“Jessica Lahey: English teachers tend to fall into one of two camps when it comes to literacy: Those who believe we should let students read anything they want so they will be more likely to engage with books, and those who believe teachers should push kids to read more challenging texts in order to expose them to new vocabulary, genres, and ideas. Where would you pitch your tent?
Stephen King: You don’t want to leave them in despair, which is why it’s such a horrible idea to try teaching Moby-Dick or Dubliners to high school juniors. Even the bright ones lose heart. But it’s good to make them reach a little. They’ve got to see there are brighter literary worlds than Twilight. Reading good fiction is like making the jump from masturbation to sex.”
-Excerpt from “How Stephen King Teaches Writing” by Jessica Lahey, The Atlantic, Sept 9, 2014
My friend says I can’t come to her house to hang out tomorrow night until I’ve done the “15 BOOKS THAT CHANGED YOUR LIFE” Facebook challenge.
At least it’s not ice water.
I’m supposed to not think about it and just write them down feverishly, tag some people on Facebook I probably haven’t talked to in ages, then run along with my merry self. Sort of like if I came to your house and threw books at you as soon as you opened the door and I ran screaming into the night. My book selections deserve more thought than that. If they’ve changed my life, then they have earned a permanent place on my bookshelf. It was not a challenge to be taken lightly and without a great deal of thought….
So without further ado…
15 BOOKS THAT HAVE CHANGED MY LIFE (BECAUSE KATE FORCED ME TO DO IT):
1). The Island of the Blue Dolphins: When I was little Reading Rainbow was all the rage. Levar Burton was mesmerizing.
I hear there is a project to bring it back to TV and gosh that would be amazing and yes, I would totally watch it.
I remember sitting in my usual spot to watch Levar and various children give me their book recommendations, when they mentioned a book about a girl surviving on an island all alone. It was based on a true story. There were dolphins. I was 6 or 7 and IN. Truth is, I can’t remember much about the story line, but I do remember being so completely in love with this book that it was all I could talk about for years after.
2) The Witches: I still have my original copy of this fantastic book that my mom bought when I was 7. I read it cover to cover. Then read it again. Any woman who had an itch on her head and shifted about uncomfortably in her shoes was OBVIOUSLY a witch. I had to be careful.
3). Superfudge: When I was 9 I entered a contest where you picked your favorite passage from a book and read it aloud. I made it to the finals with my stirring rendition of an excerpt from Anne of Green Gables. It was passionate, moving, and so utterly melodramatic it fucking HURT. Then I watched as a small pixie-ish girl walked up to the podium and read a passage from Superfudge by Judy Blume. She was hilarious and won the contest. A few months later, after getting over my crushing defeat, I read Superfudge and laughed my head off. This was my first lesson in, “Just Make ‘Em Laugh, Angelle”.
4). Anne of Green Gables: All I ever wanted was long flowing red hair I could put in two braids. I also wanted to not be the tallest girl in my class who was reading well above her grade level, but we can’t have it all. I fell in love with this book, this world, this ANNE. Such a plain name for such a vivid character.
5). Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret: Disclaimer: Are you a dude? You may skip to the next selection if you wish ;) This book appeared in my life around the time my body started to look different. Puberty was weird and awkward. I was already wearing a bra and dealing with the jealousy of the other girls and the curiosity of the boys. This book was confusing and comforting all the same time. What was a pad? Why was it attached to a belt? Do people care how big your boobs are? Do I care? Wait…THEY GET BIGGER?
6). Go Ask Alice: Where “Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret” was confusing, “Go Ask Alice” was straight up terrifying. Drugs are bad, mmmkay? This was also around the time the D.A.R.E. program had made it to my school and we regularly had police officers coming in to explain the dangers of taking drugs. DEATH! UNWANTED PREGNANCIES! SEX WITHOUT YOUR CONSENT! BAD FRIENDS! JAIL! Calm down, officer, I’m eleven and live on a military base in Germany. In the middle of nowhere. I’m pretty sure I’m safe…FOR NOW!
7). Pet Sematary: I am an admitted scaredy cat. I slept with a light on until just recently. I’m not going to tell you when “just recently” was, but a bad bout of insomnia will make you cave to your natural circadian rhythms being interrupted by a light shining in your face all night. I don’t know what prompted me to pick up a Stephen King book at 12 years old. Maybe I felt like I’d read everything I was interested in at the library? Maybe I wandered into the horror/supernatural section, who really knows, but this is when my literary love affair with King began. It’s also when I became waaay respectful of sacred Native American burial grounds. Just don’t mess with them. Ever.
