12. What are three books that defined you? #LifeWideLearning16@bhwilkoff
— Zac Chase (@MrChase) January 12, 2016
There are very few books that I read more than once. Even fewer are the books that I feel compelled to come back to again and again because they feel like home. These books are the ones that I will never put down once I have started. These are the ones that fill me up with a moment in time so completely that I must give myself over to it, leaving anything happening in the real world behind. They embrace me in that moment just as much as I embrace them. These are my books, and they have a curious similarity to them.
I first read Dear Mr. Henshaw in the second grade. It was a present from my teacher, Mrs. Buck. She gave it to me on the last day of school before winter break that year, and I must have read it three times before we came back to school in January. The letters written to a real Mr. Henshaw and then to a diary that the boy still addressed to Mr. Henshaw were so personal and revealing. I wanted to receive those letters myself and have someone be so open about their life. In fact, the words “Dear Mr. Henshaw” are a trigger for me. They signal to me that a secret inner life is about to be revealed, that someone is about to find something out about themselves through the process of writing. And from this book, I learned that writing was going to save me. It was going to bring things to the forefront that I would never be able to get access to within myself otherwise. And it did.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is likewise an Epistolary novel. The major difference being that you never really find out who the character, Charlie, is sending the letters to. This novel is the book I have read the most in my life. I read it, on average, once a year. It is the one I recommend to anyone who has even the slightest interest in Young Adult fiction. I think this is because it is the one that resonates most with my own coming of age. While the events in the book do not mimic my own life, the perspective does. The protagonist is the wallflower, the observer, the one who takes notice. He may not be great at knowing what to do or understand the nuances of every situation, but he does see and interpret the world in a fundamentally transcendent way. He “feels infinite” and “lets the quiet put things where they are supposed to be.” Whenever I read the book, I know my own story better because Charlie is the friend that I want to be. He is the right kind of nostalgic and courageous. He is self-reflective, but never self-righteous. And most of the time, I just want to see the world through his eyes.
The less obvious choice for this triad of books is Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Although it is not technically a book of letters, it is a back and forth between two characters named Will Grayson that gives the feeling of call and response. I come back to this book again and again because of the third act. In it, Tiny Cooper, puts on an autobiographical musical within his high school. And it is spectacular. Tiny is described this way: “[he] is not the world’s gayest person, and he is not the world’s largest person, but I believe he may be the world’s largest person who is really, really gay, and also the world’s gayest person who is really, really large.” I keep coming back for this character and his interaction with the two Wills. Its description of Love is so full of hope that I want to stay inside of it and live there. I want to feel as deeply as Tiny does about his musical about anything in my life. I want to create something that touches those around me in the profound way that his art and his personality do. So, I keep coming back because I want for the whole world to emphatically choose to say “yes” instead of “no”. To love instead of mistrust. And above all, to try.
There are other books that could fit the desert island all time top five. There are books that would be torture never to read again. But those are different definitions of me than these, describing different sunsets within my life. But, so it goes.