All Who Wander by Donalyn Miller
When I was a teenager, I dreamed of escaping our cramped ranch house filled with too much yelling and too many kids. I couldn’t wait to graduate and go to exotic places like Istanbul or Portland. I wanted to be a field biologist like Jane Goodall or a veterinarian like James Herriot. They were British and spent most of their time with animals, which seemed civilized and peaceful compared to my upbringing.
On my fanciful days, I wanted to be Morgan le Fay, who was braver and more powerful than Guinevere in my opinion. She didn’t put up with annoying siblings. Still British. That part was important.
We never traveled when I was a kid, but I went everywhere in my books—haunted houses in Maine, battlefields in France, squalid New York tenements, Indian tea plantations. My life was small, but books made it larger. Books gave me a place to wander. Books gave me spaces to dream of something more.
I eventually left home, but I didn’t go far. I still live eight minutes from my mother and my sisters. No matter where I visit, I will always return to my hometown. As a teenager, I felt confined and uninspired by this place, but it’s comforting to me now. Underneath the strip malls and repaved roads—I see my childhood’s archaeology—the just-opened Mexican restaurant that used to be a burger joint, the new housing development built on land where my friends and I raced cars and snuck cigarettes. Home has nothing to do with geography. Adventure doesn’t either.
I have experienced the ordinary miracles that marriage, motherhood, and teaching bring—first kisses, apologies, building couch forts, unsolicited hugs from teenagers, tender writing from tough kids. I haven’t made it to Istanbul, yet, but I have time-traveled 48 years—no small accomplishment.
You could say that I travel for a living now—visiting teachers and librarians around the world and speaking at literacy conferences. I have eaten lobster in Maine and lasagna in Japan. I’ve climbed a Hawaiian waterfall (once) and dashed through O’Hare (more than once). It’s a frenetic, gratifying life and I’m blessed to have it.
This month, we are moving houses for the first time in seventeen years. We aren’t going far, but packing our house has filled me with sentimentality and anxiety. Each packed box marks an incremental separation from our little house and the life we built here. I feel uprooted. Unmoored. Right now, we don’t have a place that’s ours—caught between the house we are leaving and the one we haven’t occupied.
As I sort through our books—donating some and packing too many—I saved my to-read bookcases for last. Don and I have three double-stacked bookcases full of books we haven’t read, yet. Twelve boxes worth.
There’s no adventure like an unread book.
While our treasured favorites represent family memories of stories shared, these unread books hold possibility inside them–the promise that wherever we go, there are new journeys ahead. Friends we haven’t met. Places we haven’t seen. New knowledge to acquire. Whether I stay home or go to Winnipeg next week, life is never small when I have books to read. A year from now I will have traveled a thousand miles inside my books.
I look forward to my next trip.
Donalyn Miller has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. She is the author of two books about encouraging students to read, The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013). Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy co-founder, Colby Sharp) and the Best Practices Roots (#bproots) chat with Teri Lesesne. Donalyn launched the Twitter summer and holiday reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks or under a pile of books somewhere, happily reading.