The title can be misleading. I read. I was always considered “the reader” amongst my peers —and in a country like Argentina, where, luckily, the habit of reading still prevails. So it is hard to imagine a thirteen-year-old reader not already in love with reading. Well, I wasn’t.
Reading was kind of a habit to me. Like scratching. I read because everyone in my family read: my parents, my older brother, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles. Everyone. Reading was just something we did. We do.
My story is set in 2008. I had just turned thirteen and was in the middle of my last summer holidays before becoming a high-school student and I had just finished reading the translated version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Maybe that can set an idea of my reading target at that time —which, to be fair, is the expected target for the early teen I was. As much as I loved the Harry Potter series and almost every Stephen King book, I wasn’t a fan of novels. I was keener on short stories, something Borges was a genius at, and my house was flooded with Borges’ books.
I remember looking for new things to read I’d always explore the same section of my parent’s bookshelf, and the same section at my neighborhood’s biggest bookstore, which I knew by heart. I never even thought about taking a look at the philosophy section, or the science section, or—oh, my God, no— the politics section. Until one day, I did. Not because I consciously thought about it. It was more of a careless moment, I didn’t realize what I was doing until I sat down and looked at the cover of the book I had randomly chosen: “Así habló Zaratustra” (“Thus Spoke Zarathustra”). The title already freaked me out. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be reading that. This wasn’t meant to be read by a little girl. I was, for some reason, scared, and I remember thinking to myself “Ok Vali, you were able to finish Cujo, you can do this.” I have to confess I am laughing while writing this.
With my mind set on the book, I started reading those impossible ideas Nietzsche tries to portray. My face hurt from frowning so much. My fear was replaced by confusion. I grabbed a dictionary, not because I didn’t understand the words, but because the phrases wouldn’t make sense to me, so I thought “Well, maybe these words have some other meaning I don’t know.” The dictionary never helped.
With time, I started getting a little bit angry. I was not sure why, until I realized that it wasn’t that the phrases didn’t make sense, but that I was not in agreement with them. I also concluded, by doing simple math, that the phrases I was able to understand were not easier or simpler, but I agreed with them. I realized phrases were ideas. Powerful ones. I understood why my mom laughed when I asked her “What’s an ‘overman’?” instead of answering, like she always did whenever I had a question about a book.
Realizing the source of my anger immediately eased it, and the anger then morphed into curiosity. I wanted to finish that book more than I wanted JK Rowling to release a Harry Potter 8. It took me about two weeks to finish the book. In those two weeks I laughed, I cried, I fought with my brother when he pretended to defend Nietzsche’s male chauvinist ideas just to piss me off, I had some intense conversation with my mom about life, I almost broke my dad because of how many words whose meaning he had to clarify.
When I finally closed the book, I felt a rush of joy I had only felt a few times before. I didn’t feel empty, like most times. I didn’t ask myself “Ok, now what?” in that urge to go find a new book to read. I just felt happy. For all I knew, I had just finished reading a book I barely understood, a book that challenged me in a way I was not prepared, and I was experiencing a downpour of existential questions. Looking back, I don’t think that is a feeling that I would have chosen to get, but I’m glad I did.
That book was the first one I read out of pure pleasure and enjoyment, and it made me discover I actually did love reading. Knowing that so many emotions can come from a simple reading made me realize I could be happy with something as easy and accessible as a book. It made me feel powerful. Eventually, I decided to wait a couple of years to reread that book, one of the wisest decisions I’ve ever made. I still keep the book with me, wherever I go. I’ve read it no less than ten times and each time I find some interesting new idea or word.
I don’t consider it to be like a bible to me: I don’t have a bible. It is more of an amulet. Possibly, one of the reasons that made me leave my country to pursue my passion.