leaves of grass

10 (Mostly YA) Books That Changed My Life.

If you’ve been following my blog for even a little while, then you know at least two things about me: I studied English at university and I am the kind of person who will happily lose sleep over characters and plot twists. You see, I’m a lit lover through and through. As such, I owe a lot of what I know and love to the lessens that I’ve learned from printed lines on bound pages, the stories that changed my life.

On that note, here’s to literary game-changers and the marvelous people who create them.

Thank you!

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

By the time I graduated from kindergarten in 2000, I was a voracious reader and everybody knew it. But, somehow, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which I didn’t read until 2001, feels like the book that started it all for me. It was the book that made me delve into fantasy and science fiction, the book that gave me a fan community to become immersed in, and the book that taught me how to do life. But, more than anything else, this was the book that led to a series of books that transformed my generation and made us all believe in magic.

Each of Rowling’s characters taught me something about people and the lives we all must lead. In Hermione, I learned that intelligence, loyalty, bravery, feminism, and drive can take you far. In Severus, I learned that everyone can change, some causes are worth living and dying for, and a good person is not necessarily a nice person. In Dumbledore, I learned that pursuing the “greater good” sounds lovely in theory but, people will get hurt along the way (i.e. Ariana and Harry). And, in Harry, I learned that love can change everything.

The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn

I haven’t been able to shut up about The Bar Code Tattoo since I ordered it through a Scholastic sale in 2004 when I was 10 years old. I even read a bit from it in a YouTube video because it was “the first book I could get my hands on.” (I totally didn’t edit out the time it took me to find that book in particular…) I have quite literally been blabbing about this book for years—I even got a tweet back from the author after I mentioned the renewed relevance of the “big brother is watching you” plot line in modern-day America.

Ultimately, in the primary character, Kayla (hey, that’s 71% of my first name), I learned to seek the truth with determination and work to create the life I wish to lead. However, as my introduction to dystopian fiction, Weyn is also responsible for teaching me to be aware of the world I live in, to question how today’s decisions will affect tomorrow’s conditions, and to discover my own identity instead of letting my community define me.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Uglies_book

Uglies is a story with many layers. Mostly obviously, there is snazzy technology à la science fiction and a dystopian world with Big Brother government, which is fascinating and terrifying all at once. Underneath all of that though, there is an ongoing discussion of the big problems that plague humans regardless of time and space: personal identity, individual freedom, and conceptions of beauty. You know how English teachers and professors always tell students to “unpack” or “bleed” the text? I could write a 20+ page paper “unpacking” this story. This tale never comes up empty.

Westerfeld said (through the character of David) that “what you do, the way you think, makes you beautiful,” and that statement resonates with me more every day of my life, particularly as I begin to bridge the gap between being a student and a professional. Whenever I question who I am or what I’m doing, I remember that I’m no different from Uglies and the characters within it—there is a whole world inside of me just waiting to be unpacked.

I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

I grew up with a mother who studied psychology. What this means is that I’ve spent my entire life listening to impromptu psych lectures, as well as having all of my choices and ideas psychoanalyzed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly been interesting—as a child it was awe-inspiring because, well, my mother is undeniably a brilliant woman—but, I didn’t truly understand the concept of psychology until I read I Am the Cheese (and The Chocolate War immediately thereafter) around the beginning of middle school.

The psychological journey of Adam (aka Paul) led me to consider the core differences between people and how our experiences can define the past, present, and the future equally. In Cormier’s story (stories, really) I found perspective. As a result, in Adam’s pursuit of his father, I also became closer to my own mother, gaining a better understanding not just of why she would study psychology, but also why she considered her psychology-related knowledge and experiences to be eternally relevant.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

In only 383 pages of print, Dessen tackled familial relationships, eating disorders, sexual assault, anger management, high school dynamics, friendship, and so much more. Then, to make the story all the more important, Dessen showcased the metaphorical power of silence and the human inability to quiet the heart. The story doesn’t rely on a grand setting, a large character collection, or even sublime escapades; instead, the author just conveyed what it means to not think or judge, and instead “just listen” to what your heart is saying.

Music wasn’t precisely the point of this book yet, somehow, this book intrinsically altered my relationship with music. Music was just the tipping point of the lessons this book taught though. Through Annabel, I learned that secrets are heavy to hold, truths can be hard to share, and people are not necessarily the “characters” they portray to the rest of the world. Through Owen, I learned that music can be an escape or a channel, depending on which you need, and the truth should be shared, even if you have to “rephrase and redirect” to get your meaning across.

