There’s a stereotype that bookish children are well-behaved but quiet, good students but poor socializers. There’s certainly some truth to those statements; nine-year-old Mack would much rather read Artemis Fowl than play hopscotch. But, breaking the stereotype, I was neither well-behaved nor quiet. You could count on every person in the room hearing my very loudest account of my latest trip to the library. I picked fights over who was the best Harry Potter character and wrote essays on my favorite poets instead of doing real homework.
In middle school, I aged past not doing homework and compromised on writing my daydreams in the back of notebooks. I was deathly afraid of losing my thoughts, of not being able to revisit who I once was when I inevitably forgot. Every once in a while, I look back on them and remember that I was right: I did inevitably forget nine-year-old Mack, but at the same time, I get to relearn who they were through their writing. When I read, I feel like I’m peeking into the narrator’s mind; I walk alongside them in their trials and learn to experience life the same way they do. The idea that I can see the world through someone else’s eyes is so desirable because it means that they’re not only seen and met, but ultimately known. And it means I can be, too.
As a former troublemaker, I’ve seen and met plenty of people, from detention to the principal’s office to the debate team I was forced to join when I entered high school. But, as a formal troublemaker, I had a hard time getting to know my peers and often struggled to be on the same footing as them. Enjoyment aside, this was reason enough for me to read rather than talk to others. Book characters are easy to understand. They keep their lives on open display, free to gut and be immersed in and get their ink on my hands. Real life—sans my father’s prized fountain pen collection—has a disappointing amount of ink with none to spare for me.
Now, as an aspiring editor and amateur proofreader, I don’t limit myself to book characters. The people around me, often fellow bookworms, deserve to be known, too. As an adult, it’s no longer enough to just read them; it’s a personal calling to be alongside them and help them as they write their minds into new worlds. How can they be better understood? How can they be faithful to themselves while being faithful to readers? In the most intimate way, I see parts of myself in them (no euphemism intended). How they want to be known, how I want to be known; the answers aren’t the same but they’re so worth learning.
I don’t care much about life’s dwindling ink supply anymore. Besides, we’re mostly digital anyway.
Mack Ibrahim is a sophomore at Wheaton College, majoring in English with a Writing concentration and minoring in American Ethnic Studies. During their free time, they buy and brew specialty teas and read webcomics.