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August 15, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Stranger Than Fiction

Posted by emily

This week's TBT, aptly titled (if I do say so myself) "Stranger Than Fiction," brings a few new voices to the Throwback Melting Pot™, in addition to some of the more familiar ones. Fellow staffers Liz and Josh have been participating in spirit since the inception of our favorite weekly series, but were finally moved (read: manhandled) to put their fond reminisces into website-worthy copy. This week, we have an existentially bewildered murderer (obviously Nikki's choice), hot prep school boys (obviously Emily's choice?), high school hookups and --- I kid you not! --- funny nonfiction. So join us, friends, old and new, as we celebrate Thursday in the sacred and (relatively) time-honored tradition of the Internet: Throwback Thursday (#hashtag!).


THE STRANGER is a classic high school read that will remain a relevant and controversial philosophical novel throughout time. Camus' masterpiece is a simple story that brings to light the complexities and intricacies of the human condition. At times questionably disturbing, the author harps on the existential crisis, touching upon the relentless, abstract questions of life and the self --- who am I? who am I in this world? what am I doing here? The main character, Meursault, appears "strange" to the reader, he almost feels nothing and his outlook seems bleak even when he commits cold-blooded murder. But despite his conviction, there is something tacitly real about Meursault, and the reader can't help but follow along with his almost "reasonable" beliefs. A fitting read for any teenager, any 20Something...or anyone of any age, THE STRANGER will continue to live on as a treasure of literary genius.

It should come as no surprise that I enjoy reading books with* hot guys. Of course, it’s way easier to read a book about a hot guy then to find a hot guy to read one with, which explains most of the YA choices on my bookshelf. Hot guys, though, aren’t just relegated to the worlds of genre fiction and fangirl stuff; there’s plenty of amazing literary fiction out there that features gorgeous protagonists who lend themselves compliantly to your fantasies. My first literary crush --- famously, at this point, because I “admit” it ad nauseum --- was Quentin Compson, but he was followed shortly (because, hey, I was like 14, and couldn’t help my wandering bespectacled eyes) by Gene Forrester, the narrator of the John Knowles classic, A SEPARATE PEACE. Wasn’t Finny --- the charismatic, golden-haired athlete --- the more obvious choice? The answer, in a word, is yes, but that only made me fall even harder for Gene. Intellectual introvert Gene and good-spirited Finny are unlikely best friends at a super fancy prep school in New Hampshire during WWII. What happens is that they have this ritual where they jump out of a tree into the river, and when Finny goes up to jump, Gene --- who had recently become erroneously paranoid that Finny was only hanging out with him to distract him from his studies --- shakes the branch, and the rest of the book kind of revolves around whether he did it intentionally or not and what that means for the boys’ friendship. Gene is a complicated guy (!), and I don’t remember it ever being clear what his intentions were. But he was darkly handsome and lonely and full of longing and regret, which was like catnip for my stormy teenaged heart. By the end of the novel, Finny may have been the hero, but Gene would always be the hero in my book. 

*intentionally ambiguous  word choice

Everyone always says to never judge a book by its cover, but when I was a teen looking for a pleasure read, that's all I'd do. Yup. I'd walk straight to the Young Adult section at the bookstore and find the MOST neon book on the shelf. Fortunately, I was always delightfully surprised by the romances I'd pick up --- my favorite quickly becoming the Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty. My high school best friend and I BECAME friends based on our shared love of Marcus Flutie. You Yes You, anyone? I swoon! And most embarrassingly, I chose Columbia University as my #1 college choice BECAUSE that's where Jessica decided to go. Didn't actually go there, but still. It's the thought that counts. 

I’ll always remember the first time I saw Sara Vowell on “The Daily Show,” promoting her book ASSASSINATION VACATION. Her unusual, cartoony voice (she was Violet in The Incredibles after all) and dry, smart humor immediately piqued my interest. The next day I headed down to book store to pick it up. That’s when I fell in love. Let’s all face the fact that books about history often read as exciting as the ingredients list on a box of toast, and over time historical figures go from being actual people to tiny facts you memorize in ninth grade. This book, however, makes the reader laugh and humanizes these stuffy characters and brings them to life in their entire complex and weird glory. An example: James Garfield’s assassin Charles Guiteau was a member of the same apocalyptic sex cult as his father! This is the stuff they don’t teach you in history books but should. It really gives the reader insight into Guiteau’s murderous, terrifying psyche, and who doesn’t want that? I have now read each of her books and even had the chance to meet her, when she told me a fun story about meeting Charles Barkley in a green room. ASSASSINATION VACATION is a nonfiction book I love as much as fiction and revisit whenever I can.