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

For most of my sophomore year of high school, I spent every spare second I had in the library or reading a novel in an empty classroom. I carried a veritable library of ARCs in my backpack and I talked publishing with my journalism teacher (who became my yearbook supervisor). In the midst of that odd situation, I discovered the then-newly-published novel Paper Towns by John Green. I loved that book like it bled and breathed, but mostly I loved the world it opened me up to in its fleeting references: Walt Whitman’s poetic skill and the utterly intoxicating “Song of Myself.”

Whitman spent 400 poems trying to define and describe life before ultimately coming to the conclusion that people are large and “contain multitudes.”  In the sage conclusions of a long-dead man and in that time of intense personal growth, Whitman’s words enabled me to be comfortable with being a bit “odd,” living life like a “dance” when the “fit” of change was “whirling me fast.” Not to mention, it was Whitman’s poetic encouragement to explore one’s self that led me to create a blog called “mylifeinverse” or “my life in verse,” despite the fact that I don’t generally write poetry.

The Confessions of St. Augustine by St. Augustine

In this single book, often touted as a building block of the Christian faith, St. Augustine managed to make absolutely everything in life—every experience, every thought, every desire—seem like a mortal sin. More than any other book I’ve ever read, Confessions pissed me off and made me wish for a time machine so that I could go back to ancient times and deliver a punch in the face to the author. It was simply infuriating to see an author turn life overall into something so thoroughly ugly in the name of defending religion and ethics.

Despite all of that, St. Augustine’s Confessions taught me about the manipulative power of religions (not that all religions are manipulative), the diversity of moral and ethical systems, the tedium of entirely introspective and self-deprecatory works, and the ability of authors to make readers feel like they’re being castigated. That being said, this is the only book I have ever thrown away—quite literally, it went into the trash bin—and I don’t even feel guilty about it.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Susan Cain rose to fame as a self-proclaimed “public introvert” who utilized her incredibly astute observations about her own nature to tell the world (in a TED talk) about the superpowers of introverts and bring about positive vibes regarding the more “quiet” portion of the population. Where the majority of self-help and introspective self-analytical literature characterize introversion as something one must compensate for by adopting the seemingly superior characteristics of extroverts, Cain successfully presented introverts and extroverts as separate but equal.

As a young woman just finishing up my undergraduate degree and an undeniable introvert, Quiet spoke to my experiences with and worries about existing in a predominantly extrovert-positive world. I wouldn’t be nearly as confident about the very real and very necessary role I can fill in a work environment—particularly in the extrovert-oriented career field I’m aiming for—if I had not read this book at precisely the time that I did.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Just like The Bar Code Tattoo trilogy and Uglies trilogy, Divergent is the first novel in a dystopian trilogy with a badass female main character and slightly less important, but amusing and often game-changing, minor male characters. There are certainly strong feelings of girl power in Tris’ gradual and hard-fought transformation from the meek and compliant person others want her to be to the curious and brave person she truly is “on the inside.” And, well, what 21-year-old young woman doesn’t need a bit more girl power in her life?

Throughout my life I’ve always been told to “be myself” and “live for me” but, it wasn’t until I read Divergent that I began to understand that who you are can change, whether through sheer force of will or evolutionary circumstances, and you’re no less you for changing. Tris made me excited to transform from what I was as a child and a teenager, by upbringing or some sort of default, and become who I want to be. In that character I found the courage to make myself new while always remembering the past.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

If someone wrote a story about my first year of university, it would read much like Cath’s tale of college confusion, without the lovely (yet delightfully and realistically flawed) boy, twin sister, and supportive roommate. In essence, my first year of university, during which I lived on campus for a semester, was a roller coaster of success and failure, topped with discomfort regarding my degree choice and a complete inability to engage with people my age. It wasn’t the most pleasant experience until I reevaluated the situation, charted a new course, and started (sort of) fresh…just like Cath.

Rainbow Rowell provided me with someone who was comfortingly familiar, who struggled and learned to carry on in the same ways that I did as a new university student. This darling author and her characters validated my love of fan culture and fanfiction, reassuring me that fanfiction is real fiction and there is a beautiful community filled with wonderful people who enjoy being fans just as much as I do. Even more importantly, Cath taught me that, in being my awkward and untraditional self, I’m not losing out on anything but instead finding my own, different adventures.

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If you’re feeling talkative, comment below with the books (YA or otherwise) that have changed your life!

