“You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all.”

— Hanya Yanagihara,  A Little Life 


This is a beautiful book, but a devastating read. Proceed with caution, feint of heart.

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Re-Reading List

The other day I was chatting with my friend Jon about The Great Gatsby. We agreed it was totally wasted on us in high school and decided to reread it. And of course, the book is way better than you’d remember if you only ever read it out of obligation in homeroom.

Then I read Lord of the Flies for the first time, and it was one of the most intense books I’ve ever read. Seriously. It was startling, horrifying, and absolutely unfit for children. (Most of my friends read this in Junior high.) I have no idea why anyone would think this was a book for kids, except there are kids in it. Which feels a little like those commercials where some exec thought an acceptable mascot for a food product was a slightly bigger, talking version of the same food.  ¹ ²

That got me thinking about all the other Great Books I’ve wasted (or SparkNotes’d, or never read at all). So I started compiling a list of high-school essentials.

I hardly remember any of these books. At sixteen I was more interested in texting girls than impressing teachers.

My current plan is to read and re-read a bunch of standard syllabus stuff. After, I’ll give a brief review and hopefully have some solid recommendations by the end.

Is it still good? Was it ever good? Is it worth reading again as an adult? These are the kinds of questions that are literally impossible to answer without reading my blog.

Here’s what I’ve got so far.*

  • Lord of the Flies
  • The Great Gatsby
  • Where the Red Fern Grows
  • Dune
  • Siddhartha
  • Gone with the Wind
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Brave New World
  • Of Mice and Men
  • 1984
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • Death of a Salesman
  • The Metamorphosis
  • The Giver
  • The Outsiders
  • Hatchet
  • The Diary of a Young Girl
  • Heart of Darkness
  • Huck Finn
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Count of Monte Cristo
  • The Odyssey 
  • Old Man and the Sea
  • The Power of One
  • The Things We Carried
  • Tuck Everlasting
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God

I italicized the ones I’ve already read—but I barely remember most of them. I’m pretty sure The Outsiders was the one where Pony Boy beat up other kids. But why would they make us read that in high school? Was it good? I don’t remember.

I could still use some help though.

If you have time, let me know which books you were assigned in high school. Do any stand out as worth your time again? Let me know in the comments or on twitter or just yell really, really loud.

UPDATE — READER SUGGESTIONS:

  • My name is Asher Lev
  • Watership Down
  • Cat’s Cradle
* I’ve intentionally left The Scarlet Letter off the list. I was forced to read it in middle school, high school, and college and I hated it every single time. It’s dense and tedious, while still managing to be totally unrewarding. I give it a Very Boring out of Five stars.
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Ian & Laura

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From Indian Lakes

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From Indian Lakes. Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco.

 

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South Africa

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Oscar

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Watch Your Thoughts

This morning I was thinking about a quote I vaguely remembered. Something like,

“Watch your thoughts because they become your words. Watch your words because they become your actions. Watch your actions because they become your character.”

I love the idea. It explains perfectly why it’s best to limit your time in toxic online communities and comment sections. Once you start caring about the bullshit du jour, your whole day is going to be a little shittier, and then one day you end up miserable and small, posting slander on Reddit.com/r/EllenPaoandfathate for imaginary points ironically called Karma.

The quote sounds like something from JFK, the bible, or maybe Derrial Book. So I was surprised and a little dismayed when I finally googled the thing to find the quote is not Whedon canon and has no known originator. Worse still, it almost definitely originates from the president of a supermarket chain and is now used as a big, dumb pun.

The quote is pretty close to what I’d remembered:

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

But in later evolutions, “Destiny” got kicked to the curb and the order was rejiggered. Why? From QI:

One interesting property that is shared between the modern expression and several precursor sayings involves wordplay. Consider five of the key words in the saying: words, actions, thoughts, character, and habits. The initial letters can be arranged to spell the repeated focal term: w, a, t, c, h.

Oh brother.

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