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June 13, 2013

Introducing Throwback Thursday: Books Edition!

Posted by nicole

Welcome to our inaugural post for Throwback Thursday: Books Edition™! Like most 20Somethings, the staff over here at The Book Report Network loves to revel in nostalgia for a childhood --- even one not long past. So we decided that it would be super fun and easy to write a paragraph or two every Thursday about the books that meant the most to us when we were kids or teenagers --- the books that made us laugh, the ones that made us cry, the ones we couldn’t put down, and even the ones we had to hide from our parents. So throwback with us, and join us for our trips down book-memory lane!

I was a typical angsty teenager. I didn't get along with my parents. My sister, who was in college, understood my personal struggles of dealing with high school life and gave me a copy of GO ASK ALICE when I was a sophomore. Whether the controversial book about depression, drugs and sex is fictitious or not, it is an honest portrayal of what it means to be a 15 year old girl who can't quite fit in. It is one of the first books that I couldn't put down and the story's incomplete ending has left me questioning 10 years later.

I’ve always had a thing for stories that are modern retellings of classic fairy tales. Although it’s spiraled into something much darker in more recent years (I was *this close* to doing my grad school thesis on MY MOTHER SHE KILLED ME, MY FATHER HE ATE ME), it all started innocently enough with ELLA ENCHANTED. I read it for the first time in junior high school, and then read it again --- and again. I’m not even kidding; while all my friends were IMing boys on AOL and joining weird chat rooms, I was glasses deep (I editorialize you not) in Gail Carson Levine’s masterpiece about a young girl blessed (read: cursed) by a fairy at birth with the gift of obedience. Obviously, Ella isn’t cool with this at all, and overcomes a whole bunch of obstacles in order to break the curse --- finding her own strength (and a prince!) along the way. It’s pretty much a baby-feminist take on the Cinderella story, with a super cool and quirky heroine and a love interest I could really write home about (and by write home I mean scribble “EM + CHAR 4EVA” all over my Life Science notebook). Eventually, I decided to share the Ella-love, and had all my friends read it and sign the back of the book --- kind of like and old-school library card --- and then pass it along to somebody else. I recently found that original copy with all my friends’ signatures and notes in my parents’ basement, and was overcome by not only how much the book meant to me, but by how much sharing it meant as well.   

Anthony: HOLES
“Read this,” said my classmate, handing me a copy of Louis Sachar’s HOLES. “It has really short chapters!” “Perfect,” I thought --- my mom forced me to read x amount of chapters before I could break out the Nintendo 64 after school, so this was an ideal situation. It wasn’t that I was a poor reader: I actually loved reading, but I was at the point in fifth-grade when reading was “un-cool,” so I tried to convince myself that I, too, despised books. And despite myself, I fell in love with HOLES. I remember finding the difficulty a bit beneath me, but Sachar’s tale of Stanley Yelnats, the victim of un-lucky happenstance who winds up at a form of labor camp for kids, forced to dig holes day in and day out for shady reasons, grabbed me immediately. The movie adaptation was coming out at the time, but I found it lacking when compared to the book: the friendship formed between the hapless Stanley and Zero, as well as the camaraderie between the boys in their hardships against Mr. Sir, Warden Walker and Mr. Pendanski could only be well-executed through text. When recounting part of the story about the peach drink Zero finds and names “Sploosh,” I mispronounced it as…well…something far less savory, much to the dismay of my teacher during a book report. Though I had planned on using HOLES as an excuse to play video games more quickly, I wound up finishing it in a day or two, reading for hours on end --- N64 would have to wait.

Towards the end of my 6th grade year my school held a Scholastic Book fair for everyone. My best friend and I decided to buy each other books as a parting gift since we both were headed to different junior high schools. I don’t remember what I bought her but I’m sure it wasn’t as life-changing as the book she bought me. The book she gave me was GIRL, INTERRUPTED by Susanna Kaysen, and little did I know it would become my best friend my first year of junior high. Susanna (the main character) let me into her head as I read; her reality and emotional turmoil was described in such a personal way that I felt like her best friend. It might sound silly, but I was a girl in a new school reading a book that was so deep, sometimes horrific and captivating that it provided the escape I needed. A book about a depressed girl, reflecting on life and her own identity in a mental institution filled with junkies and clinically depressed teenagers was perhaps too mature for a 12-year-old, but I was slowly maturing and changing. I too was pondering the big questions Susanna raised in the novel, and with my best friend states away, the book became the friend and answers I needed. GIRL, INTERRUPTED gave me a new way to view reality, happiness, sadness and all the emotions that were beginning to fluctuate within my own maturing self.

It has recently become a struggle to convince my 10-year-old brother that reading books can be a pleasurable pastime for a fifth grader. In our modern age of cell phones, video games and 3D television, my brother is not enthralled by books like I was when I was his age. However, my brother and I were browsing through my prized bookshelf filled with my childhood favorites when he came across a dusty copy of THE BAD BEGINNING --- the first book in A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. Surprisingly, my brother immediately seemed captivated by Snicket’s gothic-looking cover and his morbid description of the Baudelaire orphans. My brother has since spent every waking moment with his nose in one of Snickets’ 13 books. Watching him read --- and enjoy --- this series reminds me of my own elementary school years when I collected the books and went through them like they were my favorite candy. What I really loved about these books were the countless hours I spent anticipating the miserable fates of Violet, Klaus and Sunny. I remember squirming in discomfort as Count Olaf caressed Violet’s face, and wishing I could jump into the book and help the children as the Count tried to embezzle their inheritance. I encourage everyone to pull this classic series from your bookshelf and once again revel in Snicket’s grotesque masterpiece.

As a kid, getting to stay home from school when I was sick was one of the most thrilling experiences because it meant watching TV all day in my pajamas, with no chores or demands from my parents. So imagine my dismay when one morning, as I’m lying on the couch with a cold, my dad announces that this is the day he is going to read aloud to me Madeleine L’Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME. After the initial sighing and eye-rolling, I settled in and listened to him narrate the story of Meg Murray, Charles Wallace and Calvin O’Keefe as they traveled through different dimensions of space and time, encountering a variety of creatures and characters. It is a true testament to L’Engle’s brilliance (and my father’s patience) that I sat captivated for hours as he read the novel in its entirety. Not long after that day, I read it again on my own and was just as enthralled as I had been the first time, and subsequently went on to buy the rest of the books in the series. I’d like to blame Madeleine L’Engle for the book-hoarding tendencies I now harbor, but her novel gave me one of my best childhood memories, and I can’t fault her for that.