaps Mum hadn’t been from a different planet?
I don’t think this book would be as important to girls today. I was in that last group of pre-teens coming through puberty before Google could answer the questions. That said, I’d love to think young girls are still standing on their school fields, crying with laughter, pumping their arms and screaming, “We must, we must, we must increase our bust” like I did.
- Harriet Weatherburn
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Without meaning to sound dramatic this book changed my life for the better. I know what you’re thinking… “A self-help book on enlightenment? Must be a sucker”. And had it been branded as a self-help book I most likely wouldn’t have touched it, to me it looked more like a guide to spiritual growth which is precisely what it did for me.
So, how did it change my life? In such a fast paced and success driven society it is SO easy to get caught up in a mental dialogue of, “What’s next?” or, “How could I have done that better?”, and creating to-do lists that grow quicker than you can tick things off.
All of this pulls away from our level of conscious in the present moment. It can also drastically contribute to feelings of failure and lack of achievement as we didn’t tick everything off the list or could have done a better job at the task. What a waste of a life. The Power of Now pulls the reader out of the mind (and subsequently the above mindset) and into being. It teaches you, in accessible language and scenarios, how to live in the present moment. Given we live in beautiful Aotearoa there is a myriad of wonderful sounds, sights, smells, tastes and textures to be enchanted by. I have found such profound happiness living in the present.
We are influenced by our environment and the energies around us. Living in the bright lights and rat race of Tāmaki Makaurau it is easy to slip back into the mind. If I ever feel this slip I simply read a relevant chapter again or look for a quote to get me back on a positive and present path.
This book made me, “Realise deeply that the present moment is all you have.”
- Rachel Craig
The Power of Now by Ekhart Tolle and its handbook, Practising the Power of Now has been one of the most influential and empowering duo of books I have ever encountered. The book is written to empower, but unlike many philosophical non-fiction books, it actually does the job.
I have always been at the mercy of an overactive imagination, which has planes falling from the sky as the pilot lights up the seatbelt sign, daughters upside down in ditches if they aren’t actually home earlier than arranged, and as many mental plans as there are letters in the alphabet. It’s always handy a having Plan S.
So to have found a book that identifies the mind as the "ego", and asks you to take notice of how noisy that ego is, was enlightening. I was habitually creating stories about the future, and dwelling on the past, and not aware of doing either. It was because of this book that I became conscious of these habits and how exhausting they can be.
Practising the Power of Now is the handbook to the philosophy. Once you (mostly), understand the concepts of ego, Tolle offers practical and accessible techniques to improve your life. Once you understand that your brain can be your enemy and that you can be imprisoned in a vortex of thought, the handbook helps you to let go. It can live on your bedside table and can be dipped into over and over. The sections are small and no words are wasted.
“The greater part of human pain is unnecessary."
"It is self-created as long as the unobserved mind runs your life”
I have just opened the book and can do so on any page, to read gentle reminders such as this.
The practical advice is not written as shallow sound bites of inspiration, but as intelligently phrased reminders of the philosophy that has you observing your thoughts and taking notice of how distracted you can be from the here and now.
Which is, as Tolle tells us, all we’ve got.
We can’t fix the past or know the future from minute to minute, so be present right now, as Tolle would say - and give yourself a break!
As with any process of improvement, there are few enough moments where you feel, “Hey, I’ve nailed this!” It’s very hard to master this stuff and to practise the philosophy, but it’s certainly empowering to have in your armoury of life skills.
Submit your own recommendation by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org - we can't wait to hear from you.