Sometimes there’s that book you read, whether it’s by chance, or fate (if you believe in that sort of stuff). It’s contains the kind of story that makes your toes curl involuntarily. I’ve only gotten chills a handful of times in my life, and half of those times, they were caused by a book.
The novel is a wonderful thing, and anyone who says differently is a fool. Capital F. Go repent.
There’s nothing better than a good book. It’s a friend when television shows only give you a headache, and the thought of a movie brings upon a fit of nausea. It’s a personal thing; whether or not it’s a major success isn’t the point, it doesn’t matter, and that’s rare these days. A book can be read by two hundred million people, but it can still contain a relevance so uniquely crafted to your life that nothing, save a really great glass of wine, can do.
I wanted to share with you three of the novels that I can hands-down-on-the-Bible-makes-my-heart-flutter-and-my-skin-crawl-in-a-good-way say changed my life. Changed my perspective of writing. Made me re-think the written word and what can be done to it and with it. These are special things, guys. These are my friends, my allies, the items that will always and inevitably be connected to my heart strings. So please read them, and treat them kindly.
1. St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised by Wolves, by Karen Russell
It isn’t fantasy, it’s fantastic. I first heard about this collection and subsequently read it during my junior seminar course. I wasn’t sure what to think–I liked the cover with it’s vintage-y illustrations, it’s titular charm. It was endearing, but I couldn’t for the life of me have told you why at that time. My class was only assigned two stories to read, but that night, I devoured it. You hear about people “devouring books,” and it’s kind of become a cliche saying. But, no. I’m not being dramatic. I fell in love with this woman, her way with words, her innate imagination that brought forth my own memories of childhood haunts. There’s that monster-under-your-bed feeling captured in each and every one of her stories, and it’s breathtaking, and real. Despite the obvious magical realism nod, they ring true to the adult in us as well. They aren’t for a specific age, they’re for a mindset that I’d believed I had lost some time before. But she gave it back to me.
If you haven’t already read this collection, I beg you to do so. My own copy is frayed at the edges, dog-eared on certain pages, and underlined in purple pen. It’s that kind of novel, folks.
2. The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
I’ll suffer your eye-roll and then get down to selling you on this. Sylvia Plath unfortunately became a sort of emo-girl icon, and I don’t believe her image ever recovered completely. I first read this book when I was thirteen, and in retrospect, was probably too young. Regardless of my age, I understood her words on a deeper level. I might not have understood every brilliant over-tone in it, but I knew I had my hands on something extraordinary. Sylvia has always interested me because she seems like one of us. She went through hair colors—research the “platinum summer” and you’ll see giddy photos of the young poetess sun-bathing on the beach and enjoying her hair dye. She was normal–depressive, highly intelligent, and yes, definitely unstable, but she had her fair share of dates and “necking” nights, and cared about whether her dress matched her purse. She worried about boys, wrote about boys, and was, in fact, an American teenager in the late forties and early fifties. She did her homework on time, and just happened to be damn good with a typewriter. And then she wrote something like this. Something so poignant and bare-boned in its wisdom. It’s great. It’s true. I don’t care what anyone says.
3. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
Ask any of my close friends and they’ll tell you that I have a mild-bordering-on-alarming obsession with Donna Tartt. I mean, just google image her, and she looks like a pixie. Barely 5’0, slim, dark, pale and shadowy in the best possible way. She’s like…the female version of Oscar Wilde, if there could be such a thing. She looks like a writer, or something out of the Scottish mist from Brigadoon. And man, this girl can write. She came to Ole Miss for a year, joined a sorority, and was then approached by Willie Morris. An article from The Guardian sums the scene up nicely:
“There is a story she tells that shows this very clearly, concerning her first meeting with the late Willie Morris, the former editor of Harper’s magazine, writer-in-residence at the University of Mississippi and the man who introduced himself to Tartt with the words, “My name is Willie Morris, and I think you’re a genius.” Tartt said that Morris had offered her a Coca-Cola. “No, sir, I believe I’ll have what you’re drinking,” was her reply. (It was bourbon.) She continued: “Terrific roar of laughter. ‘Why,’ he shouted, staggering back as if dazed by my prodigy, rolling his rich old eye around the assembled company, ‘this girl is a writer!’”
However, The Secret History is something that would appeal to any over-ripe intellectual that’s still in college or recently graduated. It’s chock-full of liberal arts elitism (of the very best quality), an excess of debauchery, and some really, really, really engaging characters. Henry, who happens to be the not-so-friendly sociopath, was and always will be my favorite. He’s enigmatic, and the best and most interesting sort of genius. There’s the two beautiful, ethereal twins—all elvish blonde and southern aristocrat—and finally, the confused and oftentimes aloof narrator, who you can’t help but identify with in his need to fit in, and compulsive yet astute character sketches.