You Are What You Read, Part I: The High School Years

When I was in high school, I had very strong ideas about what made something good.  This is not, I suppose, an uncommon trait to find in teenagers, but I was particularly militant about my preferences, especially when it came to books, movies, and music.  Put simply, I was an intolerable snob.  There were certain books I thought were below me.  As far as I was concerned, they were stupid, pointless, and without soul.  Had I ever so much as cracked one of these books?  Nope.  I didn’t need to.  I believed that to read a book that I felt was too “commercial” would somehow taint me, that it would turn me into a Britney Spears-loving hot pink-wearing lollipop-sucking droolspot — the kind of girl I loathed more than anything else in the world.  This is the same reason that I refused to wear skirts (un-feminist), listen to anything but college radio (un-indie), or go see any movie that wasn’t either in black and white or a foreign language (un-intelligent).

Basically, I was a chubby, bespectacled Jessie Spano.

I want to assure my readers that these days, I am much more relaxed in my judgements.  The only books I truly hate nowadays are the ones that weren’t written by their authors (Snooki, James Patterson, etc).  I am a proud Will Smith fan, and whenever ABBA comes on the radio, I turn it way the hell up.  In other words, I have learned to appreciate the things in life that are there solely for entertainment, the things that exist for no other purpose than to give pleasure to those that consume them.

Who wouldn’t love this guy?

When I was in high school, my favorite books were Harry Potter, High Fidelity, and The Handmaid’s Tale, all of which I still love to this day.  But they do say a great deal about who I was back then:

Harry Potter was written for children, not for adults.  Perhaps I was just on the cusp of the target audience for this series, but I am sure that J.K. Rowling did not have seventeen-year-olds in mind when she wrote The Philospher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone.  So what does it say about me that I loved Harry Potter?  I was deep in the painful throes of adolescence, angsty as all hell, fighting with my mother, awkward in my body, longing for love and acceptance from my peers.  Wasn’t I looking at the eleven-year-old hero of that book with longing for simpler times?  For a world where every problem could be solved by magic?  And Harry Potter’s mother was dead!  She never bothered him about doing the dishes, or making better grades, or going to see certain bands. (It should be noted that I didn’t want my mother to be dead–just to leave me alone.  And that we are very good friends these days.)  Harry Potter filled my need to hold onto my childhood a little bit longer.

High Fidelity is a book about one of the snobbiest music lovers of all time.  Seriously.  This is a man who owns a record shop, but will only sell a record to somebody if he likes their taste in music and their knowledge of the subject.  And I absolutely idolized him for it.  Seriously.  I actually bought more than one album because it was discussed at length in the book, and if I didn’t like the music immediately, I listened to it over and over again until I did.  I thought that music was something to be learned, that taste was to be honed and heightened and then lorded over other people, not to be enjoyed.  And even though the novel’s protagonist learns (sort of) by the end to accept that other people have different opinions from his own, when I first read High Fidelity, I used it as a sort of indie-girl music snob’s bible.

I read The Handmaid’s Tale for the first time in 8th grade.  I borrowed it from the school library during my lunch period and read it in about two days (I have read it about ten times since then, and it has never taken me longer than that first time to get to the end).  This book had everything: sex, women learning to be empowered, and my mother’s disapproval (probably because of the sex). As a thirteen-year-old girl, I was just learning about the unfairness of womanhood, how boys’ interests and opinions seemed to always be put ahead of my own, how I felt pressured to focus all my energy on attracting male attention.  The hero in The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred, lives in a world where women exist for the sole purpose of reproducing for men, and she struggles to keep a grasp of who she is as a person in such a world.  My teenage self could relate, and I rejoiced when Offred found a way to buck the system.  I loved tales of rebellion then, and I still love them now.

What were your favorite things to read in school?  Why?