8). Sherlock Holmes Mysteries: I was 13 and I was in love. Real love…not the chase him around the playground and send notes in class love, it was the sighing, falling on your bed clutching your heart because GOD IT HURT kind of love.
I did a lot of that.
I still do a lot of that…
but I digress.
His name was Sherlock. He was arrogant, snarky, intelligent, and my perfect man. My heart jumped when he would read people by their clothing and body language. I felt lightheaded and woozy when he would solve the crime. He wasn’t real, a bit of a wanker, and also a drug addict, but *le sigh* he was everything.
9). Spring Moon: First day of Freshman high school English, we were given this book to read. I had no idea what to expect. I’m including it in this list, because out of every book we read throughout high school, this one ALWAYS gets a shout out. ALWAYS. Hashtag: GoldenLilies
10). Interview with the Vampire: By this point in my young life, I’d already been exposed to sex in literature. King has a bunch of it, Spring Moon had some scandalous scenes that made us all laugh, but Anne Rice introduced me to a new kind of sex. The kind that was different from the terrifying and sometimes even hilarious scenarios illustrated by other books. It was dark, it made me feel things, it wasn’t always between just a man and a woman, it was FASCINATING. I couldn’t read enough of her books. Then I discovered her Sleeping Beauty trilogy and…holy crap. My 14 year old brain exploded with all of this new information about sex and how it happens. Anne Rice is single handedly responsible for some of my most inventive and satisfying sexual fantasies. I think she’d be very happy to hear that. (honorable mention to the VC Andrews classic “Flowers in the Attic” that I read on loan from a friend since it was way too scandalous to have in our school library. Talk about mind blowing.)
11). Anything by Shakespeare: These plays were all a part of my continuing quest to bring the paintings of Alphonse Mucha to life. I’m still like that to this day and it’s still fucking EXHAUSTING.
I can recite lines from Romeo and Juliet if you want.
12). Power of Myth: Joseph Campbell taught me that there is more to life than standing on a stage and reciting lines. He taught me that we are all made of stories that have built on each other from the beginning of time. That love is complicated and a hard thing to define. That at 17, my life could be whatever I wanted it to be. Acting didn’t have to define me, nor did the melodrama that accompanied it. Campbell ignited my interest in where these stories came from. How were they told and passed down generation after generation? How did they shape cultures? Who told them before they were written down? No one person or book has had such a profound effect on who I would later become. Storytellers fascinate me and rather than reciting their words, I wanted to be one.
13). Siddhartha: By nature I’m a bit of a worrier, until recently I had a horrible fear of flying that led to a not so horrible love of Jameson. In moderation, of course. Now, after flying all over for two years, I’m the annoying person who falls asleep on take off and doesn’t wake up until we’ve landed. Siddhartha was my first exposure to Eastern religion that wasn’t watching The Golden Child for the 30th time. It opened me up to new ways of thinking about the world and embracing meditation and contemplation as a way to deal with stress of every day living. My friend Kenny is a Buddhist and one of the calmest, gentlest souls I’ve ever known. There may be something to all of this. I always recommend this book to people who are every bit as lost in life as I was the first time I picked it up.
14). The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay: There was a time in my life when literally every single person I knew was either in the middle of reading this book, or had just finished it. I couldn’t walk down the street in DC without seeing someone reading a copy. I would wake up and see it sitting on the nightstand of the guy I was dating. Since everyone was doing it, obviously I was going to do something else. Until a rainy Paris day in November of 2008 dawned gloomy and cold. Sick of watching The Simpsons in French, AGAIN, I went for a walk to the bookstore Shakespeare and Co. across the street from Notre Dame. There are never more perfect bookstores than those in Paris and there I found Kavalier & Clay. It sat right on the top of a stack of books, politely asking to be read. I did. I loved it completely. Every time I look at my copy I think of those cold days I spent in Paris reading Neil Gaiman, Elizabeth Kostova, and countless other authors to warm that spot of loneliness I felt. It was one of the most amazing times of my life.
15). The Night Circus: Finally we come to The Night Circus. Books have taught me many things over the years, but none have told a love story quite like this. Normally my books are filled with Sci-Fi, horror, gore, vampires, dystopian societies…etc. The story of competing magicians, Marco & Celia, absolutely melted my heart. I may or may not go back occasionally and read my favorite parts. If this book has taught me anything, it’s that even though you may think that part of you is jaded and gone, it isn’t.
“Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. Your sister may be able to see the future, but you yourself can shape it, boy. Do not forget that… there are many kinds of magic, after all.”
― Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus
Christopher Pike: For when I graduated from Fear Street and Goosebumps
The Sandman: For your first jump into graphic novels. This one by Neil Gaiman is PERFECT.