On Reading Women & the Power of Community

This year, 2014, has been dubbed by many in the Twitterverse as the Year of Reading Women.

As an avid bookworm since childhood, I have pretty much always just read whatever grabbed me. In terms of my taste in books at any given time, the scope of what I might pick up is wide. But when I saw the #readwomen2014 hashtag show up on Twitter, it brought to my attention a trend that had been slowly materializing for several months: a lot of the books I’ve been gravitating towards have focused on women.

From fictional biographies of real women (like Memoirs of Cleopatra), to realistic stories about fictional women (like the Dear America books I recently read), to historical research about generations of women (like The History of the Wife or America’s Women), those are just the books I’ve found myself wanting to read.

sotomayor - beloved world coverThis week I finally read a book I’ve been wanting to read for a while, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s autobiography, My Beloved World.

I wasn’t really sure what to think of it — I try to avoid reading books published by well-known politicians close to major changes in office, because I feel like many of them are just cheesy publicity-fodder to boost their name recognition — but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed and connected with Justice Sotomayor’s story.

First, I found her sense of measured practicality, compassion, and justice really refreshing, and very non-politicized. She mentions several times in the book that her purpose in writing is not to give people insight into her case history, but to tell about her journey to the Supreme Court to serve as an example for the children.

Secondly — and related to the first point, I think — I was really impacted by the clear and almost unspoken sense of community and strong relationship in this book. While Sotomayor doesn’t tout the support of her family in a cheesy way (“My family was always there for me…”), it’s clear that she feels a strong sense of interconnectedness with her fellow humans, both relatives and not. This feeling of common humanity bleeds through into the sections where she explains her vocation to public service. In fact, throughout the book, she illustrates how various people in her life — mentors and otherwise — affected her as a person and as a thinker and lawyer.

When a young person, even a gifted one, grows up without proximate living examples of what she may aspire to become – whether lawyer, scientist, artist, or leader in any realm – her goal remains abstract. Such models as appear in books or on the news, however inspiring or revered, are ultimately too remote to be real, let alone influential. But a role model in the flesh provides more than an inspiration; his or her very existence is confirmation of possibilities one may have every reason to doubt, saying, “Yes, someone like me can do this.” (p. 178, emphasis added)

This idea of physical, embodied mentoring and modeling really struck me. I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on the importance of relationships, and I think this is a big part of their richness and power. Through relationship, we see possibility embodied.

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