Zoo Wee Mama!
When you hear the word “reading” what comes to your mind? Many of us may think of Shakespeare and the seemingly indecipherable language written centuries ago that’s apparently English, or maybe you recall the reading logs you had to fill out in elementary school (I surely do). Yet, no matter your feelings about reading, I’m sure all of us have found at least one book or series that we couldn’t put down. It’s estimated that there have been 129,864,880 (one-hundred twenty-nine million eight-hundred sixty-four thousand eight-hundred eighty, phew… ) books ever published in the history of mankind, so I’d say your odds of finding one that you enjoy are fairly high. Whether you’re a fan of J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, or if cartoons like Diary of a Wimpy Kid are more your style, I can rest assured that there’s always something out there that’ll make you say “Zoo Wee Mama!”
Aside from comical joy, there’s also a lot that can be learned from every book; sometimes this meaning can be encapsulated into a single line or quote. While it’s impossible to fully capture the essence of a whole book, taking a slice out and examining an especially profound statement can give us insight into the author’s world. With every perspective we read, we gain something new that adds to our character and furthers our journeys of self-betterment. Over the past year, I’ve made reading one of my main agendas and would like to share some of the most meaningful quotes I’ve encountered. While I’m only a mere novice in reading, I hope you can take out as much from what I’ll be sharing as I did.
“Don’t condemn if you see a person has a dirty glass of water,’ he said, ‘just show them the clean glass of water that you have. When they inspect it, you won’t have to say that yours is better.” — Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X
Aside from being a momentous revolutionary figure, Malcolm X was also a literary genius and his autobiography is beautifully and passionately written and something I would absolutely recommend. In this particular instance, Malcolm has faced a dilemma trying to recruit members to join the Nation of Islam, an African-American religious group that advocated for civil rights. The overall message his mentor, Elijah Muhammad, gives him is that there’s no need to boast and persuade others actively to follow him but to remain pious and others will take notice on their own volition. In many of our daily lives, we constantly have these notions of judgment, wanting those around us to conform to what we picture as ideal. While there are times we do need to take action and promote advocacy rather than staying silent, there are also scenarios where we shouldn’t have to necessarily condemn people and force a certain mindset on them. This could easily be rephrased as, “Lead by example,” but I like the way Mr. Muhammad puts it. Whether you’re a glass-half-full or half-empty kind of person, all that matters is that you have a clean glass.
“Perhaps to lose a sense of where you are implies the danger of losing a sense of who
you are” — Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
Probably my favorite book, or at least the most I’ve ever taken away from a book, is Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Tackling social and racial injustice, along with the intricacies of self-identity, if you want to understand the world a little better I’d be the first to lend you a copy. However, at the end of this five-hundred-page novel, I remember reading along those lines and stumbling upon this quote. While its poetic prose may seem ambiguous at first, I think all Elisson is trying to say is that the environment around us is deeply tied to who we are as individuals. Think of your favorite place, whether that’s home, or a sports field, or any location with valuable memories; you feel more comfortable and in tune with who you are. Contrast this with your first day of school where the walls are unfamiliar and your scrambling because you don’t know where your classes are. You get flustered, and something inside of you feels weird and you almost turn into a reserved version of yourself as you have to awkwardly ask where your next class is. So my advice for this would be to take a second to pause and look at everything around you. Next time you’re on a walk, take a break from looking down at your phone and admire some of the scenery the world has to offer. There’s an uncanny relationship between the external and internal.
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be” — Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut
This short novel is unorthodox, satirical, and sometimes confusing, but I love it for those exact reasons as well. The book tells the story of Howard W. Campbell, Jr, an American spy who masquerades as a Nazi propagandist, now captured after the war being put on trial for his crimes against humanity. While I won’t spoil any more than that, the book grapples with how our inherent actions weigh versus our own morals. Does it change anything if our actions weren’t a true representation of our character? Is there any redemption in not knowing the consequences of our actions? These are some of the more philosophical questions that the book asks and something we should all be mindful of. Many of our own conflicts are built on the premise of misunderstanding, or at least the non-intention of offending the other person. While we may try to justify in our own minds what we’ve done, remember that the other person can’t see into your head. Effective communication is an essential skill in all areas of our livelihoods, and sometimes our actions speak volumes louder than any of our words can.