Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The novels of my nonage

In my abundant spare time today (read: while crossing streets) I reflected upon the books that shaped my youth. Since I love reminiscing and since I think they are rather telling, I will share my most memorable reads here.

Middle school: Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game. I love historical fiction and detective novels (there was a lot of Agatha Christie). I also loved those female novelists of the Victorian/Romantic genre: Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, etc. (I read Jane Eyre maybe 10+ times. I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 5+ times.)

An embarrassing truth is that I read a ton of young adult novels (Beverly Cleary, R.L. Stein, Babysitters' Club, Caroline B. Cooney, etc.). I do not recommend that other middle schoolers take this path.

9th grade: This might have been the year I lost to being a teenager, the year I read only magazines outside of the required school reading (Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, The Bible, King James Version)? The Odyssey was probably the book that left the biggest impression me.

10th grade: I was a huge romantic: Crime and Punishment (Dostoyevsky) made the concept of atonement enter into my thinking; This Side of Paradise (Fitzerald) made me fall in love with the F. Scott Fitzgerald rich-intellectual-white-1920's-boy lifestyle. (I have since fallen out of love.) Bruce Hall's Tea That Burns about the history of American Chinatowns also gave me some perspective about my life as a Chinese-American.

11th grade. I was such a wannabe-intellectual: The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson; Sartor Resartus (Carlyle). I also continued my Fitzgerald obsession and read things like The Beautiful and the Damnehd, Tender is the Night, etc. I even read Zelda Fitzgerald's autobiographical Save Me the Waltz. (I recently got closure with respect to this from reading Nancy Milford's biography, Zelda.)

12th grade. Looking for meaning: Mrs. Dalloway (Woolf). Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles also made me think a lot about life. This may have also been the time I was in love with Oscar Wilde's poetry, particularly The Ballad of Reading Gaol. King Lear also left a deep impression. I also found Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead fascinating, but I did not become an Objectivist.

Freshman year. Soul searching: Siddartha (Hesse); The Bhagavad-Gita; A Room of One's Own (Woolf). This might have also been when I read Schlosser's Fast Food Nation and stopped eating forevermore.

Sophomore year. I read a bunch of Greek tragedies which I liked a lot. I also read The Brothers Karamazov, which I had started shortly after Crime and Punishment changed the way I thought about things. By this point, however, I was too jaded (or something) for Brothers to capture my attention/imagination in the same way.

My favorite book this year was probably Introduction to Algorithms (Cormen, Leiserson, Rivest, Stein).

Junior year. Lolita (Nabokov)--this was when I discovered Nabokov. I also read Hemingway's Garden of Eden, which made me think a bunch about gender roles. After reading Watson's The Double Helix, I became fascinated with the concept of the "gentleman scientist:" if Watson and Crick played squash every day while discovering the structure of DNA, then I should be able to have leisure and greatness at the same time, too!

Senior year. I started reading Saint Augustine's Confessions, which was really interesting. I also read some Camus. By this point a lot of ideas were already in my head, so I don't know that things really "changed my life" the way they used to. The closest was probably Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex, which sparked an extreme interest in gender ambiguity.

Post-graduation I've been reading a lot more non-fiction and discussing most of the interesting books in my blog, so I won't list them again. :) I would love to hear what your favorite books were!


Mike Xie said...

They are rather telling aren't they? I've included short stories and speeches as well.

Second Grade: The Aeneid, The Iliad and The Odyssey. Even then, I loved stories. I remember these ones specifically only because I was taken to the principal's office for quoting from them one day. I also attempted to read Ulysses but gave up out of boredom. I also read as many of Aesop's fables as I could get my hands on. I read the newspaper and everything I could find about history.

Middle School: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. (I loved how Lewis would talk to his readers in asides like this.) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I became a huge fan of Twain after learning he said something along the lines of "Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense." I wondered if this was why I loved to read. The Importance of Being Earnest. Absurd and romantic with delightful wordplay. Still one of my favorites. Nickel and Dimed. Inherited from, of all people, my capitalist class foreign exchange sister. She had volunteered to work namelessly on the lines during the summers in her family's factories that she would understand their lives. Possibly the finest lady I have ever known. Even now. It. I Have a Dream. The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself. The Republic.

Ninth Grade: How to Reassess Your Chess. The Complete Book of Chess Strategy. I wish I had known about Polgar's 5334 Problems book. Dawn by Wiesel. The Perils of Indifference. Still my favorite speech. The Stand. The Elements of Style.

Tenth Grade: The Prince. The Art of War. Starship Troopers. A Farewell to Arms. Henry V. I became interested in war again. I thought it would be the best way to understand the human condition. Also I was considering joining the armed forces. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by Locke. Hills Like White Elephants. Just an amazingly beautiful short story. Seabiscuit. This was also when I re-read Austen, appreciating her technical virtuosity.

Eleventh Grade: Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy. Le Petit Prince. Still one of the better ones I've read. The Things They Carried. Absurd, raw, beautiful.

Twelfth Grade: Chess fellowship secured. Time to learn about the history of the game and its players. My Great Predecessors. Searching for Bobby Fisher. Time Enough for Love. My Life by Clinton.

Freshman Year: How to Win Friends and Influence People. I started practicing several hours every day and I became a networking machine. I also started reading random dating books and articles after I was identified as a dating expert in much the same way that Brian became a prophet in "Life of Brian".

Sophomore Year: The Boat by Nam Le. Long For This World. A Gesture of Life. This Is A Bust. Waylaid. Sonya and Ed signed my copies after our Asian American Literary Review symposium. I uninvited myself from the dinner after. I wish I hadn't. In doing so I made myself feel more alone. The New York Trilogy. Collected Works of Lucian. The Bluest Eye.

Junior Year: I don't remember anything about this academic year, especially not what I read though I took something like 2 full semesters of literature classes and aced all of them and that I amassed the majority of my speaking fees. And I don't have my notes or books anymore.

Senior Year: Waiting for Godot. My first encounter with Beckett. Absolutely brilliant. An Artist of the Floating World. Never Let Me Go. Crucial Conversations.

These days I read a lot of math stuff. Real World Haskell. SICP. How To Mock a Mockingbird. Algorithms by Sedgewick.

Also a lot of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I've re-read Good Omens twice now.

And, I'm working on the Pelopennesian War at last.

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