I’ve always been known as an avid reader. Like for many others, books provided the perfect outlet for someone with an overactive imagination and who is prone to escapism.
It was so bad as a kid, that the only time I’d get into real trouble was because of reading. The astigmatism from reading with a flashlight for hours under the covers and the pile of stolen third-grade books with the scratched “Ms. Oppy” in permanent marker on each one’s corner are reminders of that.
I’ve gone through periods of reading a lot and then not reading so much back to reading a lot again. Some of the books I read were because I really enjoyed them, others because there wasn’t anything else.
Now, trying to go 3 for 3 for a yearly reading challenge (my target is 100 this year) and with the resources to read whatever I feel like, I make lists of what I want to read based on what I enjoyed in the past. Here’s what I’ve gathered from this reading retrospective.
Chapter One: Scholastic & Spitting Fun Facts
Any American who loves books and who’s experienced a Scholastic fair can tell you that it feels like what they imagine Charlie felt when first entering the chocolate factory. You go to school expecting just another day and before you know it, you have your foot through the door and are hit by the smell of plastic and new books. I don’t remember exactly what I read during this time period apart from The Babysitters Club – all I remember is it was definitely Scholastic.
This was also around the time that I had a stint as an amateur book thief. Let me be clear: this wasn’t intentional, I was just a very forgetful child. My teacher, Ms. Oppy (sorry, Ms. Oppy!!) probably only realized when it was too late. A few months into my thieving stint, I moved to Spain with my stolen goods.
I also took a liking to reading childrens encyclopedias. I used to read these and then relay all the information I’d learned from them to whoever would listen. Which was usually my poor brother who had to hear me prattle about Amelia Earheart being eaten by coconut crabs and lamprey eels. This is most likely what instilled my bad habit of spouting random facts I find interesting to unsuspecting listeners.
Chapter Two: The Obligatory Millennial Harry Potter Phase
Like a lot of millenials, I was obsessed with Harry Potter. From 8 to 13, the Harry Potter books were my Bible – despite having read the Bible. For an 8-year-old, the way I found the first Harry Potter book was the closest to divine intervention I’d experienced. I just found a beat up copy in the back of my dad’s closet, under 10-year-old tennis shoes and a pile of winter coats. He states never having bought it in the first place.
I was obsessed. I read Prisoner of Azkaban 13 times. I drew every single character up until book 5. I had a 500-page unofficial guide to the mythology in the books with notes in the margins, highlighted, and dog-eared. I made potions with shampoo’s and my moms expensive perfumes.
Other notable reads: Roald Dahl, french comics like TinTin, and my first book completely in Spanish: “Me Importa Un Comino El Rey Pepino”. This roughly translates to “I don’t give a damn about the pickle king”. I only recently found out the book isn’t even originally Spanish, but German.
Chapter Three: The Traveling Library That Couldn’t & The Cult That Could
Two factors led to strange literary tastes for a pre-teen: we moved to Spain to a very remote town that didn’t have a library, and we didn’t have much money for books for when we actually returned to civilization.
The town I grew up in was a small town with less than five thousand people and a heavily dispersed population. While they now have a library, back then there was only the “library bus” – known as el Bibliobus. The Bibliobus was meant to come every Thursday.
In reality, the Bibliobus came whenever it felt like it.
This lack of access to new books meant that I read whatever we had at hand. Since my mom loves John Grisham, he became a staple. This time period also coincided with my family’s weird temporary foray into the Jehova’s Witness. The Witnesses took notice of my love of reading and plied me with all the books they had from their own publication, The Watchtower. This never seemed to concern my parents much since I spent most of my time complaining that they didn’t make any sense.
This was also the first time I hated a book: The Secret. My mom, a true proponent of The Secret, urged me to read it. Because The Secret felt even more like cult-like propaganda than that of the actual cult, I didn’t care for it.
