Those Summer Reads: The Reprise

Taken out of context, I must seem so strange. – Ani DiFranco

It’s been almost a year since I published Those Summer Reads as one of my inaugural posts on Growing Up On OM. I find myself touched by and resonating with what I wrote last September, even though so much has changed in these eleven and a half months. Here is my reprise of an introduction to this rather lengthy post:

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.

Now, to get au courant, the books I am sharing below I’ve read since April ended. April was the most stressful month of my professional life. I was consumed by work. Once it ended and May began, it was like my brain professed its hunger for what makes me…me: a deep and abiding interests in the books I unabashedly love. This year, there seems to be a geographic theme: European royalty (both historical and based on totally fake nations). There are few things better than being captivated in a book, missing bus stops in a flood of fictional emotions and crying on MAX (the subway-like trains in Portland) because your favorite characters die or fall in love or both. These books have done that to me, and I am thrilled to share them with you.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

This book is based on something tragic and within that something tragic all these sweet moments are found. When I began reading this book, I had no idea what it would be about. From the first chapter, the first few pages, I thought it would be about London, glamour, sex, lust, careers, intrigue…you get it.

I was wrong.

Jojo drew the reader in with the same unexpectedness of tragedy that tragedy itself entails. It is a story about totally different traumas that unexpectedly intertwine. The result is a breathtaking portrayal of the complexity of love and life, and the loving that makes life on life’s terms worth it.

Me being me is exactly as insane as you being you.

Royal Wedding: Princess Diaries Book 11 by Meg Cabot 

The anticipation for Royal Wedding was super, super intense for me. I think I discovered that M.C. was publishing her first adult Princess Diaries book about a year ago. I was eager with a need to read the amazing protagonist voice of Mia Thermopolis since then. She so, so did not disappoint.

We want endings that leave us with a sense of hope, possibly because the world we’re living in seems to be falling apart right now.

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

From the author of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series came a very different kind of read. The Here and Now, a futuristic take on YA dystopias took me about two days to read. I highly recommend it as a beach read – definitely to be taken less seriously than the Sisterhood books, but I’d say it’s a worthwhile library rental.

Paper Towns by John Green

When I teach literature – in my future classroom of dedicated learners and writers – I want to teach its intertextuality, not teaching only the core text but all the texts that surround and influence it, showing how books, like people, are so interconnected and interdependent. In Paper Towns, John Green did just that for his readers. He wove traditional poetry into a mystery of his own creation. If you don’t compare Paper Towns to The Fault in Our Stars (I made that mistake when I first started reading it and those expectations thoroughly dampened my experience), it is an artful coming of age novel by a man who puts the literature in the genre of YA Lit.

But a poem can’t do its work if you only read snippets of it.

Talking to a drunk person was like talking to an extremely happy, severely brain-damaged three-year-old.

It is so hard to leave–until you leave. And then it is the easiest god-damned thing in the world.

Forever is composed of nows.

The King’s Grace by Anne Easter Smith

I am fiercely obsessed with Tudor England. When I finished reading almost all of Philippa Gregory’s novels, I moved on to Anne Easter Smith, who writes gorgeous works of historical fiction on the Cousins Wars (the generation, which preceded the Tudors). This novel, told from the point of view of King Edward’s “illegitimate” daughter, Grace, displays the intricacies of historical mystery in the vivid ways Smith is known for. What I loved most about this novel was its connection to A Rose for the Crown, the first – and best – book I read by Anne Easter Smith. I loved seeing some of those old and familiar characters pop up in new ways in this iteration.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks + Jessica Morgan

Oh, my goodness gracious, I cannot recommend this book enough. Reading it was like eating a really fantastic bar of dark chocolate. I totally adore Bex, the protagonist – a Cornellian who studies abroad at Oxford only to befriend – and then date – the prince of Wales. What was so great about this novel was that it was most definitely NOT a fairytale. It shone a light on the difficulties of having a life that is constantly judged and surrounded by unforgiving press. The love and lust these two authors portrayed, though, was fantastically written…and so FUN to read. I laughed out loud repeatedly at the smart wit of the writing that felt as if it was coming straight out of the lovable first person protagonist’s mouth. While I read it, I highlighted the places in London this book made me want to visit. I just can’t even begin to describe how fun this book was to read. Definitely a summer read that should be brought everywhere…including the beach (though I finished this one on my plane back to the east coast).

I told myself to carry this moment as a talisman of a time in my life when I was both truly content and lucky enough to realize it.

The breath right before you kiss your beloved is the sweetest one of all, because you realize you’re about to get exactly what you want.

Boxed wine–the official drink of emotionally confused women on a budget.

I’d never been the sort of girl who willingly took a seat on the bench without fighting for a starting spot.

Those Summer Reads

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 fictionThe 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

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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

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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

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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.

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