SOME BOOKS I READ MY SENIOR YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL THAT SPOKE TO ME WHEN I NEEDED THEM MOST

roughly in chronological order. my english teacher was/is a kindred spirit, and by assignment or suggestion, he pointed me to almost all of these. I devoured them all, and haven't been able to find that same hunger since.
  1. 1.
    the great gatsby - f scott fitzgerald
    the first novel we read that year, and my teacher really opened it up. we'd already done a unit on poetry, but this was the start of this beautiful mess of a year. I still go back and read lines of this that just dazzle me.
  2. 2.
    in cold blood - truman capote
    my marked-up copy is sitting on the shelf of the classroom, and some lucky bastard gets it every year (this is my fantasy, don't ruin it by telling me it's become an extra copy or been thrown out). had many conversations about no longer being able to judge once you are able to understand. that insight was fascinating and complicated to me. there's not much that needs to be said about it - it speaks for itself. capote is wow
  3. 3.
    the catcher in the rye - jd salinger
    what can I say? this is the book that, like so many other teenagers, really spoke to me. I had never connected to literature in that same visceral way, and it set off my Salinger phase
  4. 4.
    nine stories - jd salinger
    I loved this so much. salinger was opened up into a much larger focus. I read a copy from the public library, one with the rainbow stripes on the cover, and had no idea what I was getting into. just about every single story left me staring at the ceiling, empty and full and feeling something I knew was essential to my self. I felt home. bananafish, just before war with the eskimos, esme, teddy — they're all so good. this is when I fell into the hole i didn't want to escape
  5. 5.
    franny and zooey - jd salinger
    the first salinger book I actually bought. the only one that I didn't have to return after reading. and my favorite. sometimes I carry it around with me just to have it there. I remember getting into the car once after I'd finished it, hesitating because I felt off, and running back to get this from the house. at the end of the year, we all wrote little papers about books we loved and this was the one I chose.
  6. 6.
    raise high the roof beam, carpenters & seymour: an introduction - salinger
    the zen story seymour reads to franny is enough reason to love it. when my teacher leant me his copy, he opened up to that page and watched as I read it. indulgent at times, maybe - but fuck the critics. still Salinger and still a love. I read a bunch of personal memoirs and salinger biographies after this to set off being done with the quad
  7. 7.
    into the wild - jon krakauer
    everything, yes. I felt like I got this, that I understood the spirit and need. but I also had to take a step back and acknowledge the dangers of romanticizing this. when I talked to my teacher about this (and my own feeling that I just needed to get out), he told me about the time he hitchhiked to the Rocky Mountains. and how he thought he was escaping, but he realized he'd followed himself there. the movie pissed me off
  8. 8.
    heart of darkness - joseph conrad
    made me think just to understand the language. made me mix intellect and emotion on a high level. I think I was the only one in the class who loved it. the idea that goodness is an illusion we create to hide from the darkness. that "your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others." going over the brink of madness. I stole the copy of this, which started a trend for the rest of the year
  9. 9.
    demian - hermann hesse
    my teacher picked this out for me at the bookstore (one he had read and loved circa 1970s) and I read it in one sitting on a Sunday. felt like I was in another world, a more real and connected one. really filmy and floaty. hesse became one of my favorites after reading this. felt like I had received a gift.
  10. 10.
    the book of questions - pablo neruda
    I read this in one sitting on the soiled floor of barnes and noble. the bit about hitler made me sick. for months afterward, I'd gravitate straight to this every time I was in the store. i knew its place, just where it was on the shelf, and I'd hold it and feel it and regretfully pat it's back before putting it back on the shelf. I finally bought it after months of this. sometimes I read it late at night, when the world feels strange. when I'm lost. after I've been numb and need to feel again.
  11. 11.
    no country for old men - cormac mccarthy
    took me a minute to get into, but once I did, I did. my teacher had me read flannery oconnor's a good man is hard to find alongside this, and it was a brilliant connection. chigurh as the fair demon. abiding by rules outside of the realm of the earth. moral in a twisted way. just carrying out a plot. stole my copy. the movie is almost as good.
  12. 12.
    the reader - bernard schlink (another my teacher picked out for me at the bookstore that day)
    i read this from the drawer of the hostess station at work. I hid it in the drawer and read it cover to cover in a shift like that, ignoring lots of customers. "when I tried to understand it, I had the feeling I was failing to condemn it as it must be condemned. when I condemned it as it must be condemned, there was no room for understanding. (...) failing to understand her meant betraying her (...) I could not resolve this. I wanted to pose both tasks. but it was impossible." -this stayed w/me
  13. 13.
    in the lake of the woods - tim o'brien
    a psychological mindfuck. which I normally hate. but I legitimately read this while I was driving because I couldn't put it down. I read it at dinner with a friend. I talked about it with my teacher and peers for hours. it fucked with me so bad. and its lies were honest in a way that I think o'brien has mastered. what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck. and deeply tragic. stole my copy
  14. 14.
    steppenwolf - hermann hesse
    read the school library's copy and almost stole it. I should have, because I wrote and underlined like crazy. glad I had read demian first because it opened the door to hesse's mind for me (and this was much stranger), but steppenwolf felt like a revelation. for madmen only. I want to steal that motherfucking copy now.
  15. 15.
    an unquiet mind - kay redfield jamison
    was looking at my teacher's bookshelf one day and he told me to take this. I read this on the hill beside my house. I appreciated the voice. I hated her conclusions (that love had saved her - maybe it did, but I hated that), but it opened up a line of conversation. it made me want to be honest about my dark holes and recognize pieces of myself I'd been ashamed or scared of
  16. 16.
    a separate peace - john knowles
    I finished this right at the tail end of the year. it's just good. carried guilt. I have a thing for stories set at prep school.
  17. 17.
    a chorus of stones - susan griffin
    started this at the end of the year and finished it during the summer. read my teacher's copy, which he had marked up, and was grateful to have been experiencing it with his hand on the page. so smart, so complex, so raw - this book was just 'yes.' I bought a copy of my own at the end of the summer. it's on loan right now and I miss it.