The Stories We Need (Octavia Butler and Other Literary Mamas)

One of my favorite places in the whole world is a reading K-hole. I’ve been diving into these other realms since I first learned to read at age 3. (Necessity bred invention.) Even now when the going gets tough this toughie gets to reading, and even then I worried about how I’d resent any partner or offspring who kept me from a book. (A life-defining worry, as it turned out.) By kindergarten, I was on a first-name basis with everyone at my local library; today I volunteer at my neighborhood branch. The best is when I discover an author I love: I queue up all her books and sit pretty with the knowledge that I’ve divine company for weeks to come. My first such affairs were with Louise Fitzhugh, Madeline L’Engle, and Jane Austen. Then, when I needed a map out of my father’s kingdom, Marge Piercy. There’ve been so many since.

The last five days I’ve lived in a hammock under gently waving trees and read Octavia Butler, the speculative fiction author whom I’ve known I would love for 20 years but put off reading. Now I know why: I most need her at this juncture. I’m reading the Patternist series first, which is all about successfully harnessing psychic ability to create a functional community of conscious, connected people. As a woman who calls herself Carrie not entirely ironically, I’m inhaling these books like they’re oxygen and I’m underwater–which, let’s face it, I have been lately. I need to understand how to manifest what I’m starting to be shown in dreams and in my physical and emotional malaise. Butler’s words are a very fine place to start. She lets no one off the hook but devises brilliant solutions for the shadows and sunshine latent in everyone’s nature.

I always think of what Ray Bradbury wrote: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” I treasure the beauty of words, yes, but this is not why I love literature. I love it for the blueprint it offers the lonely, inventive child we each carry. This is why my favorite fiction is prescriptive rather than merely descriptive. I am looking to improve the human condition, starting with mine, and reading makes us all daughters of the universe.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy