In high school, I loved my books more than I loved people.
While this does sound a lot like the angsty “I love pizza more than I love people” meme, it’s probably one of the most truthful things I can say about my high school experience.
As a yearbook editor, I got a pretty good idea of what some of the other seniors in my school made of their high school experiences. While editing senior yearbook write-ups, I noticed that a lot of people’s tributes to their high school lives were either a) Short paragraphs comparing life to a game, or b) A collection of thank-you notes with a plethora of nicknames and inside jokes.
As I read through these write-ups, I asked myself, “Oh no, are you really supposed to thank people in these things?” But after a while, I realized that there was nothing wrong with how I decided to thank my books, music, movies, and television shows in addition to the very small collection of people who helped me get through high school. I thought, if these are the sounds and stories that made me who I am, there’s certainly no reason for me to force it and try to replace every favorite book or song with a human being.
You can find my senior year write-up here. In the meantime, take a look at these 5 books that helped me make it through the past four years.
1. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962 by Sylvia Plath
“What is my life for and what am I going to do with it? I don’t know and I’m afraid. I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want.”
I remember being in the 9th grade when I first read this book on a bus ride home. I didn’t even have to get past the second page to realize that Sylvia understood me more than any of the friends I had back then. For the next three years, Sylvia taught me so much about anxiety, sadness, and the construction of self-identity through scholarship, creativity, human relationships. I took comfort in knowing that we shared so many of the same observations and fears about the world and our lives, and it’s because of this that I continue to revisit this book year after year.
2. On the Road, Jack Kerouac
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
On the Road brought out the explorer and the feminist in me. Traveling through America and Mexico with Sal and Dean made me realize how much I wanted to be around people with unconventional views, experiences, and tastes in art. More importantly, it made me realize how much I wanted to rid the media, literature, and pop culture of the portrayal of women as pathways to liberation.
3. Howl, Kaddish and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg
“the soul is innocent and immortal it should never die ungodly in an armed madhouse”
I was so happy to finally find a print copy of Howl while taking a summer course at Brown, and there was a period of time in which I took the book with me everywhere. Bob Dylan’s famous lyric “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand” took on a whole new meaning for me as I was told time and time again that Ginsberg’s words were gibberish. Through the years, I read Howl as a student, an artist, and as someone whose views so often contradicted those of the people around her.
“A great novel heightens your senses and sensitivity to the complexities of life and of individuals, and prevents you from the self-righteousness that sees morality in fixed formulas about good and evil.”
After reading this book at the beginning of my senior year, I was 200% sure that I wanted to combine my study of English literature with women’s studies. Anyone who reads this book will think twice about refuting the claims that literature has the power to change lives and inspire revolutionary thought.
5. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
“Basically what we have here is a dreamer. Somebody out of touch with reality. When she jumped, she probably thought she’d fly.”
Revisiting this book is like revisiting the attics of my mind whose surfaces are cluttered with dusty records, half-empty diaries, and postcards from places I have never been to. The Virgin Suicides is a book that, for so many years, validated everything that I felt and loved as a teenage girl. This book has showed me that all of my thoughts and experiences at 14, 15, 16, and 17 are no less important than what I intend contribute to the world in the future.
These books and the many others that I have read throughout high school have showed me that reading is not so much of an escape from life as it is a tool for self-reflection. Above all, they have helped me construct my belief that people can find out more about themselves just by reading a book than they can by solely relying on others to construct their identities.