22 Lessons Books Have Taught Me in 22 Years


In honor of the fact that I’m feeling 22 (although 22 feels a lot like 21), I wanted to do a bit of a fun post. Books and stories have been such an enormous part of my 22 years on this planet. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t searching for stories. I can barely remember a time when I couldn’t read. And I remember a little too much time I spent writing bad Lilo & Stitch fan-fic.

Books have shaped who I am. They’re kind of my whole life. People are difficult (okay jk, not all of them) but books are always there (unless they’re due back at the library). That being said, in 22 years, I’ve learned a thing or (twenty) two from books.

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1. Everyone has a story.

Stories are an exercise in empathy. It’s easy to dehumanize people because they’re different or strange or seemingly immoral, but everyone has a story.

2. How to walk in someone else’s shoes

This is totally related to empathy. When you read and write, you stick your feet in someone else’s sneakers and take them for a spin. You can scuff them up, wear them out, and really get a feel for what it’s like to be anyone but yourself.

3. There’s always a lesson to be learned from a hard moment

That’s what a story is, right? “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” Sometimes stories stink — they’re sad or have bad endings and all seems lost. But in retrospect, stories make us who we are.

4. The good guys can win

Frodo can destroy the ring. Aslan beats the witch. Harry Potter defeats Voldemort. The Jedi will return.

5. You have to fight for what you want

Life isn’t fair. People are mean. The odds are stacked against you. None of these are reasons to give up.


6. It’s powerful to believe in yourself and believe in a cause

*insert the dystopian hero that single-handedly overthrows the government because they see the truth that everyone else is blind to* But really, believe in something and you can do great things.

7. You’re not defined by your past

You’re responsible for the choices you make. Sure — bad, horrible, awful things will happen. It’s not about what happens to you, but how you make things happen with the cards you’re dealt. The strongest characters are in charge of their stories.

8. There are things that you can, in fact control

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, but it’s your life. That being said. . .

9. There are some things that are out of your control

And I guess that’s how life works. You have to control what you can, and let go of what you can’t.

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1. What it feels like to love a character

Where do I even start with this one? Lenny from The Sky is Everywhere, Georgina and Mary from Summer of Salt, Finn in Bone Gap, Puck and Sean in Scorpio Races, Sloane in This Adventure Ends, Ava from The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Literally Everyone in The Raven Cycle. . . I could go on.

2. It’s okay to cry sad tears

That doesn’t make you a baby. It’s okay to feel things!

3. It’s extra okay to cry happy tears

Seriously, embrace those emotions.

4. I can always find escape inside of a book

No matter where I am or what I’m doing or what’s going on in my life, I can always find solstice between the pages of someone’s made-up world.


5. The smell of paper will never get old

I just got 9 books for my birthday (with 4 more preordered) and you bet I smelled all of them.

6. How to judge a book by its cover

Uhhh. . . maybe not the best thing? But based on a cover, I can usually tell if I like a book. I feel like that’s maybe a super power?

7. What I’m really passionate about

I’ve ALWAYS loved stories. I was typing my own stories in Kindergarten. I was writing Lilo & Stitch and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fan-fic in first grade. When I got my very first computer, I typed up a story about my my alter-ego — a zoologist/explorer who saves every animal in the jungle. Writing has always been something I’ve done, and the older I get, the more I realized it’s something want to continue to do.

Stories excite me.

I want to read them and write them and spend my entire life among books. Seven years ago, little high school me just KNEW that she wanted to get an agent, to get published, and build an indestructible author empire (although now I’ll just settle for cats instead of the whole empire thing). And that’s really awesome! Because of books, I knew my dream early and I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life — and it gave me time to take this dream seriously.

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1. What a story looks like, and most importantly, what it feels like

I don’t want to pretend I’m Stephen King or anything here, but I’ve been reading for so long, I just know what a story is. Reading so much helps me piece together my ideas in a coherent way.

2. What it looks like when a character is making things happen, rather than just having things happening to them

Aha, yes. The passive character. When everything is happening to everyone but them. It’s hard to catch at first, but I’ve gotten better at catching it. It’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from just reading.

3. A lot of pretty words

Especially Stephanie Garber’s Caraval and Legend. I have a list of pretty words from those books like milky, starburst, and moonstone.


5. I’m a character driven writer

When I look at all the books I like, there’s kind of a theme. It’s not the fast paced plot or high concept ideas that excite me. I love characters who grow and learn truths about themselves and the world.

6. Magic can be built with words

There’s nothing more magical than a story. The way scratches on paper make you see what the author saw, the way they hit you in the heart and the gut and make you feel for not-real people. The way stories burrow into our hearts and shape us as people — that’s magic.

7. Writing is what I want to do forever and always.

Yup — I’m stuck with this silly little dream to be an author. I know publishing isn’t the validation I need as a writer, but with every book I read, I learn more about writing. I get more excited about the craft. And I become even more motivated to keep writing until I can hold my own book in my hands someday.

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Let's Talk!

What have you learned from reading? Have books played a huge role in your life? Also, just for fun: what’s your absolute-all-time-#1-favorite book?


Author: Madeline Bartson

Writer, bookworm, Hufflepuff. Fueled by caffeine and writing dreams. I want to share tips, tricks, motivation & inspiration for turning dreams into reality.

8 thoughts on “22 Lessons Books Have Taught Me in 22 Years”

  1. Love this post and it is so well written as well! Is this post for your 22nd birthday? If so, happy birthday!! 🙂
    Everyone has a story and the good guys can win, are ones that books have definitely taught me as well. I love character driven stories as well, and being able to feel strong emotions and cry from a book!

    Liked by 1 person

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