My childhood obsession with dolls began as early as my diaper days. I would covet every doll in that one aggressively pink aisle of Target, demand baby dolls and clothes for Christmas most years, and at the height of my doll obsession, my ridiculously cool mom shepherded me and my sisters on a four-hour long drive to New York City to visit the American Girl Doll store so we could salivate over Felicity and Kit. I had all kinds of dolls—Bitty Babies, Barbies, Polly Pockets—but here's the thing: Once I had them, I had no idea what to do with them. They were pretty and nice to look at, but when I tried to actually play with them, all the neurons in my brain seem to shut down. Like some sad automaton, I repetitively clothed and unclothed them for lack of anything better to do, and then left them on the floor.
I think a huge part of my disappointment was that, save the American Girl dolls and their stories, most dolls were pretty one-dimensional and couldn't offer much beyond sitting and staring back at you. This was in the days before the Lammily doll or dolls based on historical figures, and without any history or anything to learn from them, trying to play with them always left you vaguely dissatisfied.
Luckily, my doll obsession was brief. It wasn't long before my love of young adult novels consumed me for all I was worth, and now the only remainders of those dolls are the relics perched on top of my bursting bookshelf. And once that transition happened, I never looked back—why would I, when there were so many reasons to enjoy reading books than there ever was to play with dolls?
Books are way more portable
Books are better than dolls simply because they are more practical. You can take a book anywhere. Your dolls were always awkward to fit into backpacks, and were probably not going to weather that long car ride to the beach.
Books challenge your imagination
Not that dolls don't challenge your imagination. I think that imaginative kids are just going to be predisposed to use anything they can as an outlet, and dolls certainly can serve as one. But that's just it—dolls could be a decent outlet for a kid whose imagination is already engaged, but books are the tools that actually trigger that creativity in the first place. Books put you in entirely different universes, push you into someone else's thoughts, and make you consider circumstances way beyond the tiny world of you, your blanket, your flashlight, and your bedroom at night.
Books prepare you to deal with humanity
I think some of our parents gave us dolls as kids to stave off our occasional loneliness, but aside from "playing dolls" with our friends, they didn't exactly equip us with the knowledge of how to deal with humans. Books, on the other hand, gave us our first experiences with honest and flawed characters. As excruciating as it was to read them sometimes (I am still haunted by a book I read in third grade about a kid who watched his best friend drown and lied to all the adults in his life about it), it was books that held our initial introductions to the full spectrum of what other humans were capable of, and what we might be capable of ourselves. There were lessons we learned from books about human nature that our teachers and parents might not even have thought to tell us.
Books gave us the best role models
From the very beginning of my human life, I was a perfectionist little bundle of nerves in school, and I was always self-conscious about it. At least, I was until Hermione made it cool. I think we'd all be lying if, at some point, we didn't find ourselves trying to channel our inner Hermione during all-nighters in college, or summon up Katniss's fearlessness whenever we were too scared to try something new. Books gave us characters who triumphed against all odds, and worked hard to earn their successes, and we carry those lessons well into our adulthood.
If I had no fingers, I could still count on one hand the number of times I looked to Barbie for inspiration on anything. (Because it has happened exactly zero times.)
Books give you something to talk about with other people
Most conversations I had about dolls as a kid went like this:
"Oh, you have Felicity? I have Kit!"
"That's so awesome! My sister has Kit!"
...And then we would haul off to our usual corners of the playground, never to speak again.
Books, on the other hand, have been some of the greatest friendship-forgers I've ever known. A few months ago, I eavesdropped on two people discussing Ender's Game at a bar and I weaseled my way into the conversation so fast that the bartender thought I actually knew the complete and total strangers (to be fair, we were all bros with by the end of the night). This is a phenomenon I experienced as early as kindergarten with the Amelia Bedelia series. Once you realize you have the shared experience of a book, the conversations are basically limitless, even if you have nothing else in common with the other person.
You actually wanted to share your books
I was super possessive of my dolls. They became (and remain, to some extent) trophies, and even though I had three siblings and I knew the sharing lecture upside down and backwards, the idea of someone else playing with my dolls filled me with all kinds of jealous child-rage.
Books, on the other hand, are things people typically cannot wait to share. We actively shove our favorite reads in the faces of our friends. READ THIS! In the car! In a mud pile! On the toilet! I'm not going to speak to you again until you read it! You don't care where they go with it nor what kind of harm befalls that book of yours—the desire to share a book you love with a person you love trumps any other feelings that you have. This is not a thing that happens with dolls. Ever.
Books will inspire you to do something when you're done with them
When you put a doll down, you're done. When you put a book down, you're inevitably, unavoidably, still carrying it around with you in your mind. Reading books is what inspires people to stretch their imaginations even further; to read more books, or write fan fiction, or write books of their own. Every author in the world has that book or that author that ignited that first flame of literarily-derived inspiration. Even when you're finished reading a book, you aren't really finished, because you'll go back there in your mind more times than you'll ever play with your dolls.
You never outgrow your books
Most adults are one hundred percent done with their dolls. The moment I find a small child who actually wants to play with them, mine are out the door. But books? You can (and probably will) read the same book at ages 13, 25, and 50, and every single time you do, you'll find it means something entirely different to you. Your favorite stories grow with you over time, revealing new complexities and lessons hidden within the same pages as you view them through the ever-changing filter that comes with gained life experience. As for my Polly Pocket set...it is so far shoved back into a closet that I doubt it will ever again see the light of day.
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