In my recent reading year, I’ve taken notice of how different the books I reach for now are from just a couple of years ago, and it got me thinking about all those different books I used to pile up on my list of favorites and what I would think of them now if I approached them with fresh eyes, whether I would have the same visceral reaction I had that first time or none at all.
It also made me reflect on why I considered them my favorite books in the first place, was it the story or rather the sense of feeling known and seen on the page that made me cling to the book long after I had closed the last page?
Looking back, I can see a clear pattern forming over time wherein each book that presented itself at a certain time in my life came to explain a piece of me, and it creates this effect where all these favorite books of mine come together to form a bigger picture, which I can look back on to and understand more clearly the role they had in my growth.
And to think that this all came to my understanding simply by scrolling through my list of Goodreads quotes that I had pinned in my profile. Suddenly all these books that have slipped my mind over the months came back to show just how much joy and clarity they brought me. And I have this immense desire to capture this particular emotion through this post because as the years go on, I’ll hopefully have new books to share, so I’d love to revisit the emotions these brought out in me repeatedly.
I seek immense comfort through the written word, so the more accurate term for these would probably be “passages” instead of “quotes” because it’s often the story told through the words that I seek comfort in. This might also influence my decision to often seek out books that are entirely character-driven and grounded in reality; to explain all that I cannot put into concrete words. And it creates this interesting resolution where I know that when I’ll reexperience these emotions (may it be confusion, sadness, intense love) I can seek out their words and take comfort in its simplistic explanation, all whispers of things I’d loved.
“Great books help you understand, and they help you to feel understood.”
― John Green
An example of what inspired this whole idea in the first place was rereading The Raven King this past week, which I haven’t done since my first whirlwind read on the day the book came out, and going through the last book in the series reminded me of just how closely I cherished these characters. I saw a piece of me within this group: Ronan has my roots to family, Blue has my all-encompassing relationships, Adam has my perceptive intensity and… All these components that evoked the memory of how good it feels to read a book that gets you, which brought me back to the Goodreads quotes for this series since I can’t commit to rereading the whole series; I just wanted the string of highlights.
And there are so many books that produce a similar effect in my heart, so I had to come up with a concise list to share. And these aren’t necessarily my favorite books to date, but rather it’s their words that made me click and understand a part of myself that I was seeking out at the time of reading and through their given words I felt known and seen by another human (“without the body odor and the eye contact,” sorry, the Cather Avery in me slipped out). So this may not be a list of all-time favorite books, because those constantly change as I grow and evolve, but rather a list of books that helped me come to terms with realizing so much that I needed to know.
These were certainly favorites at the time, and now, looking back they’re favorites for helping me understand that which only in hindsight I can understand I was asking for an answer that unveiled itself through the written word.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
The thing with rereading a book that blew you away the first time, it’s then quite the disappointment when all those scenes that stuck with you from your first read turn out to be not as grand as you remembered. Like a certain character detail that I blew up in my hand turned out to be less than one page in the book, and I was confounded as to how that was possible…
Since this book follows three generations, and when I read it I fell into the world of Emmeline, aka the first generation we go back to, I was aghast to find her discussed less than 100 pages because all the details of her life had stuck with me so closely. It’s been over three years and I still remember details of her marriage, her bakery and her dear friend at the bakery, her eccentric family members and their stories, the stories of the neighborhood. I can recall everything clear as day, maybe even better than my own memories, so it surprised me when I revisited the story to find that they were discussed in such a small amount of pages.
Since Emmeline’s journey encaptured me the most, it’s also her phrase that came to mirror my own thoughts:
She struggled to distinguish between signs she received from the universe and those she conjured up in her head.
This brings me back like nothing else to my confused state at the time of reading this book where I experienced this unmoored reality, teetering the ground between who I was and who I wanted to become so I was almost desperately seeking out all that would help explain it to me. I cherished this book, and the magical realism genre, for a long time following.
The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater:
Ava Lavender was the perfect build-up for this grandiose series that touches on all things magical from dark creatures to tarot readings to having that something more in your life, which is captured to the point in this passage:
“The predictions that came out of 300 Fox Way were unspecific, but undeniably true. Her mother had dreamt Blue’s broken wrist on the first day of school. Her aunt Jimi predicted Maura’s tax return to within ten dollars. Her older cousin Orla always began to hum her favorite song a few minutes before it came on the radio.”
This still strikes a comforting note within me.
