“We lose ourselves, so we can find out who we truly are. And when by fate we do, we discover the best version of ourselves.” – Joanne Crisner
Whats up guys?
Welcome to the first post in my new series – What to Read Wednesday’s. This series basically involves me picking a theme/emotion and choosing books which, in my opinion, fit with it. They might not necessarily be the obvious choices, or equally they may be the most cliche choice, it will all just be down to my personal choice.
This week is a little bit of a cheat, because I’ve picked a theme that was one of the bigger chapters of my dissertation – teenage angst and the search for identity.
I know that I’m not alone when I say that sometimes I just feel a little bit lost. At some time in their life everyone feels this way, whether it’s when they’ve finished school or university, or maybe they just have a general feeling of being lost all the time. The books I’ve chosen, I believe, show that this feeling of directionlessness (yes I’m aware that this isn’t a word, but it definitely sums up how I feel sometimes) is normal, and that it’s ok to not really know who you are or what you’re doing with your life. I can safely say that these books have had a big impact on my life, and have shown me that becoming an adult doesn’t necessarily mean that you suddenly have all the answers.
The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
This is probably the most obvious choice for this theme! When I read this book whilst I was in sixth form, I was amazed at how much I identified with the protagonist, who at face value couldn’t be more different from me. Holden Caulfield is a teenage boy, living in post World War II America, coming from a reasonably well off family. The novel follows a few days in his life, during which he basically becomes the literal definition of teenage angst, as we see his struggle to accept himself and find a place where he belongs. I honestly think that everyone can relate to this feeling of not knowing who you are or where you belong. As well as showing teenage (and older) readers that they are not alone in their struggles, the novel is very well written and the unreliable and hypocritical narrator is iconic enough to read it purely for that. This book is probably one of my favourite books of all time, so much so that I actually planned my whole dissertation around it. My favourite quote:
“It’s not too bad when the sun’s out, but the sun only comes out when it feels like coming out.”
2. This Side of Paradise – F. Scott Fitzgerald
This book is another favourite of mine. Fitzgerald is one of my favourite authors, and it really annoys me that people only think of The Great Gatsby when you say his name, because (unpopular opinion coming up) I actually think that it’s one of his worst books. (Please read The Beautiful and Damned, I couldn’t recommend it enough.) This Side of Paradise follows the story of Amory Blaine, as he struggles to make the transition into adult life. Most people believe that Fitzgerald based Amory on himself, and if you read it you will definitely see the similarities. Whilst a slightly more difficult and long-winded read, this novel is perfect if you need reassuring that you’re not the only person who has absolutely no idea what they’re doing. My favourite quote:
“Don’t let yourself feel worthless: often through life you will really be at your worst when you seem to think best of yourself; and don’t worry about losing your “personality,” as you persist in calling it: at fifteen you had the radiance of early morning, at twenty you will begin to have the melancholy brilliance of the moon, and when you are my age you will give out, as I do, the genial golden warmth of 4 p.m.”
3. Other Voices, Other Rooms – Truman Capote
Written by the author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, this novel was a major player in the Beats Movement, and one of the first novels to write about homosexuality in a positive way. This novel follows the story of Joel Knox, a young boy who gradually realises and accepts his homosexuality. The author admits that Joel is at least loosely based on himself, and that the novel was ‘an unconscious, intuitive to exorcise his demons’ (quote taken from the introduction of the Penguin edition). An example of Southern Gothic Fiction, this novel is beautifully written, and whilst absurd at times, really shows the reader how confusing adolescence can be when you’re not even sure of your sexuality. I would recommend this to everyone, as the theme of acceptance is universal and doesn’t have to be confined to homosexuality. I would even recommend reading it purely for the elegant and dreamy writing. My favourite quote:
“Any love is natural and beautiful that lies within a person’s nature; only hypocrites would hold a man responsible for what he loves, emotional illiterates and those of righteous envy, who, in their agitated concern, mistake so frequently the arrow pointing to heaven for the one that leads to hell.”
4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
Again an obvious choice! This coming of age novel follows the story of Charlie as he struggles to adapt to society. It also deals with issues of mental health and abuse. A perfect novel for anyone who has ever felt like a bit of an outsider, as it reassures you that you will always find somewhere you belong, and that you will always have people that will care about you. The film is also a very good watch, and Logan Lerman plays Charlie perfectly IMO. My favourite quote:
“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”
These four books have had a major impact on my life and have helped me realise that all of the feelings that sometimes confuse me and make me feel lonely are perfectly normal. They’ve also shown me that it’s ok not to have all the answers, and that the way you feel as a teenager doesn’t magically go away when you hit your twenties. I know that all of these novels follow male protagonists, which does annoy me slightly, but I believe that the real success of these stories is that you can relate to them no matter how different your situation may be.
If anyone has any other novels that they think might help my ongoing identity crisis, please let me know in the comments!