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Courting Classic Literature.


(Source: La liseuse by Jean-Jacques Henner)

Hark, something is afoot. Wilt ye lend me thine ear? Oh, do not fret–tis not a matter of great weight, but tis a fullsome subject worthy of note. Friend, I shall address classic literature, of which time hath wrought much to discuss. I beseech thee: trow thine language, reflect upon what thou hast read…

Now that you’re having violent flashbacks to reading Romeo and Juliet in school and scrambling for No Fear Shakespeare, I’ll cease speaking like I have a time machine. (Although, I wish I did have a time machine; I would give the Doctor a run for his timelord money.)

ANYWAYS…

In case it wasn’t clear in mixed-period English, I’ve been delving into classic literature lately. Alright, alright, I saw that flinch; please, just give me a chance to explain.

I studied English and I’m an unrepentant book fiend, but with all of that said, I still didn’t get classic lit until about six months ago. So, after my TAMUCT courses forced me to read enough of it to fill a small library and the lightbulb finally flicked on, I got a bit excited.

Don’t misunderstand: before college I read a few classics. I fangirled over On the Road, loved watching my senior English teacher act out Hamlet, and used a bisexual flag to represent Whitman for “book in a bag.” But, I didn’t stop hiding in the young-adult lit section and learn to love the classics until college.

After all the old English fear, I can now quote Austen and my bookshelves are a bit beyond burgeoning. That’s what brings us to this post.

You see, as a relatively new classic lit lover, I feel that I need to declare my love, rom-com style. Since holding a boombox outside my love’s window is logistically impossible, this blog post is my declaration…and also my encouragement of everyone to be a bit more, shall we say, polyamorous with the lit they love.

Give me just a couple minutes and maybe you’ll want to disappear into Austenland or wish you could befriend a dead poet…

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In general, there are two objections to classic lit: it is hard to read and it is boring/irrelevant. Well…

It may be difficult at first to get used to older language and styles, but there is a lot buried within all of those thee’s and thou’s.

For starters, Shakespeare has some of the most blatantly sexual and legitimately amusing scenes that I’ve ever read (*cough* Shakespeare, Sonnet 151 *cough*). Plus, Shakespeare has so many brilliant insults and dismissals.Wouldn’t you feel smooth if you called someone a “scurvy companion” (Henry IV, Part 2) or said someone’s “abilities were too infant-like for doing much alone” (Coriolanus)?

Plus, if Eric in Boy Meets World can act out Shakespeare, the least you can do is read some of it!

Let’s also not forget the great moments within other works like Don Quixote and A Modest Proposal though. I mean, Jonathan Swift responded to poverty by sarcastically suggesting that people sell and consume small children…what’s not to enjoy?

But, in the end, if the language is a problem, annotated editions are your friend.

As far as objections to the old-fashioned or “boring” plots in classic lit go, I have to say that is merely a false impression of the genre.

The Great Gatsby is about love, money, and the Jazz Age, with a storyline full of excessive partying, maudlin observations, and tragic deaths.

1984 deals with omnipresent government control, personal freedom, and the past, or essentially being tired of pretending that everything is peachy keen.

The Canterbury Tales follows a group of people headed to the same place for different reasons. Think of it as an old Love, Actually (2003) or Valentine’s Day (2010).

And, let’s not even get that far into The Odyssey. It has war, creatures, and heroism. Plus, most people don’t even realize that dozens of the most popular video games, shows, and movies were based upon it.

Precisely what part of all of that sounded uninteresting and irrelevant? Nothing, it is all amazing! Those books/collections are all amazing!

In essence,

No matter what you’ve previously been told, classic lit is enjoyable, relevant, and quite entertaining. Books transcend time and those within the classic lit genre are no exception. That’s precisely why I’m courting classic lit and calling you all to do the same.

If the Doctor offered to take you to another planet, wouldn’t you go? Of course!

Books are

So, why not take a trip by cracking open a new, old one?

——

Have I convinced you yet? Well, if anyone decides to venture into the classic lit world, or has already discovered it (you sir or madam, are a smart duck), let me know. Perhaps we can have a chat and start a ship war–I’m happily sailing Katherine/Petruchio, Emma Woodhouse/Mr. George Knightley, and Fanny/Edmund. Or, we can just have virtual tea and become Goodreads friends, it’s your choice.

Regardless, best of luck in the world of literature and always remember:

Note:

The introductory paragraph of literary torture–I mean, fun–via mixed-period English was brought to you by this delightful little resource: I Bequeath Thee.

