Reading Like A Teenage Girl – Join the Club

4 Jan

I am not sure when or exactly how I started merely reading books instead of living in them. I could make the usual excuses about how I no longer have the luxury of time to give in to my imagination; when I sit down with a book, I feel the pressure — of unfinished work, unfolded laundry, unpaid bills. But I suppose the true reason is sadder. It’s an inevitable byproduct of growing up that I formed too many opinions of my own to be able to give in wholeheartedly to the prospect of living inside someone else’s universe.

So wrote MICHELLE SLATALLA in her NYT article last week, I Wish I Could Read Like a Teenage Girl.


I saw all the responses to this on the RD board and had to address it here myself.  As an “adult” (ok, I am technically an adult, but I swear I’m aging backwards sometimes) I find myself falling into that way of reading. Reading has always been an escape, a journey for me. What this article did was NOT remind me I’m an adult, but make me question it even more.


Lately, I’ve been struggling with the “literature” section in my little bookstore/gift shop I work in. People come in and ask for help with books (they FIND me – I swear. The book manager will be standing right next to me in my little gifts department and they’ll still ask me – it’s book kismet) and we’ll walk over and they’ll stop at the “literature” table (yes, I’ve noticed I keep putting quotes around that – more on that later). “What should I read?” The only question I hate more than that is, “What should I buy for my friend?”


Don’t they realize how personal that question is? I ask all the questions I can: what does she read, what does she like, what does she do, what is she interested in…and hopefully help them find the perfect book.


But I’ve noticed my withdrawing from that grandly displayed “literature” table in the center of the department. I know the exact moment it dawned on me I was (and thus why it relates to reading like a teenage girl).  I picked up  the newest Anita Shreve book, Testimony, (OK, I typically don’t do negative talk here, and this actually isn’t. A caveat: A.S. is an amazing writer, I am talking about story preference here). I randomly opened the book and read 4 pages, my stomach rolled over and my mind revolted at the story she was telling. I mean rolled as in “I may be sick physically” – I put it down and walked away. Those four pages haunted me for days. Not letting me sleep at night. The visual popping into my head at the oddest moments. Tormenting me on why we as a society would want to dwell on something that had actually happened a few towns down the street and expand on it – I really don’t think it’s to “understand” what those kids were doing….although, that may very well be why A.S. wrote it, but why are we reading it?


So I tried a couple more books on the “literature” table and was shocked to find the large majority of them are about disturbing topics. I started reading random pages and then the endings. More disturbing. More upsetting. More putting the book down and walking away. Not the disturbing to get to the end where either (1) something good comes out or (2) we understand why the character went thru that. Just disturbing.


Now, I’ll admit, I’m a genre girl. I write it. I read it. It took years after receiving an English degree to truly embrace it. But, that doesn’t mean I NEED a happy ending. But I also don’t NEED an unhappy one either. You know what, in this world, things do work out sometimes, I don’t need all my reading to beat me over the head with its “realism” — especially when it isn’t always realism. Sometimes people fall in love. Sometimes people make the tough right decision. Sometimes you work hard and get what you deserve. Sometimes the bad guy loses. Sometimes you hit the lottery — sometimes. And you know what else, all a genre is is a type of book that plays by certain rules…how is “literature” not that?


I bet you’re wondering how this ties into reading like a teenager. After the Testimony snippet, I realized that reading these books is so difficult because I fall into them. They devour me as much as I devour them. And having somethings inside your mind isn’t a good thing if you’re living them. Here’s also a bit of personal bria-knowledge. I didn’t have that picket fence childhood. I fought my way here for everything I have and I protect it. I do not want to continue to live and dwell on things I already really lived and dwelt on….ok, I was never involved in a private school sex tape scandal like the book (but seriously, how many people have been????) Someone once said to me, “A lot  of people need to explore the things they’ve never experienced. Since experiences are different for all of us, reading tastes will be different as well.”


Anyway, I still “hide” to read books. Sometimes its easier to finish that chapter with my office door closed than it is to sit there trying to work while actually thinking about it. One costs me 10 mins the other costs me a couple hours. I read everywhere. I read while doing other things. I read while watching movies. I read at stoplight (feel free to honk). I read while on the phone with certain people (no, not you). I read in lines. My bff finally convinced me I can’t just whip out a book and read if I’m bored….yes, with other people (I was a teenager then, so cut me some social slack on that one)


My mother and I were out for a walk on the local bike path when she visited a few years ago and we passed a teenage girl walking and reading. My mom turned to me and said, “that’s my number one memory of you. I’m always surprised when you don’t have a book.”


Yeah, I’m still that girl, but now sometimes the world I let myself fall completely into is my own and the book is blank and in my other hand is a pen.

One Response to “Reading Like A Teenage Girl – Join the Club”

  1. gwen hayes January 11, 2009 at 2:21 pm #

    I watched a girl almost get hit by a car last year. She was walking home from school with her nose in a book and just stepped off the curb.

    I totally remember doing that. I remember getting so absorbed in “Firestarter” that the smoke alarm went off for no reason. I came out my my cave (the room of a 7th grade girl)–nobody was in the kitchen…my mother came downstairs and we searched the house for a reason for the smoke alarm. Then she looked at my book and decided it was me.

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