Yesterday The Hairpin posted an article called What Books Make You Cringe to Remember? Naturally, this made me think about high school.
I had friends in high school. Okay? Plenty of friends! But here’s the thing: they all had boyfriends or girlfriends. I, um, didn’t exactly have any boyfriends until I went to college (where, bee tee dubs, I met my first boyfriend the first weekend I was there. Suck it. Why am I trying to defend myself to you? Ugh). So I had a ton of free time to spend by myself. This seemed like the ultimate curse at the time, and I was so miserable over it, but it actually served a great purpose. I read so many books! I didn’t read any specific genres or time periods or authors; I just read everything. If I’d realized that I’d never again have an attention span like that, I might have read more classics.
Maybe I should be ashamed of some of the books I was super into, but I’m not. There’s this Smiths lyric (yeah, I’m going there. This is a post about my high school experience, okay?) that I think about a lot: “Don’t forget the songs that made you smile/and the songs that made you cry.” Sub in “books” for “songs” and you’ll understand my feelings. It seems disingenuous to pretend I’m above all the things that used to get me so worked up. Although I’m not ashamed of the books themselves, my reasons for loving them so much are maybe a little embarrassing. Here goes:
–Ayn Rand. I’ve identified as a social liberal since I was 14, so why did I love books by a woman who didn’t believe in altruism? On paper she really seemed to make sense! I regarded Ayn Rand as a personal hero, all the way up until my freshman year of college when I started to realize that everything she was saying made no practical sense because, like, what about disabled people? What are they supposed to do, Ayn Rand? Answer me that.
–The Perks of Being a Wallflower. This book was so important to me. Something to remember is that I was very lonely, I took myself very seriously, and I didn’t know anyone who liked the same things (books, movies, music) I liked. I spent a lot of time re-watching my favorite movies in my parents’ basement, under the watchful eyes of the Full House cast (my dad has a framed picture hanging up. It makes more sense if you know him). I bought a CD every week with my babysitting money and then listened to it, over and over again, while laying on my bed. I had no idea about alternative culture because the internet barely existed. I literally picked this book up off the Barnes and Noble shelf knowing nothing about it, and then assumed it had been written for me specifically. This is a little embarrassing now because this book is earnest. Like, “Goes To Camp” levels of earnest. But I was totally feeling it at the time. Because of this, I will never reread it.
–Dave Eggers. Let’s get one thing clear: I still love Dave Eggers. I still think he is one of the greatest living authors we have in this country. And his books are one of my biggest reasons I decided to major in creative writing. He hit me at a formative time in my life and he showed me how expressive, emotional, and alive writing could be. But man, oh man, did I abuse his books. I wrote copious amounts of notes in them. Embarrassing amounts of notes. Then I loaned these books out to the boys I knew, as if this would make them like me. Do you know when a high school boy has been attracted to a girl because of her taste in books? Never. That’s when. The boys I knew all liked girls who were Punkish Christian Pixies and played Smashing Pumpkins songs on their guitars, while I was neither punkish nor religious nor small. All the Dave Eggers in the world couldn’t change that.
–Jane Eyre. Once again, this is not the book’s fault. This is the fault of the stupid notes I took…notes that came back to haunt me years later, when Alex used my copy in his senior English class. He emailed me transcriptions of my margin scribblings. Things like “Jane, I fear for you and your insistence on loving him based on what you see inside!” Who was I talking to? What was going on with me? I erased all those notes when I came home, so hopefully when Chase reads it soon there will be no trace of my self-indulgent ramblings. Alex still makes fun of me for this.
–Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman. This is another case of Kerry and the Embarrassing Notes. I loved this book, which makes sense. Chuck Klosterman is smart, funny, and pop-culturally savvy, which is a lethal combination for an over-read, under-stimulated 17 year old girl. I thought he was a god. Once I wrote him a very, very long letter that I (Thank God!) never sent. I made lots of notes in the margins, including question marks around points of contention, angry exclamations when he insulted J.D. Salinger, and the intials of my crush by one particularly apt description of my feelings.
–David Sedaris. Not embarrassed one bit by this one, just regretful that I loaned it to a dude who then dropped off the face of the earth and took my copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day with him.
So what have I learned from this? Well, for one, I never take notes in books anymore. Also, I learned that a person’s taste in books/music/movies really has nothing to do with whether or not they are a cool person. And I stopped reading books just to impress guys and started reading exclusively young adult books. So far this is working out for me.
What about you guys? What books from your past embarrass you?