Today, we are really pleased to be sharing an exclusive guest post from The Reader author Traci Chee, who stops by to discuss the power of books and the written word in her life. We also have a chance for you to WIN a copy of Traci’s book & a pretty fantastic reader tote bag from our friends and Penguin Random House – so be sure to keep reading for all the details!
The Reader explores a world without reading. What would it mean to you to live in a world without books?
TIME COLLAPSES: THE WRITTEN WORD AND ACTUAL MAGIC
by Traci Chee
I dog-ear my books.
I underline passages and make notes in the margins. If I lend a book to you, I will probably ask you to do the same. (Although let it be known that I will never mark up a book that doesn’t belong to me unless specifically requested to do so.) Once I brought in a book of poetry for some of my students to look through at lunch, and it came back to me filled with little heart-shaped drawings around stanzas that sang to them.
It was wonderful.
Now that book of poetry is so much more than a book of poetry, and when I open it I experience so much more than just the words. The turned-down corner I used to mark the poem I copied out for my mom on Mother’s Day. The passages I loved in high school and the passages I loved later, when I was a little older and had seen a little more of the world and had experienced a little more of its heartbreak. And now, the lines that spoke to my seventh-grade students about beauty or desperation or loneliness. That book is a treasure trove of different moments in time, and those marks are a record of who I’ve been and what I’ve done, and I hope one day someone will read them and wonder what they mean. Why this page? Why this poem? Who were you, reader?
Here’s another story about the written word.
In April 1942, just months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, over a hundred thousand people of Japanese ancestry were forced to leave their homes on the west coast for internment camps hundreds of miles away, surrounded by barbed wire fences and desert. They left jobs, homes, churches, schools, friends, pets, and opportunities. Anything that they couldn’t carry in their own two hands.
Earlier this year, I started collecting interviews from relatives who were relocated during that time. I was lucky enough to speak to my great uncle, now over ninety, who was just a couple months from his high school graduation when he and his family were relocated to an assembly center at the Western Washington Fairgrounds in Puyallup, Washington.
Like many high school graduates, he had his sights set on attending university in the fall. But when he wrote to colleges asking them for application forms, many refused him.
Some were blunt about it: they were not accepting Japanese-Americans. Others simply asked how much money he had—and when they found out he didn’t have any, they told him not to bother. Still others wrote up laundry lists of excuses.
After he told me this story, my uncle brought out a response one of the universities had sent him.
Sure, you can apply here, it said. But you shouldn’t.
Students of Japanese descent had to pay full tuition, but they couldn’t try to get a job until they were already there. Students of Japanese descent were to be monitored by the F.B.I. Students of Japanese descent could be transferred at the discretion of the military. Students of Japanese descent couldn’t take classes with confidential subject matter.
As I stood there in his kitchen, reading this typewritten letter, I was struck by the magic of the written word. It allowed people to speak across distances—and through time. History did not exist solely in the past, but also right now, right here, right in my hands.
The secretary who had signed this letter had touched it. Removed it from her typewriter, maybe, and pressed her fingertips to the corner to stabilize it while she signed her name (the ink now yellowing the paper). Someone had folded it and shoved it in an envelope and sent it halfway across the country to my great uncle, who read it and understood that he was not welcome.
These words came to him from over a thousand miles away. They came to me almost seventy-five years later. And in these words, it’s like the distance between two points and space collapses. In these words, it’s like past and present become one. That we can read these things, that we can experience them even after the people who wrote them are gone, is amazing.
To me, the written word isn’t just precious because of the ideas it can convey. To me, the written word is precious because it can tell so many different stories, all at the same time. It’s a record of who wrote it, and who touched it, and who slit their finger opening the envelope, and who kept it, and who might read it months or years from now, when the paper is brittle as a wafer, and what they’ll feel when they lay eyes on it.
To write, to read, to remember and be remembered, that’s what the written word gives us. And that, I think, is a bit of actual magic.
A stunning debut set in a world where reading is unheard-of, perfect for fans of Inkheart and Shadow and Bone.
Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible.
With overlapping stories of swashbuckling pirates and merciless assassins, The Reader is a brilliantly told adventure from an extraordinary new talent.
- Visit PenguinTeen.com
- Read an excerpt of the first two chapters here!
- Follow @TraciChee on Twitter
Traci Chee is an author of speculative fiction for teens. An all-around word geek, she loves book arts and art books, poetry and paper crafts, though she also dabbles at piano playing, egg painting, and hosting potluck game nights for family and friends. She studied literature and creative writing at UC Santa Cruz and earned a master of arts degree from San Francisco State University. Traci grew up in a small town with more cows than people, and now feels most at home in the mountains, scaling switchbacks and happening upon hidden highland lakes. She lives in California with her fast-fast dog. The Reader is her YA debut.
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