Today, I was supposed to do the My Life in Books tag, which Marie @ Drizzle and Hurricane Books kindly tagged me to do.
So I’m sort of doing that. But in a slightly more literal sense.
I turned 23 yesterday and lately I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m doing (in life in general) and books have a lot to do with that. So instead of talking about the books currently at the top of my shelf, I’m going to talk about those that helped me the most. The ones that made me feel excited about life. I’m talking about that experience of reading where you recognise something and it plugs a leak and opens the floodgates all at the same time.
It comes in two parts because there are many such books. The feminist texts are coming in part two, don’t worry.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
When I was a kid, I loved this book because Charlie was totally trapped inside his brain. As an adult, I love this book because it’s all about healing. It’s about deciding who you are going to be because of and in spite of your experiences.
‘…it’s like when my doctor told me the story of these two brothers whose dad was a bad alcoholic. One brother grew up to be a successful carpenter who never drank. The other brother ended up being a drinker as bad as his dad was. When they asked the first brother why he didn’t drink, he said that after he saw what it did to his father, he could never bring himself to even try it. When they asked the other brother, he said he guessed he learned how to drink on his father’s knee. So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. We can still try to feel okay about them.’
Matilda – Roald Dahl
I loved reading and I hated bullies. It figures that this would be one of my favourite books. I really liked the idea that grown-up bullies could be beaten. Unfortunately in real life you do this by growing up rather than developing telekinetic powers. Real life is so disappointing sometimes.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie
I minored in Creative Writing for my degree. In my Creative Writing classes, our tutors almost always handed out short stories they thought we should read. I almost always hated them. Until one day, I was given a story by Sherman Alexie. I fell in love. When I discovered he had written a YA novel, and that it was no less than the True Diary – a novel so beloved it’s practically mythic – I had to read it. Sometimes when I read I understand feelings I didn’t realise I was having. There’s a Q&A in the back of my edition, and one question Alexie answers says everything better than I ever could:
‘What’s one piece of advice you would give to a young person who wants to break free from the life that’s been set out for them and find their own way?
You have to get very comfortable with the idea of being lonely. For all of human history, we’ve always run away from being lonely and now there are even more distractions. But that’s the thing – if you’re going to make the decision to rebel against your tribe, you’re going to get very lonely.’
The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman
So many of the books that have meant everything to me are preoccupied with the idea of leaving. I am only just now realising that.
‘There was a passport in his bag, money in his pocket. There was a smile dancing on his lips, although it was a wary smile, for the world is a bigger place than a little graveyard on a hill; and there would be dangers in it and mysteries, new friends to make, old friends to rediscover, mistakes to be made and many paths to be walked before he would, finally return to the graveyard or ride with the Lady on the broad back of her great grey stallion.
But between now and then there was Life; and Bod walked into it with his eyes and his heart wide open.’
Can you think of a book that has had a profound effect on you? And, if there are lots of those books, do they run along a theme? It was only in writing this that I started to realise mine did. The next book I want to write about is Paper Towns, from which one of my favourite quotes is:
“It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.”
I think perhaps my books are trying to tell me something.