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Over the course of my youth, I liked, nay, LOVED some SUSPECT books.

I’m not going to say they were bad books, or that I was an idiot for liking them, but looking back, boy do they make me cringe.

It’s like I was setting myself up for social failure. Not just by being a reader in the first place, but by gravitating towards the type of books that could be described as “Misanthropy for Beginners.”

Join me on a trip down memory lane, to learn exactly what was going on inside the mind of the young reader as he poisoned himself with the spoiled fruits of knowledge.

Age 8 – Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

This book is practically about me. Think about it. I go fishing every summer, and even though I’m too afraid to put the minnow on the hook, other than that, I’m pretty much the main character. Yeah. I’m lonely AND adventurous. I was by myself for over 5 hours in the woods behind the optometrist’s office, once. I catch crawdads. IN A JAR. Plus, I’m way better at Oregon Trail than my classmates. I’m a born survivor.

Age 10 – Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Wow this book was crazy. And kinda scary. I’m just like Clarisse but not a girl and also just like the Fireman. I can be like more than one thing (because I’m complicated). My mom said the book is about a dystopian world, which I looked up in the dictionary (the big one). It means a make-believe place where everything is bad and there are a lot of rules. Um, sounds like Wanamaker Elementary to me! I had to hide the book from Mrs. Bush because always she’s out to get me. I bet she’d take it and burn it, like I’m sure she did with the werewolf stories I was writing because I was done with math. She’s a B-I-T-C-H (which is a female hound!).

Age 12 – The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Everyone’s a fucking phony. I know because I read this book before they even assigned it to the fucking phonies in my class. Like, two years before. When they finally read it, they probably won’t even realize how phony they are. But I’m not a phony. I’m real. I’m brave. I say shit and damn and fuck and even write it in notebooks. The part where the guy tried to kiss the other guy or whatever was weird. I definitely didn’t read that part in the bathroom.

Age 14 – The Stranger by Albert Camus

Sometimes things just HAPPEN, Mr. Miller. For example, one day you’re walking on the beach, or you’re on the playground shooting baskets, and suddenly you just kill a man, or ALLEGEDLY ignore a fire drill. So what does banning me from a field trip and making me write a report on the types of lizards I can find in Wabaunsee County prove? How does it discipline me? Does the punishment fit the crime? Does any punishment fit any crime? I mean, is there even REALLY such a thing as consequences?

Age 16 – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

You know, kids in this suck-ass school just don’t wanna THINK about LIFE. They don’t wanna think about how stuff is made. Or how the small parts that make up machines and cities and forests and mountain ranges are this metaphor for, like the UNIVERSE, or whatever. But I see through the false shit, man. I see the bigger picture. How there’s a Phaedrus in all of us. Everything is, like, EVERYTHING and it feels like I’m the only one in this goddamn dead place filled with goddamn dead knowledge who’s trying to talk about experience and meaning on a goddamn cosmic level.

Age 18 – A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

What the fuck does it take to show you motherfuckers, what does it fucking take what do you want how much do you want because I am willing and I’ll stand before you and I’ll raise my arms and give you my chest and throat and wait, and I’ve been so old for so long, for you, for you, I want it fast and right through me—Oh do it, do it motherfuckers, do it do it you fuckers finally, finally, finally… I get to go to college.

Gordon St. Raus

Gordon St. Raus peaked at 15 and is mostly held together by masking tape.

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