I touched before, at the start of this post, on just how much I relished in the world of this raven group, and I’ll forevermore be grateful for the solace they granted me in feeling so included in their dynamic. And the curious thing is there’s more than one group to seek that something more in, Maura and Calla and Persephone were always something I looked forward to reading about on the page.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell:
If you’ve been around for a while on this blog (long enough to read my two reviews for Fangirl, 1&2), you know by now there isn’t one quote that can fully encompass how much this book means to me. I’ve read it countless times since my first time reading it because it’s the only physical book I have that I actually enjoy. I genuinely end up rereading it every Shabbat when the book I took home from the library inevitably disappoints me. I gravitate towards Rainbow Rowel’s Fangirl because it’s a familiar and comforting world to sink into. The characters feel so close to my heart, same for the writing; I can recall the words by heart now, so much so that when I read a certain scene, I’ll start laughing ahead of time because I recall what line awaits. Scenes with Reagan or Levi never disappoint.
The book recently re-released its new paperback edition with a glowing full-color illustration by Mara Miranda-Escota of one of my favorite Cath and Levi scenes (reading on the love seat!), plus it has minty stained edges. Be sure to snatch your copy here:
I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This: A Memoir: Nadja Spiegelman
My love for honest and compelling lifetime works began with uncovering this book: I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This. It opened my eyes not only to the genre of Memoir, which I then solely devoured for the following months but I realized through Nadja Spiegelman chronicles just how fierce and all-encompassing mother-daughter relationships can be.
The things my mother did not see about herself, I did not see, either.
This book holds a lot for itself, but I’ll always hold it dear for holding open that doorway for me to peek in. My subsequent phase of memoirs, where other people come to a concrete understanding through chronicling their lives, I was hoping to catch some of that for my own understanding. It’s very often that we can find our thought mirrored in others. And I found two others which created a similar effect:
Trevor Noah’s account resonated with me on a more deeper level than I was expecting for a comedic memoir, from the way his mind works with language to the fierce nature of his mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah. I still think about them to this day. Though at the core it holds a troubling tale of coming-of-age during the twilight of apartheid in South Africa, Noah takes the joys and pangs of his life and makes sure to mix in some much-needed humor. This checks it all off:
“Nearly one million people lived in Soweto. Ninety-nine point nine percent of them were black—and then there was me. I was famous in my neighborhood just because of the color of my skin. I was so unique people would give directions using me as a landmark. “The house on Makhalima Street. At the corner you’ll see a light-skinned boy. Take a right there.”
The latter book by Diane Guerrero uncovered a deep, hidden part in me which I had stored away for years, yet through Diane Guerrero’s unflinchingly honest story of recounting her adolescence, it all came flooding back. Like, the memory of betrayal of experiencing her first period but not having the one person who’s supposed to know it all, it’s a story that still sticks with me to this very day. Also, her touching upon the fact that people touching her makes her uncomfortable made me connect with her instantly because I needed to hear that I wasn’t alone, though I was secretly hoping for her to reveal the source of it, though her mother had her inklings.
Basically, reading memoirs feels like coming out of a good therapy session. And funnily enough, there are excellent books by Irvin D. Yalom just on this concept of accompanying through the written word a therapy journey that most likely mirrors your own thoughts and fear: Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy.
The title story of the collection remains a favorite of mine in particular since it touches upon the concept of obsessive love versus healthy love, which, boy, did I need to hear that at the time.
“Perhaps the function of the obsession was simply to provide intimacy: it bonded her to another—but not to a real person, to a fantasy.”
At the time of this revelation, not a lot of memoirs were out in the bookish world so I ventured over into family stories which granted me much of the same, plus delicious drama.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
The intricately thought out sequences that move this book still hinder me speechless. At the core of Little Fires Everywhere lies a tale of motherhood and love. I was especially in awe of the way Celeste Ng can characterize such specific components within each figure that we meet; everyone stood out as their own person through this intense character-study. And ever since I read this particular passage below that transcends words; I can never look the same at the subtlety in the growing relationship between a mother and her child without hearing this echoed in my mind.
“It had been a long time since her daughter had let her be so close. Parents, she thought, learned to survive touching their children less and less. As a baby Pearl had clung to her; she’d worn Pearl in a sling because whenever she’d set her down, Pearl would cry. There’d scarcely been a moment in the day when they had not been pressed together. As she got older, Pearl would still cling to her mother’s leg, then her waist, then her hand, as if there were something in her mother she needed to absorb through the skin. Even when she had her own bed, she would often crawl into Mia’s in the middle of the night and burrow under the old patchwork quilt, and in the morning they would wake up tangled, Mia’s arm pinned beneath Pearl’s head, or Pearl’s legs thrown across Mia’s belly. Now, as a teenager, Pearl’s caresses had become rare—a peck on the cheek, a one-armed, half-hearted hug—and all the more precious because of that. It was the way of things, Mia thought to herself, but how hard it was. The occasional embrace, a head leaned for just a moment on your shoulder, when what you really wanted more than anything was to press them to you and hold them so tight you fused together and could never be taken apart. It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core, and all.”
The audience needs more books from the author.
I would love to know in the comments below if you have any similar bookish quotes that have helped you in any way that you would like to share.
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