Our Reading Lives

Books I Wish I Had When I Was Growing Up

Our Reading Lives features stories about how books and reading have shaped who we are and how we live.

Sometimes I think back to certain stages of my life and wish that I’d known about a certain book so that I could’ve read it and saved myself a lot of misery. So I’m going to use this post to indulge my fantasy of having a time machine full of books to give myself at certain miserable stages of my life.

2nd – 4th Grades
Instead of reading 39,483,209 Sweet Valley Twins books, in which everything generally turns out sunny in the end, and which always made me feel like crap because my life was pretty stormy—I would hand my bespectacled little self the complete Series of Unfortunate Events. Things frequently suck for the Baudelaire children, and it would’ve been good for me to see how they got themselves out of catastrophes. And I know I would’ve appreciated the snarky humor and had ample opportunities to use my parents’ fat dictionary and complete set of Super Nice Encyclopedias to get all of the references.

7th Grade
My school was so small that there was no middle school, just elementary school and high school, which began when you started seventh grade. I went through a phase around this age where I never brushed my hair and only wore baggy athletic t-shirts and hand-me-down jeans from my cousin (which would definitely be classified as Mom Jeans today). I didn’t want attention, so I tried to make myself invisible. As a 12-year-old at the bottom of every ladder, I definitely needed the Harry Potter books to get me by. I didn’t read them until the summer after my freshman year of college, but I think I would’ve felt far less like a skinny outcast nerd if I’d had Harry and Hermione in my literary repertoire (because at that age I would have closely identified with both, especially Harry and his hair that wouldn’t do anything).

9th Grade
I read Wuthering Heights for the first time when I was 14, and I wildly misinterpreted it. I still love the, but not for the same reasons. Thankfully, I was too shy to love my love interest at the time, who gave me the book I KNOW I KNOW, in the way that Catherine and Heathcliff “loved” each other. This is the age at which I would have super-identified with Bella Swan from Twilight, but I didn’t need any of that noise in my life either. Instead of either of these books, I wish I could give freshman me the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde because Jane Eyre for life, and also because I would’ve had a substantial number of references to figure out, just like with the Snicket books. Those would have led me to so many other amazing reads that weren’t about obsessive love.

10th Grade
Actually, I wouldn’t change anything about this particular reading year. I bought The Bell Jar and Ani DiFranco’s album Up Up Up Up Up Up on the same day, reading and listening to them simultaneously, flopped on my bed, as soon as I got home. It was an oddly perfect experience.

Age 24
This is my Lost Year. I accepted that I wasn’t going on to get a Ph.D., mainly because I couldn’t bring myself to apply. I lost my roommate in a highly dramatic and painful fashion because she was also a very good friend. I had no job lined up for the fall semester. I had major surgery. All of that (and more!) would have still sucked, but Tiny Beautiful Things would probably have made it seem more manageable, would have illuminated the good.

* * *

That’s it for me. Now, I read what I want when I want, and my life is cool and awesome most of the time, so I don’t always need the perfect book to make it all okay. Occasionally, I get in a rut, so I explore a new genre or author. I go back to the classics or (most recently) dive into comics.

If you could go back in time and give a book to yourself in a time of need, what book would it be?

About Jeanette

Jeanette holds an MA in English literature. She's a reformed higher-ed geek who now spends all her time reading, writing, and keeping house.