How do books touch us in such profound ways?
The impact that books have on readers has a lot to do with the time in their lives at which people read them. When the narrative of a book aligns with or mirrors the experience a reader is going through, a powerful lasting impression is left upon that person. When I first read J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye in my sophomore year of high school, I connected with the main character Holden Caulfield immediately. His mental dilemma regarding the authenticity of the adult world was a topic I identified with so easily. Holden is a character that is the embodiment of genuineness, and made The Catcher in the Rye one of my favorite books of all time.
It’s hard not to wonder how differently someone would react to a book if they had simply read it in a different time in their life. These are the two books that had the most profound impact on me growing up and have taught me essential lessons.
The Giver is set in the perspective of an eleven-year-old boy, Jonas, living in a world devoid of war, hatred, pain, and fear. Because everybody acts the same and looks the same, there is no prejudice. There is no color. The world is also devoid of choice, as when every child turns twelve, they are assigned a job based on their talents and abilities. This book is generally part of middle school English curriculums, and is perfect for students at that age as it emphasizes the value of the contrast between pleasure and pain, and the importance of individuality.
I first read this book when I was thirteen years old. As a kid, I never knew the importance of pain and suffering, until I read The Giver. It put into perspective how crucial grief, heartache, and unhappiness should be in my life. A world without pain is ultimately a world unable to advance. Emotion is the foundation of individual growth, and this book played a big part of my maturation. As I got older, and experienced emotionally burdening moments, I would always think back to this book and what it taught me about how dealing with your sentiments is so vital. Somebody on the verge of their teenage years will truly understand why pain and suffering in this world is necessary for individual growth after reading this classic novel.
The foundation for bildungsromans, or ‘coming of age; novels, this book follows the protagonist, Huck, maturing as he goes through different experiences in his life. The novel primarily presents him as an immature boy, goofing around and playing tricks with his good friend Tom Sawyer. He has good intentions, but a moral sense that is misshapen by the society in which he was raised. He is constantly in a battle with himself, as he is constantly hard on himself when he does not turn in a runaway slave, Jim, as though that would be the right thing to do. Yet, as the novel progresses, so does Huck’s conception of what is right and wrong. He learns that many codes of conduct such as Christianity don’t necessarily produce good actions. By the end of the book, Huck is realistic and mature, while Tom still has a lot of developing to do. This book is the embodiment of independent self growth, and arguably the most perceptive coming of age novel of all time, especially taking into consideration its 1884 release date.
This book taught me that questioning every aspect of life is essential in creating your own unique frame of mind. Mark Twain shows the reader from the beginning of the novel that Huck is a boy who comes from the most dire conditions of white society. His father is a drunk who constantly vanishes for months on end. Furthermore, Huck himself is continually homeless. Although characters throughout the book attempt to reform Huck, he resists their efforts and maintains his independence. His experiences and instincts as he continues his adventures make him question everything he has learned from the society around him. According to the law at the time, the runaway slave Jim was Miss Watson’s property. But Huck’s judgment and fairness allowed him do the right thing and help Jim out. His actions go against the basic foundation of his society at the time, but in context they are faithful. Questioning is essential to intellectual growth, especially at a young age, because it allows you to develop your own personality. This book taught me to live, rather than to merely exist, or to become a critically thinking human being, rather than just a pawn in society.
Featured Image Via Inquiries Journal