BY THE BOOK | Our Teenage Books


Our Teenage Books. Wasted On The Young?

Wistawa Szymborska (highest, highest recommendation) has a poem (which I can't find anywhere at the moment), in which she recalls who she was as a teenager.  It is a great poem by a great poet and it gets me thinking about my own teen age reading self.  

What was I thinking!!??

Anytime anybody told me to read something I instinctively loathed it.  I couldn't be told what to read, it was my prerogative to find the treasure on my own.  Not too bright, I must say.  But now I've gone back and re-read books from my high school curriculum (Hamilton-Wenham class of 1987.)  And I find that they were right, and I was wrong.  

I HATED Great Expectations.  A single page sent me into a rant about how boring it was.  Now as an adult, I am stunned and amazed at how riveting and outlandishly brilliant it is.  And Thomas Hardy?  As a 16-year-old I could not bear him.  Englishness and country houses and peasants and manners … ugghh.  Now I can't get enough of Hardy.  Tess of the D'urbervilles is soooo great.  And the ending, the ending, the ending, hard to believe such an ending exists.  STONEHENGE!  

I wish I hadn't been so obstinate; I would have loved those books.  And sadly, would maybe, possibly have been a more enlightened person at an earlier age.  Luckily, I had one savvy English teacher who would recommend books but not assign them, and then leave cheap copies on a shelf in his classroom. This is how I discovered P.G. Wodehouse.  Not on my own, but because my friend Ned picked up a copy from the shelf and was having such a grand time talking to Mr. Jones, I just couldn't stand it.  I had to read Wodehouse and join in.  I've been reading him ever since.  

I also discovered Richard Wright this way.  Black Boy was such a revelation and Native Son just shocked me to the core.  Even summer reading lists I was a dolt about.  I would read all summer long, (I even pretended to have a summer job once so I could have all day by myself reading in the playground at my old school) but like a genius none of the books suggested from the list.

It's also funny what one retains from books read a long time ago.  I just re-read A Separate Peace and I had only retained a misty feel of elms and staircases.  Knowles's descriptions of the natural beauty of New Hampshire are so gorgeous, I'm sure they were lost on my 17-year-old brain.  

And Member of the Wedding. 

Oh, how did I miss that one?  

But now I can go back, say hello to teenage Mark and lament what I missed but savor it in the moment.

szymborska, role-playing games, the teenage workbook, thomas hardy, mark stolle