I’ll admit, I was one of those weirdos that actually looked forward to summer reading lists growing up. We read a lot of great classics, like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Fahrenheit 451, Diary of Anne Frank…all your standard summer reading books (which I’m pretty sure have changed drastically in the past twenty years since I was in middle school).
As a young adolescent, I had quite the imagination. I loved any creative and imaginative works, like the magical forest kingdom in Bridge to Terabithia and the crazy antics in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But more than that, I loved reading because I could often connect and relate to characters and their situations.
Of course, a great plot and a well thought out storyline will pull in a reader and keep them on the edge of their seat, begging to read more. But a relatable character will have your reader wanting to jump inside your book wishing they could help out when no one else will, or root for them to catch a break when they’re constantly being stepped on just for trying to do the right thing. With that being said, I’d like to share three books I read growing up that I really related to and inspired me to become both a writer and who I am today.
Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
I was a pretty angsty teenager. I dyed my hair black, painted on eyeliner so thick that I looked like a racoon, and rocked the ever popular ripped fishnets and black nail polish. I really related to the main character, Holden. He yearned for personal connection and just wanted to fit in with society. He was stuck in between adolescence and young adulthood, and felt the need to protect those younger than him. In a similar way, I skipped right to adulthood. For no particular reason other than that was just how my mind churned, I was planning for retirement before I could even start working.
Throughout the story, there were also many times he felt down, but somehow always managed to find a way to pick himself back up again. I really admired that mentality, and I try to keep that way of thinking in my everyday life.
The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin HoffYou might be wondering, “Why is a teenager reading a philosophical book about Taoism?” Well, my uncle had actually been reading it, and naturally, since it had Winnie the Pooh on the cover, I wanted to read it too. Aside from that, I also really connected with teachings from thinkers like Buddha and Confucius. I actually have an Om symbol tattooed on my ankle! Reading about them helped me learn that, even as a teenager, I was going to come across obstacles that would challenge me. I needed to accept whatever happens and learn from them, much like being an author! Sometimes you write something fantastic that people love, sometimes it gets ripped apart and you want to crawl in a hole and cry. Instead of dwelling on the fact everyone hates it, I analyze why they don’t like it and make sure to improve my writing for next time.
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Reading The Jungle intrigued me because, like many Americans, my ancestors came over to America as immigrants. They never worked in the meatpacking industry, but they struggled like most others trying to find employment while unable to speak the language. Understanding that factory conditions have come a long way since this book was published in 1906, it gave me a greater sense of gratitude for my life as it was. I had a family that could support me, a roof over my head, and no one complained when I threw six packs of Oreos into the shopping cart. My parents worked a typical work week, and were always there to support me during whatever seasonal activity I participated in. It reminded me that not everyone was, or is, as lucky. Today, as someone who continues to live with a roof over my head and never having to worry about food or money, I give back whenever I can. Whether it’s simply offering a piece of advice from a past experience or donating food or money to a charity, I am still grateful for what I have and I’d like to share some of that wealth with others who need it.