In case you missed the first installment, you can find it here.
There are no two ways about it–these years pretty much suck. It’s such an awkward couple of years transitioning from being a child to an adolescent. And for me at least, it was when I started to become “weird” and “different,” which you may see reflected in my book choices.
I’ve already mentioned Forever by Judy Blume–a real coming of age classic for an 8th grade girl.
There were two other books that I read at 14, that kind of changed my life:
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
I read this in the spring of my 8th grade year, sitting on the porch every evening (you’ll notice perhaps that I remember where I was when I read a lot of these books–that’s what kind of impression they left on me and the kind of importance/ritual I built around reading books that I connected with). I’ve thought about re-visiting this book as an adult, but a big part of me wants to keep it as a memory.I identified with her so much, it was the first time I felt a kinship with someone from a book. She was at that moment exactly the kind of writer I wanted to be when I crafted endless bad poetry. It was all just SO DEEP.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Right after reading The Bell Jar, I read the Catcher in the Rye (on the same spot on the porch) and fell in love all over again. Another book so wonderfully written, and it just “got” me, and all my “unique” feelings. I immediately read all of Salinger’s books and loved them all. However, this is one that I know I do not want to return to as an adult. I am sure I would be annoyed by Holden Caulfield at this stage in my life. Yes this is a classic–but the reason why is that it captures adolescence so perfectly–it’s a stage that most don’t want to return to later in life.
The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides
Both beautiful and epic books. They get the complexities of “coming of age” (which is kind of an obnoxious term, but I can’t think of a better one at the moment).
Caucasia by Danzy Senna
I read this one as an adult, but I wish I would have read it in high school–a wonderfully written book about race and identity and family. I gave this to my Little Sister when she was in 9th grade.
1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell
1984 is my favorite book of all time, and George Orwell is the author I admire most. I read 1984 when I was 24, and part of me disappointed that I had lived that long without having reading any Orwell, but in another way I was glad that I had some maturity, world experience, and knowledge to really “get” it and how amazing it is. So while I put this under High School, I think it’s probably best for 11th or 12th grade, and then every few years after that.
After I read 1984, I read all of Orwell’s writing (all of his novels, and a lot of his short stories and essays, and even biographies) and it was like I had found something I had been looking for– I wish I could be half the author and journalist that George Orwell was. In addition to 1984, Down and Out in London and Paris, and Animal Farm are other favorites. But really, read everything by the man–he’s amazing.
College and Beyond
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
This is another classic that I somehow missed until adulthood. I think I’m glad that I didn’t read books like these for a class, sadly that can take a lot of the joy out of a book. This is an amazing book and college is probably a great time to read it–it will depress you and make you angry and make you want to change the world–perfect for college.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
OK, so I might be a little bias on this one because I just finished reading it last month., but this is an amazing multi-layer novel within a novel that has made me want to jump on my next author bandwagon and start reading more Margaret Atwood (next up: The Handmaid’s Tale…another one I somehow missed)
OK, so that’s my very very very incomplete list. There are many great books that I left off that I’ll add to the (someday) ultimate list. In the meantime I’d love to hear your recommendations for the best books for every stage of life…
Of the many gifts I’d like to give my non-existent possible future child, and a definitive list of the best books to read at every stage in life (along with copies–real actual printed copies of each book), is chief among them. This is not that list–that list will likely take me months of laboring over and adding to. But this is a start. Inspired by this this lovely blog post. Please, feel free to share your must reads for every stage of life. Here’s my start:
Birth to Age 5:
Monster at the End of This Book
I grew up LOVING Sesame Street and all things Muppet (and watching it until I was much older than I would admit to my friends). This book, starting loveable furry old Grover was one of my favorites as a child. I’ve given this book as a gift to many children and babies in my life and my child will be no exception. Plus, I’m married to a man who does a great Grover voice when he reads this aloud.
Where the Wild Things Are
Hear this writers everywhere: this book is a masterpiece and it’s under 400-words. So keep it short! It’s been said that the last line in this book is a poem in and of itself: “and the food was still hot.” It’s a beautiful work of the imagination and feelings of childhood.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Like Where the Wild Things Are, this book has great illustrations, but in a much simpler baby/toddler-friendly way. I remember loving flipping through this book when I was learning to count and after. Plus it makes a great kids birthday party theme.
