When You Have an Insatiable Thirst for Books
“Each year I set a goal to read as many books as I am old. The last couple of years I have exceeded that goal. I imagine this will always remain the case. So many books, so little time.”
Meet Lyndsee Nielson, an editorial writer and storyteller who hails from Austin, Texas. A perpetual learner and pursuer of knowledge, her bibliophilic life is tied to a thirst for understanding people, cultures, and the ways in which we engage with one another.
To kick off the month of October, I had the opportunity to interview Lyndsee about her thirst for reading experiences as well as her thoughts on the Banned Books movement that has been sweeping the U.S.
Let’s begin by having you share a little about your reading journey
Ever since I was little, I loved to be read to. And then, as soon as I could read myself, it was odd to see me without a book in my hands. Growing up, I moved around a lot, and that feeling of displacement never got easier. There were plenty of times when I felt lonely or left out. Books gave me places to spend time and offered adventure and escape. I was also able to find friends on the pages and connect with the characters and their stories. Real-life friends are important and necessary, but friends found in books feel just as real to me sometimes.
How has your connection with books evolved over the years?
Books are still that for me—a way to escape, a place to connect with characters and to find solace. When I read, I am learning about worlds beyond mine. I am expanding my understanding as well as my vocabulary. I have four bookshelves in my two-bedroom apartment. All of which are at capacity. I love having stories around me and finding inspiration in words.
Each year I set a goal to read as many books as I am old. In the last couple of years, I have exceeded that goal. I imagine this will always remain the case. So many books, and so little time.
What are your favorite non-fiction themes and topics? And how do you determine what three books are part of your regular reading location?
I like to have at least three books in rotation at any given time. My sister and I have our own book club; just the two of us. Cleverly, we call it Sister Book Club. So one of these three books is always whatever our current selection is. Lately, we've been selecting fiction which can be a light-hearted novel, a classic, or something else entirely. I also select another one or two of my own personal choices which vary between self-help, professional development, memoir, historical fiction, or another fiction selection.
Do you prefer hardback/paperback, digital, or audiobooks? Or a combination of the three?
Yes, I like to have an audiobook in the mix as well. I usually select these on my Libby (library) app, and they are quite lovely for when I take walks. A multi-tasking of sorts where I can still move around, get exercise, and 'read' at the same time. I’ve found that memoirs are my favorite audiobook because it feels like the authors are sitting across from me, telling me their own life stories.
What is a favorite bookstore of yours in Austin?
My happy place is Half Price Books. I know these stores exist outside of Austin but it’s one of my favorite places to buy books. When I’m searching for something specific, this is where I like to go. When I just want to be around books, it’s also where I go.
I prefer to purchase secondhand or local whenever possible. This place checks both of those boxes! One of my favorite things to do is wander the aisles (usually starting with the clearance books, then the memoir and sociology section, then fiction) and peruse the spines (preferably the paperbacks). I like to let the right books find me.
Describe 2-3 authors or books that had a profound impact on your thinking and life trajectory.
One of my favorite authors is Tim O'Brien. I first read his book "The Things They Carried" in an AP English class in high school. As a 'war novel,' I didn't expect to be interested in the book, let alone fall so deeply in love with it. I have read it at least 10 times. It is annotated in pencil (high school) and pen (I know, not preferred, but I wanted to differentiate it from my more recent thoughts).
And, to this day, I find it so hauntingly beautiful. It strikes me too, how each time I read it I think nearly identical thoughts as younger me wrote into the margins. It's a story that gives me chills and shakes me to my core. It is heartbreaking and yet also poetic. And to me, it’s about more than war, it’s about people.
Another author who makes me think and has me regularly underlining her prose is Rachel Cusk. I discovered her for the first time while working at the Harry Ransom Center, where her papers reside. Her books feel like journals, a stream-of-consciousness style that reveals one woman’s experience of the world; layers so unflinchingly astute. She, too, speaks to the human experience.
Finally, your thoughts on the “Banned Books” movement taking place across America?
It's not surprising to me that there’s been an effort to ban books. There are entities and individuals that have always tried to dictate what people can and cannot have access to. Books are incredibly powerful. The knowledge that they bestow, even more so. The belief that certain books–and thus, the stories, perspectives, facts, and understandings that reside within them–can be controlled, or denied altogether is born out of the desire to control and deny populations of people. To deny thoughts and repress experiences.
What do you believe will be the impact of this on free thinking and our democracy?
Censorship denies us the privilege and right to choose for ourselves. To broaden our horizons and understandings. To question whether there might not be another way of viewing things. Free and critical thinking is a cornerstone of this country. Having read books, many of which exist on a "Banned Books" list, I am a more compassionate and understanding human. I have a wider knowledge, well beyond my own lived experience. I am aware of the challenges that my privilege has shielded me from. And because of that, I can be a better friend and ally.
I am always grateful to read someone who is as passionately opposed to book banning as I am. I see it as a wretched milestone of evil In any society's march to tyranny.