Also, the inspiration for this post and my newfound appreciation of classic literature was this wonderful little lit-nerd tidbit: Disgruntled English Major.

A to Z Bookish Survey.

AtoZsurvey

I recently came across a version of THIS reader survey by The Perpetual Page Turner while reading a blog tour post on THIS site about MY FORMER TEACHER‘s new novel. It seemed like a really fun and simple blog topic, so I thought I would give it a try. I hope you enjoy my answers and feel free to answer it yourself!

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Author you’ve read the most books from:

Back in eighth and ninth grade, when I was a weepy little 13-year-old, I loved novels that took readers and sent them on emotional roller coasters, so I read just about every novel Lurlene McDaniel had ever written. Note: my bookish masochism has not gone away. McDaniel, publish more, please?

Best sequel ever:

Do not let the reviews of this woman’s works fool you, Override by Heather Anastasiu, is a perfect follow-up to Glitch. In some ways, I would even say that it is a better book than the first because it really steps up the action and makes readers settle in for the long haul.

Currently reading:

The last semester of my undergrad degree has officially begun and coursework is eating my life. So, I’m currently reading The Art of Democracy: A Concise History of Popular Culture in the United States by Jim Cullen.

Drink of choice while reading:

Agua, eau, wasser, uisce! In other words, water.

E-reader or physical book:

I definitely prefer reading a physical book. I mean, you completely miss out on the old and new book smells if you use an e-reader.

Fictional character you probably would have actually dated in high school:

Without a doubt, I would have dated David from Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy. He’s adventurous and natural, but also intuitive and contemplative. What’s not to like?

Glad you gave this book a chance:

The Christy Miller Collection (and the companion trilogy, Christy and Todd: College Years) by Robin Jones Gunn was really an example of me taking a chance on a book. At the time I read it, I was fresh out of Catholic school, and even though I didn’t detest religion, I was really reluctant to allow any more discussion of it into my life. When I finally picked up Christy Miller’s story, I just couldn’t put it down again. Christy and Todd are such addictive characters and

Hidden gem book:

I haven’t actually seen this book mentioned much in the blogosphere and it definitely should be. Freaks and Revelations by Davida Wills Hurwin is a truly incredible story of two teenagers finding their own ways amid the sexual revolution of the 1980s. When you consider that the story is inspired by the true story of interactions between Matthew Boger and Timothy Zaal it simply becomes all the more extraordinary. I have yet to see another book that speaks about the effects of hate crimes, prejudice, and discrimination in such a vivid and beautiful way.

Important moment in your reading life:

Reading Just Listen by Sarah Dessen for the first time way back in my freshman year of high school was a big thing for me. I think I needed that book as much as it needed me.

Just finished:

Someone, please, read Reached by Ally Condie. I need to fangirl with someone!

Kinds of books you won’t read:

I will read almost anything from self-help books to science fiction, but I just cannot stand nature photography books. I get so restless paging through books that are just filled with pictures! There’s nothing wrong with photography and I love physical photo albums, but I have no patience for books filled with sunrises and landscapes.

Longest book you’ve read:

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. 1,463 pages of awesome.

Major book hangover because of:

The Mortal Instruments: City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare. How am I suppose to deal with an ending like that? Gah! I needed the next book at least 5 hours ago.

Number of bookcases you own:

Technically I have 1 bookcase and 1 entertainment center for books in my room, but my books are actually spread all over the house. At least if a book thief ever pops in, they can’t get to them all in one fell swoop!

One book you have read multiple times:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. I may have, kind of, sort of, seriously, read that book more than 20 times since it was published. I may have also read “The Prince’s Tale” alone at least double that amount.

Preferred place to read:

I actually love reading somewhere that isn’t quiet or peaceful, like the living room with my family, a hospital cafeteria, or a park. But, at the same time, I don’t want anyone to actually talk to me while I’m reading. Sorry!

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you’ve read:

“In the absence of real thunder, he’s making his own” (Ally Condie, Matched).

Reading regret:

I wish I hadn’t let college courses get in the way of my book reviewing. 21 course hours this semester and frequent book reviewing is totally possible, right? RIGHT?

Series you started and need to finish (all books are out in series):

Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz

Three of your all-time favorite books:

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (It’s technically a poetry collection, but, I’m going to be stubborn, claim it as a book, and stick my tongue out at anyone who disagrees.)