Everything Dr. Seuss
The man is a genius. Enough said.
Elementary School Years
Everything Roald Dahl
I’ve read some of his adult stuff and it’s decent, but he was great at kind of dark, but imaginative kids books for those years when you just start getting into reading on your own and you realize how fun it can be. The BFG, The Witches (which I actually didn’t read until I was an adult), James and the Giant Peach (I played a the grasshopper in a production of this when I was in the 3rd grade), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the list goes on — they are all must reads.
Get ready to cry your eyes out. My life would be complete if I could ever write something as moving as this book. I know I’ve already said masterpiece, but seriously: Masterpiece.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
OK, this one is probably only a girl thing. But I remember when I was in forth grade and learning for the first time was a period was, I checked this book out of the library and rode my bike to the park to read it in secret after school. Several years later in 8th grade I secretly read another Judy Blume book, Forever, (women will know what I’m talking about…men…I don’t know, maybe Blubber? I guess some Judy Blume might be gender neutral, but the two books that left the strongest impression were definitely for girls only.
(side rant: I am, of course, partial to the 70s/80s covers of these books)
Next installment: Middle School, High School, and College.
I started this blog because I had a scattered online presence and I wasn’t writing for myself (i.e. not for work) enough. Then I went and got a full time job and my writing for myself has gotten even more sporadic. Go figure.
And while I can say “I’m going to update more,” and “I really need to get back to my novel,” or “I’ll still freelance on the side,” until I’m blue in the face, it all amounts to a hill of beans if I don’t actually do it.
It’s not for lack of ideas, I have so many draft emails, Word documents, and bits of paper with the beginning of ideas on them. And while I feel like its due to lack of time–life has been a bit hectic these last couple of months–that’s really a lame excuse at the heart of it. When it comes down, there is no reason to not do it.
The Internet was in a tizzy last week when it was announced that 26-year-old Lena Dunham got a $3.5 MILLION advance to write a book of essays about being a 26-year-old right white girl in New York. Of course this bothered me too, for several reasons:
1. The story of a privileged white 20-something woman in New York City is possibly the least original idea on the face of the planet.
2. I don’t think she’s particularity funny or insightful, in fact I find her kind of irritating.
3. I think the idea of getting an advance to write a book, is an amazing dream–one in which you don’t have to worry about how to pay the bills and can just write all day long. BUT, $3.5 million would mean this groundbreaking book about going to bars and guys sending vague texts, will have to be the next Harry Potter, the next Bossypants, the next Fifty Shades of Grey…oh wait, I just depressed myself even more.
So yes, there’s a huge difference between getting an advance that lets you quit your day job and $3.5 million (about $3 million dollars of difference). But I am of course all for writers getting the time and space and money to write. But the idea of advances at all (especially those built around hype) make me more than a little frustrated when there are talented hardworking writers barely scrapping together enough money and time sit down and labor over a chapter.
4. Everyone is heaping praise on her calling her the next David Sedaris, and while this kind of praise and that kind of advance comes with a lot of pressure, it’s also irritating. I’m reading a book right now that’ pretty lackluster, it’s not bad, it’s just so so. It’s written by a woman who is “funny” and who is writing about being an awkward child, etc., and right there on the cover is someone calling it “the British version of Tina Fey’s Bossypants”
UGH. Enough. I’m calling bullshit on calling anyone or anything the next something. You know who the next Tina Fey is? Tina Fey. I read a fantastic quote in an article I edited recently: “You need to focus on being the first you, not the next someone else.” Yes. Give me being the first and only whatever I am in the room over being sold as being the poor man’s version of that thing everyone likes.
But, regardless of all the reasons that I’m annoyed with Lena Dunham and her giant paycheck, there is one other big difference between me and her.
She sat down and wrote.
Yes, I’ve written a lot, and yes she’s had a lot more time/money/connections than I have, but I really have no space to complain that my novel isn’t making fifty shades of grey moo-la if I haven’t written more than 100 pages.
SO…I’ve been thinking about joining National Novel Writing Month again (I attempted it in 2010) and I’ve also read about a smaller and less intimidating writing goal: Writing 15 minutes a day, everyday, no matter what.
I think I will start with my own rule: writing for 30 minutes (blog, novel, letter, journal, poetry, whatever) every weeknight at the same time. I see where that gets me and keep you posted.