Our Reading Lives: Crying Over MY FRIEND LEONARD

This is a guest post by Taylor Jenkins Reid, an author and essayist living in Los Angeles. Her first novel – Forever, Interrupted – is out now from Simon & Schuster. Her second novel, After I Do, will be out next summer. Follow her @tjenkinsreid.

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I was a year out of college and found myself in the middle of the real world – the world where you learn that 9-5 is a myth, that you don’t meet the love of your life in line at the grocery store, that bills pile up, and that the world doesn’t really care if you just need a goddamn vacation. I had moved to a new city. I barely knew anyone and I wasn’t going to meet anyone anytime soon because I was working thirteen or fourteen hours a day. My student loans had just kicked into repayment. I was broke, restless, and lonely.

my friend leonardAnd then, for some reason, I picked up James Frey’s second book, My Friend Leonard. I use the word “book” here on purpose because I’m terrified to call it a memoir, as he did back then. And I’m also hesitant to call it a novel.

It was 2006. The news about A Million Little Pieces had already come out. We all knew what he did. But I had liked A Million Little Pieces and I was curious about My Friend Leonard so I gave it a shot.

It was a Friday night. I was facing another weekend where I didn’t have any plans. I didn’t know enough people in town to make plans.

I read all the through the night. I woke up on Saturday and kept reading. Sunday night, I finished the book, flipping page after page, desperately reading to find out what happened to Leonard. I had fallen in love with him over the weekend and I had to know if he was going to be okay, if things worked out for him.

And then, when I finished the book, I wept.

I cried and cried, sometimes failing to catch my breath. I cried until my eyes were bloodshot and my face was blotchy. And then I cried some more.

At first, I was crying for James Frey and for Leonard. I was crying for the tenderness with which they were there for each other. I was crying for the beauty of their friendship. And then, somewhere along the way, I was crying because I was crying. And I cried because I was crying for a long time.

I needed to cry.

The stress of my job, my loneliness, and the weight of the real world had been weighing me down. I needed to let it out, I needed to release my worries. And yet, I wasn’t sure how to do it on my own.  I had needed an inciting incident. I needed something to pop the balloon, something to start the tears forming. And once My Friend Leonard got me started, I found that I had plenty of reasons to cry.

And when I finally stopped crying, when I fell asleep and woke up the next morning feeling lighter and freer than I’d felt in months, I immediately knew what books could do.

Crying over someone’s story sometimes feels so much more cathartic than crying over your own. And in crying over Leonard, I was able to let go of my own pain, just a little bit.

It’s years later and I have a job I love. I’m married to an amazing man, I am blessed with wonderful friends, and sometimes I complain that my weekends are too full. That is what life does, it changes. We grow. We move forward. I am now very happy to live in the real world.

But My Friend Leonard, and it’s pale pink cover, sit in my living room, eye-level on the shelf. Sometimes I pull it down and hold it to my chest, as if I could give it a hug, as if I could say thank you.

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