Day Twenty One: Nothing Like a Good Book
A couple of my avid reader friends recently reread Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and I was so intrigued by their reactions that I picked it up the other day myself. Now, I hadn't read the book since my freshman year in high school some 15 years or so ago. I remembered it being a science fiction novel where in the future firmen don't put out fires, they set fire to books. Seemed pretty simple back then, and yet when I started to read it again at the age of 31 it was so much more.
I won't go too much into it except to say that it's one of those books that frightens you if you're willing to open up your eyes to our current reality. Bradbury discusses the problems of immediate gratification, human isolation in return for techonolgical advances, the always in a hurry, not enough hours in the day attitude of modern society and of course, the dangers of book burning. I was literally shocked by Bradbury's ability to predict the future - although we are not yet paying fire fighters to burn books, the themes of this book cannot be denied in their existence in 2006 - while writing the novel in 1953. It's a dark and scary tale and one that makes you think about things you might not want to or simply haven't devoted the time to thinking about. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a powerful, thought provoking tale that will also be a quick read, but will leave your mind reeling for days after you put the book down.
Then last night when I was at the movies I saw a preview for a movie based on a novel I read when I was probably in the fifth or sixth grade. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson is a dramatic tale filled with strong emotions like the power of friendship, as well as the power of the imagination. It's the story of the relationship between a young girl and a young boy and their adventures together when they venture into the forest to escape the realities of their own lives. Suffice it to say it's a great read, one that had tremendous impact on me so much so that when I saw the opening scenes of the trailer last night for the movie I knew immediately what the title of the movie would be.
Which got me thinking about some of the books I remember from my childhood. So in honor of reading, for which I am VERY grateful for, I would like to give you a list of my 10 favorite (at least the top ten tonight) books from adolescence:
- 1. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson - for reasons already mentioned above. You won't be disappointed if you pick this one up. It will really bring you back to the innocence and wonder of your preteen years.
- 2. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell - My fourth grade teacher was the one to introduce me to this classic when she read a chapter a day to us during English class. The writing was melodious and I felt like I was in a trance while I listened to each and every word. I read it again myself the following year and enjoyed the story of Karana even more. Basically, it's the story of a young girl who lives out the premise of "Survivor" without all of the silly competitions and the Hollywood/celebrity crap.
- 3. Fade by Robert Cormier - I think this one was a summer reading list book and I would have never picked it up otherwise. It's a science fiction tale about an adolescent boy who finds out that he can make himself invisible, but then has to deal with the things he sees when no one knows he is there. Truly a story about growing up and facing what we don't want to.
- 4. A Separate Peace by John Knowles - Another coming of age story where a young man must find his own way at a prep school for boys. Gene meets up with Phineas and the two bond very quickly, but their relationship is volatile and changes the quiet New England landscape of the school forever.
- 5. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier - Another summer reading book and another classic by Cormier. This is a great book about going against the grain, standing up for what you believe in and about facing the consequences of doing so. The main character, Jerry Renault, refuses to take part in the annual school fundraiser and sets into motion complete chaos. To some he is a hero and to others he is the object of great hatred. This book can be summed up by a poster Jerry hangs in his locker, "Do I dare to disturb the universe?"
- 6. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger - A classic and there are probably very few who haven't heard about the journey of Holden Caufield. I have read this book several times and when I read it as a teenager it really taps into the feelings of alienation and confusion that many teens experience. Holden is such a cynical character and yet you can't help rooting for him.
- 7. Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin - This is a true story based on the experiences of a white man who chemically colored his skin in order to live the life of an African American in the South in 1959. This book was illuminating and opened up my eyes to a whole world I had never known about before. I was in the 11th grade when I read this book and it truly changed the way I looked at the world including the very hallways of my own high school.
- 8. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley - While this was not assigned reading for me in high school I believe I picked it up after reading "Black Like Me." I knew nothing about Malcolm X before reading this book and after finishing it I was in awe and had great respect for the life he lived. Truly an amazing book.
- 9. Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau - I think I talk enough about my love for the Thoreau and Emerson, but this is a great introduction to the philosophies of the transcendentalists. Also an 11th grade read. The highlight with this one was taking a field trip to the Concord River in the spring to go on a canoe trip. I felt like I might see Thoreau or Emerson walking by the water around any bend. It was magic.
- 10. Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson - See number 9, but insert Emerson where Thoreau appears :)
So I guess what I've realized in writing this is that not only am I grateful for books, but grateful to my teachers and the public schools I attended because without them I may have missed quite a few of these gems.
I'd love to know what books had the greatest impact on you during your adolescence. It's such a strange and wonderful time . . . and without books so much would have been missing from it.