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn

Unapologetic fangirl for:

Divergent by Veronica Roth…err, well, actually, the whole of the Divergent trilogy and the accompanying short stories. Dauntless for the win!

Very excited for this release more than all the others:

I am indescribably excited for the release of Allegiant by Veronica Roth. I need to know what is outside of the fence!

Worst bookish habit:

I’m awful about not noticing the world while I’m reading! If I’m reading a good book, I’m pretty sure an earthquake, hurricane, and sharknado could happen, and the only think I might do is grip my book tighter so it wouldn’t get pulled away.

X marks the spot–start at the top left of your book shelf and pick the 27th book:

I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier is the 27th book on my shelf, but it is much higher on my favorites list! Cormier does an excellent job of delving into the world of psychology, while still writing the book at a level that can be understood by almost any age group.

Your latest book purchase:

The History and Theory of Rhetoric by James Herrick. Okay, so maybe it was a textbook purchase, but I’m having a “first day of school mental hangover,” so my memory is unwilling to go any further back to remember my last fun reading purchase.

Zzz-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late):

Requiem by Lauren Oliver. I could not handle the feels, so sleep was not allowed to come between the conclusion of that trilogy and I.

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If any of you do the survey as well, I would love to read what you write. Post the linkage in the comments. Cheers!

"Paper Towns" by John Green and "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman

This week was midterms at my high school and I swore all week long that they were going to kill me but, I survived.

I’m in all upper level classes and I was really worried about the upcoming midterms. That is, until I finished them and I realized that the hard part isn’t taking the tests, its not letting the constant companionship of a textbook, and no time for other reading material, drive you insane.

All week I was going through withdrawal from my books and, I must say, I truly despise Pre-AP Chemistry, Algebra II and Geometry textbooks now. My only relief was when I discovered Paper Towns by John Green and, the 12 related poems, Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman.

Paper Towns by John Green is the story of Margo, the beautiful, mysterious and unattainable girl, and Quentin, the childhood friend who lusts after her. For years, the two have gone their separate ways, Margo to the popular crowd and Quentin to the band crowd (though he himself is not in it), connected only by the memories of an unfortunate occurrence long ago. One late night, Margo reappears at Quentin’s bedroom window and whisks him away for untold adventures. Together they wrong some rights and right some wrongs, and Quentin’s life seems to be looking up, until Quentin returns to school the next day to find that Margo has run away for the umpth time. Her own parents choose to let her go, but, Quentin still longs for her and the small chance that they could be something together. He soon discovers that Margo has left clues for him in a highlighted copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Determined to find Margo and suspecting her of committing suicide, Quentin devotes all of his time and energy, and that of his friends, to his search. The search leads them down many new paths, to both paper towns and an open mind, while leading readers through the same changes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and could not seem to stop talking about it. This unlikely addiction led me to read Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, which I borrowed from a friend who was just as obsessed as I was, am.

I breezed through the pages, hanging on every word, and finding myself eager for the few minutes before class and after exams when I might immerse myself in the perfect, smooth, words of Walt Whitman. It seemed that the poems were copied directly from my heart, somehow finding words to explain thoughts I could never verbalize. To describe scenes I could never replay. The first and longest poem, Song of Myself, seemed the perfect escape from the stress of quadratic equations and Lewis structures in class. Again, my friend and I shared this mutual adoration.

In one of his poems, Walt Whitman says “There is that in me…I do not know what it is…but I know it is in me.” I think I may speak for all of mankind when I say that this is an appropriate description of what it is to be human.

Throughout our lives, we are told to “be all we can be” and “make something of ourselves” and, most of us, try our best to do so; but, most of us, stumble along the way. We don’t always know what causes us to hesitate or diverge from the path and that is the unknown something within us that Whitman writes about.

Whitman also asks, “What have you thought of yourself? Is it you then that thought yourself less? Is it you that thought the President greater than you? or the rich better off than you? or the educated wiser than you?” Again, Whitman confronts the problems of all time, asking the questions that we all silently consider but do not voice. The same questions that the character of Quentin must wonder about in Paper Towns.

Again, I must say that Paper Towns by John Green and Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman are two perfect examples of literature, both modern and historic. They are truly incomparable and capture the questions of our own existence in a very fluid manner.

I also commend John Green on his excellent job of combining a true classic with his witty and comical style.

One final quote from Whitman concludes this:

“I know I have the best of time and space–and that I was never measured, and never will be measured. I tramp a perpetual journey…”