This is the follow up to the previous post, so if you haven’t read it yet, skip on down. I’ll be waiting here when you get back.
6. Back a little farther, when I was five or so, my mom reads my sister and I Ozma of Oz as we lay in bed. It’s toward the end of the book, and my mom asks us where we think Ozma is… and I have no idea. It’s obvious that Mom knows, and I’m impressed and confused, and it’s a magical feeling to have no idea where the book is going. I learn that I don’t know everything, and that’s ok.
7. I get Little Women for Christmas the year I am 7. I sink right in and read it and love Jo and Laurie, and am utterly bewildered by Jo’s decision to not marry Laurie and even more baffled by her choice to marry an old man. I learn that people have the ability to make different decisions than I do. (Years later, when I watch the film version, I figure out that Jo didn’t marry an old man, they were the same age-ish, but to my seven year old mind, all professors were old.)
8. In ninth grade English I’m assigned Animal Farm. We have a choice of writing assignments, and I choose the one that no one else went with- the one I’m sure the teacher didn’t really think anyone would choose- to compare Animal Farm to the Communist Manifesto. I dive head first into the assignment and, if I do say so myself, kick butt on the paper. I learn both that there’s a ton of philosophies and viewpoints that I know nothing about, and that I can analyze and write.
9. Also in ninth grade, we read To Kill A Mockingbird. We get a creative writing assignment, and I write from Tom’s point of view in jail. My capacity for empathy increases as I learn that literature can show me everyone’s side.
10. We read the Great Gatsby in eleventh grade. From the moment I open it the prose sucks me in and I’m in love with the words. I read it seven times before we’re supposed to finish it for class. I write a version of Gatsby’s party for an assignment and work for days trying to capture the tone. I learn that books not only contain stories, but also beautiful beautiful words. I also fall head over heels in love with the 1920s.
11. In twelfth grade we’re assigned Native Son over Christmas break. I bring it with me on our vacation to Utah, and it’s a magical reading experience. The themes and connections were almost visual as I read, like threads going from passage to passage, and it’s so cohesive that it’s incredibly hard to figure out what to write a paper about, because it seems like there’s nothing more to be said. (I end up writing about Bigger having Communist tendencies even though he hates Communists- which, combined with experience 8 leads my daddy to tease me for years and years.) I learn how to stretch my thinking and how to see the connections in what I read.
12. My first year of college, I read The Taming of the Shrew for a Shakespeare class. I take my interpretation of the final section in a unconventional direction, and when I get the paper back I discover that other people did the same, but that I’m the only one who pulled it off- and the professor thinks I’m extremely skilled at interpretation. I switch my major from theater to literature.
There’s been tons since then as well, but that’s enough for now. I’ll just finish by saying that if I had to live without Harriet the Spy, Scout, Zooey Glass, Daisy Buchanan, Mina Harker, Claudine, Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin, Serge and Alba, Lance Scott, Phryne Fisher, or any of the other characters who are alive and well in my mind, I would be a far poorer person.
So, I ask again, what books have shaped who you are? What characters can’t you live without?