Except for the dusty, half-empty notebooks on the right, the bottom shelf above my childhood desk is stacked with fiction. You’ll see two copies of Pride and Prejudice on the left. One, I bought in middle school for a book project. It was my first classic novel and, even at that age, Jane Austen grabbed me with her wit. The second copy was a gift from my mom for my high school graduation. In a kind of heartfelt, forgivable book crime, she had family and friends write notes in the margins, little pieces of advice and encouragement as I left home. My mom chose Pride and Prejudice because she thought it was my favorite book, which might have been true in middle school, but wasn’t really true five years later.
Looking at my bookshelves, I guess I might look like a pretty difficult person to nail down. Pride and Prejudice is just down the row from The Hunger Games series. On the shelf above, a bright pink, just for girls Bible is two books over from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” My book collection started in middle school, and as I’ve gotten older, and continued to refuse to throw books away, the shelves have become a time capsule while my interests and priorities changed.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Pride and Prejudice; it’s just that, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen myself grow further and further away from the version of me she knows. When I was in middle school, around the same time I bought my first copy of Pride and Prejudice at Half Priced Books, my parents gave me their copy of Jesus Freaks, written by D.C. Talk, a popular Christian band from the 1990s. The book tells violent stories of persecuted Christians throughout history who were willing to endure torture and, sometimes, die for their faith. I grew up annotating my pink leather Bible and praying for the global church.
My faith looks dramatically different now. In part, my new faith is shaped by a more complete awareness of privilege, power structures, and persecution. I am a Christian, but I am also a queer woman. According to the Human Dignity Trust, there are eleven countries where I could legally be killed for being gay. I am lucky to live somewhere where my queerness is, at the very least, legal. Nevertheless, my experience of the church is all too close to Baldwin’s Go Tell it on the Mountain. My library of religious literature did not include W. E. B. DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk or Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, two books that explore how Christian Nationalism, white supremacy, and Eurocentrism affect the experiences of the global majority, until much later in life. These books have shown me that a Christian faith that focuses on Christian suffering leaves no room to explore how, when, and why Christians have caused the suffering of others.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have books that feel spiritual. The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin reads like a vision, hazy and calm in a way that I don’t fully comprehend. Two editions of The Asbury Review, my university’s literary magazine, are hymnals, in which my friends, fellow creators, and classmates put words to their own stories. Mary Oliver’s Red Bird is the first book of poetry I ever bought for myself. Every poem in that little book feels like a prayer, and as I read it, I pray that I would wonder at the world around me, that I would feel the stretch of my body when I breathe, and that I would cultivate a more complete awareness of what is higher and greater than me.
Hailey Small is based in Wilmore, Kentucky, where she writes lyric prose and watches gingko leaves turn soft each November. Hailey is a junior at Asbury University, working towards a BA in English and History. She enjoys working in Asbury’s writing center, where she partners with remedial English students to make academia and creative writing more accessible. Most recently, Hailey was published in The Asbury Review, where she also serves as the creative non-fiction editor, and anthrowcircus.com.
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