Chapter Four: Hiding in The Library
Finally, in middle school, I had access to a library again. The librarian and I quickly became friends since I spent most of my free time there. This was about the time my friends became interested in boys and drinking and cigarettes and I still had a couple years to catch up.
I needed an escape from these newfound hormones and awkward teen years. I found it in the Eragon series and Isabel Allende’s take on magical realism – both her adult (Hija De La Fortuna) and YA books (Ciudad De Las Bestias).
Around this time, I read A LOT of manga. We finally had a good enough internet connection that I could read scanlations (scanned fan-made translations) well into the night. Some that stick out: Vampire Knight, Fairy Tail, Ouran High School Host Club, NANA, and One Piece. Somehow, Naruto was the one I never really got into.
Chapter Four: The Lost Years
During high school, with a bout of depression came a disinterest in reading.
We had some good school books that I read: Watchmen and Camus’ The Stranger were highlights. Near the end I started reading more on my own. I’d reverted to ignoring friends that were never really good friends in the first place and hiding away to read during breaks. This was about the time I slowly started feeling like myself again. The books that stand out are The Book Thief, Catch-22, Maus, and Ubik.
Here, I fell in love with The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. I read and re-read this book over and over, with Iron & Wine as its soundtrack – a match I will still recommend for those who are looking for that perfect state of nostalgic ennui.
Chapter Five: Getting Back Into It
After that dry spell, I started challenging myself to read more. For that, I thank George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, because I blasted through that and it reminded me of how much I enjoyed reading in the first place.
Two genres kept on cropping up: beatnik literature and contemporary Japanese literature.
I can blame the beatniks on my ex-boyfriend, who had an obsession with everything 60s and 70s Americana. Because I was still picking off books from other people’s library shelves, it meant a lot of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs. Out of this genre, my favorites were the autobiographies, in particular Off the Road by Carolyn Cassidy – the “untold story” of the wife left behind on Kerouac and Cassidy’s ramblin’ adventures. Looking back, it’s probably because the manic beatnik writing style stresses me out.
Here was also my first foray into Japanese literature – completely unrelated to my initial anime obsession. For this, I can blame Convenience Store Woman and the Traveling Cat Chronicles. I picked these two up on a whim in a book store in Turin and was hooked from the first page.
Chapter Six: A Little Bit Of Everything
Last year I made myself read 52 books. This year I’m aiming for 100. Because of that, I read… a little bit of everything and anything that piques my interest. I finally bit the bullet on avoiding non-fiction and try to balance fun with some professional and personal development. I’m also no longer snobbish about only reading physical books: they are expensive and take up so much space.
Because there’re too many to go into, here’s the short version, with my favorite book in each category:
- Funny – anything by David Sedaris will do. Calypso in particular made me cackle.
- Sci-Fi – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
- Classics – The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.
- Graphic Novels – The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
- Autobiographical – The Autobiography of Gucci Mane by Gucci Mane
- Fashion books – Fashion is Spinach by Elizabeth Hawes
- Marketing/Communications books – They Ask, You Answer by Marcus Sheridan
- Writing books – On Writing by Stephen King
- Illustration and art books – Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon
The only books I refuse to read are self-help books. I’ve accepted that I’m too stubborn and don’t like being told what to do.
Are you what you read or do you choose what to read because of who you are? Regardless of the answer, the conclusion is the same: the books you read show something of yourself and the circumstances you’re in. It’s why I love getting book recommendations from friends over researching online.
Every time someone recommends me a book, I feel like they’re letting me in on a little secret about themselves. Even if I don’t like the book.
Especially if I don’t like the book.
Like whenever anyone recommends me The Alchemist they’re letting me know “psssst, I don’t know good books and carry around a sense of pseudo-altruistic self-importance I try to disguise as depth”*.
And how else could you find out that sort of thing?
*Disclaimer: I am still friends with people who like The Alchemist. I just don’t trust their taste in books. Just like a lot of people don’t trust my taste in films because my favorite movie is The Room. We all have our hang-ups!