Disclaimer: This is a long post. I have taken the whole summer to write it, to put thought into every book I read, beginning with the adult fiction and ending with the young adult fiction (going back in time!). And bear with me; this is the first big chunk of non-required fiction I’ve read since before undergrad. Enjoy!
While this is not true in life, when reading, I find myself again and again returning to my first love: young adult fiction. In many ways, this blog is about me learning what it means to be a full-blown grown-up, having been out of teenage-hood for over four years at this point. Yet why do I find myself returning, again and again, to books that leave permanent, gorgeous, wrenching imprints on my heart?
Because there are parts of being a teenager that are timeless, the age itself encompasses a liminality that I find myself drawn to, especially during a time like this when I embody the space of my own many transitions. The words of Augustus Waters (The Fault in Our Stars; see below) both haunt and inspire me: “our own little infinity.” At 22, I find myself grateful for having experienced many infinities, that leaping into the unknown.
And so this summer fiction-wise, I read a relatively even blend of literature about people younger and literature about people older than me. It is almost as if, in order to get into the present moment, I return to the past and gaze into the future and try to mediate the practical and figuring-out muck of adulthood with the drifting-away innocence of what it means to slowly grow up with meaning.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman
A person by the name of the protagonist in my own life left that book on the kitchen table one moment and the next, I found myself using it to try to decipher the male psyche with Waldman’s highly observational piece of fiction. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P chronicles the inner monologues of – you guessed it – Nathaniel P in relation to – you guessed it again – his love affairs. Reading this novel was like watching a particularly gory episode of Game of Thrones yet not being able to look away. While physical violence wasn’t this protagonist’s modus operandi and the setting was far from fantasy (the setting is the Brooklyn literati scene), reading this novel was, at times, brutal. I did not want to believe that someone could actually think this way about women. Yet my friend J (this book got passed around plenty) had an interesting take on it: how much of what Nate thought was actually his thoughts? To what extent did Waldman paint his thoughts as what he thought he should be thinking? Is this meta enough for you? Regardless, form your own opinions. I most definitely deem it a worthwhile read!
Graduates in Wonderland: the Two International Misadventures of Two (Almost) Adults by Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale
I finished Nathaniel P on my plane trip to Chicago five days after graduating from college. When I was in Chicago, I picked up a copy of BUST magazine where Graduates in Wonderland was recommended with a five-boob rating (I heart BUST). I downloaded it to Kindle and started reading this book comprised of emails between friends, starting right when they graduated from Brown. Not-so-coincidentally, I started reading it on the plane to Italy, my first international trip post-grad, and reading it definitely inspires the longing sensation of wanderlust, but also a contentment with where life already is and the many unexpected twists and turns it tends to take. This book also made me realize the power of freaking email and how much of our lives we share with one another via the modern-day pen-palship. It made me think of all my friends that are in different countries now, particularly M and K who are teaching English in Gaza and Spain, respectively, and how much we are learning about one another’s post-grad experiences through what we type.
Breathe by Kate Bishop
For this piece of total chick-lit with soul, I think I will sum it up by sharing some of my favorite quotes from this yoga novel (honestly, it should become its own genre at this point):
The spirit must be soothed before connecting to its destiny. – Nancy
My first instinct was to try to guess what he wanted to hear. The urge was strong, but instead, I took a deep breath and spoke from my heart. No frills, no embellishments, no projections. – Alex
My point is that our teachers ignite something within us that feels like love. It’s because we’re recognizing the divine within ourselves, and the closest thing we can compare it to is the ecstasy of romance. – Nancy
Just keep showering and eating salads, darling. – Nancy
Small choices add up to big change. – Alex’s Mom
Boundaries aren’t for isolation, they’re for containment. Just keep deepening your roots, darling. – Nancy
This pose is about trust. Trust in the roots that support you, and the depth of the well you draw from. And if the wind blows, just sway with it. Don’t be afraid to dance. – Galen
[She had an] ability to see what needed to be done, to see what people needed, and to do it without drama or recognition. She truly was a humble warrior. – Alex doting on her Mom
You have to be knocked off center in order to find center. – Galen
I could feel my tight grip on life and the people in it relaxing. – Alex
Always challenge what you think you know and when you think you don’t know, know you don’t. – Galen
Not a consuming idealizing sort of love. A love that supported my own growth, and his. A love that spoke the truth. A love that was patient and honest. And fun. – Alex about Andy
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
There are some books that move us. There are some books that make us laugh. There are some books that provide that delirious sense of escapism to lives not our own. There are some books that inspire us to write better and there are others that remind us of how small our lives are compared to the vastness of literary ones. The Fault in Our Stars did all of these “side effects” (to use a phrase Hazel and Augustus tossed around in their dialogue) of reading and yet it accomplished none of them because the impact this book made on me and thousands – perhaps millions – of other readers represents an infinity that will continue to make me cry for a thousand more little infinities. And to find out what I mean by that, well, you must read this book. Required reading for life and for all the living we do until we die. After I finish writing this post, I am tempted to watch a TV show before I go to sleep, but I just finished The Fault in Our Stars this evening and I want to fall asleep with it still, unencumbered, untainted, lying gently in my heart, with the tears I shed for this book drying organically on my cheeks. Like wanting to finish my day with the taste of the finest dark chocolate on my tongue, I want to preserve the multitude of feelings this book gave my soul until they inevitably evaporate in the tastebuds of everyday life.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
This is a book that deals with Big Issues. Child abuse. Body image. First love. Flirting. Bullying. Race in middle America. Attraction. Family. Unfinished love. And so many more. Rainbow Rowell (I am still curious what this is a pseudonym for; it must be something amazing) chronicles the lives of two teenagers in a heart wrenchingly eloquent way, in a way that made me react out loud to the ending of every single chapter. This book is a fully embodied read. At times, I was made to feel like I was the character speaking at the time just from Rowell’s use of the art of writing about proprioception. This book thoroughly changed my perception of the power of Young Adult literature. The below texting convo between me and my sister summarizes how I feel. So deeply worth the read. At any age.