Just so we’re clear, by “middle years” I mean like…middle school. Not middle age. I haven’t quite reached middle age yet.
Anyway, I want to say that this’ll be a short post, but I can’t because I know myself better than that. I do only want to concentrate on a few books, though. I’d like to list them in the order that I read them, but I don’t know if that’s possible. You will find all of them on my Books I Recommend page.
To the best of my knowledge, I read The Phantom Tollbooth and The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles before I ever read The Outsiders, but I could be making that up. Memory is a funny thing, after all. One thing I know I read before all of those is There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom, and that seems like a great place to start since it will transition nicely from the previous post’s picture books to this post’s “chapter books.”
This book is special to me because it is such a fun read that is rife with literary analysis potential (or LAP) despite being a book for children. As such, I would probably use this book as a jumping off point if I ever had my very own Creative Writing or English Literature class to teach. I probably wouldn’t use it for advanced college courses, but it would work for any class that needed an introduction to story telling and/or close reading and essay writing. Why? Because the main character, Bradley, has a very clear character arc. There’s conflict. There’s symbolism. There’s even a foil for Bradley – Jeff, the new kid. All that aside, it’s just a really interesting book that tugs at your heartstrings.
The Phantom Tollbooth is a book that tells a very unique story. To label it a “kids’ book” would be an injustice. I believe people of all ages could read and enjoy this book. Since this is supposed to be a history of my life through books, I’ll briefly touch on that. I saw a lot of myself in Milo (the protagonist). When the story opens, we find out that Milo is a bored ten-year-old who always wishes he were somewhere other than where he is, who can never entertain himself with the tools he already has at his disposal. This rang true for me. My mother will tell you (please don’t contact my mother) that I was a difficult child to please. There were plenty of things that could entertain me, but none of them were what I wanted right then. I always went to her with that tired complaint of “I’m boooored!” If I wasn’t complaining about that, it was only because I was glued to the television. Playing outside was a thing of the past. I was, and still can be, a lazy person. Reading of Milo’s adventures, sadly, did not change me profoundly. But it taught me that maybe I should change, and that’s got to count for something.
It’s hard for me to put into words what made The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles so special to me. I suppose if I had to put it in a nutshell, it was the imagination. Julie Andrews painted a picture with her book, one that you can briefly glimpse when you look at the cover. She built a fantasy world with creatures never before heard of, and made you want to believe in them. I read this book again and again. I’ll still read it, once I’ve whiddled down the pile of as-yet-unread books I’m working on. It’s a really great adventure with thought-provoking, three-dimensional characters and a world I wished I could visit.
Ah yes, The Outsiders. I had to read this book for my eighth grade literature class, and I dragged my feet the whole way. I had already learned to dread assigned reading. Even if it was just a paltry two chapters a day, it was too much. I’d read the synopsis on the back and decided I wouldn’t like it. Then I started reading. And suddenly I couldn’t stop. The assignment was to read from chapters four to six? I read to the end. Part of it was that I had fallen head-over-heels in love with the boys in the book. I was twelve or thirteen at the time, right? It happens. The other part was that it opened my eyes. It’s almost cliche to say, but I had a very black-and-white view of the world when I was younger. Smoking=Bad. Gangs=Bad. And so on. When I saw that this book was about gang members, I didn’t understand how it could also be about good people. I just couldn’t grasp it. I swear this is true. Reading that book made me rethink many of my preconceived notions about the world and other people. It really, truly did. And I reread it many times after that.
So that’s it for that period in my life. I’ll probably do one more post about the more recent years and then call it quits.
Word of the Day: Paltry (adj) – Ridiculously or insultingly small.