Work in progress, which I probably won’t bother to finish. Turns out most of these books are “meaningless” because they were written for teenagers. Not that that should stop you from reading them, but depending on your attitude, you could also interpret this as a list of gift tips for someone younger than you.
My bedroom is full of books. When a new acquantance enters the room, sits down on the bed or floor, and stares in awe at the beat-up, but charming bookshelves filled to the point of overflowing with paperbacks, I know it’s the start of a beautiful friendship. Yet, no matter how literary, intellectual and smart this person may be, if it’s a girl, the first book she will pull out of the bookshelf is The Little Book of Shoes. And who can blaim her? This little picture book has shoes made of dollar bills, shoes with heels so high that they push the ankles in front of the toes and force the knees to bend, “invisible” shoes that are only a heel and a sticky sole that feet stick to, shoes for traditional Chinese bound feet and white silk slippers too delicate for walking in. Yes, it’s meaningless – and a bit degrading since it’s based on the idea that women are addicted to spending money on articles of clothing that we really can’t wear. But it’s fun!
This is not to say that Cosmopolitan is a literary experience or that everyone should be able to retell the life story of Manolo Blahnik. Actually, I can’t understand why anyone would want to subscribe to any magazine where every issue is a rewrite of the same articles (and this is true of most “Women’s Magazines”). The point is: many of the books that I would honestly have to count among my favorites, are meaningless or obscure or both. Although I admire Tolkien and Hemingway, my life wouldn’t be the same without all the ordinary, mediocre novels I read as a child and young teen. These days, I have to prioritize and make the most out of my time etc, but as a kid, I read the same books from my local library over and over (or else, I told the librarian, I would have been bored out of my mind.) And I have discovered that when everyone else loves a book, I’ll probably like it, but I might still prefer discovering my own unknown treasures. So here’s a short list of books I recommend, even if there are several reasons why they were never destined for literary greatness:
The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants by Ann Brashares – actually a novel that grew into a trilogy after achieving commercial success. It’s on this list for meaninglessness, not obscurity, because it’s the story of four teenage girls and the cover is pink (at least for the British edition, not in the pictures on Amazon). Most of these types of books are written for preteens and don’t have any connection to reality. This one should be read after age 14, and is surprisingly realistic and believable. Buy it for your younger sister or daughter – then read it yourself to understand her and her friends better. (I haven’t seen the movie version yet. Until I do: read the book first. Never judge a novel by its movie version.)
The Woman in the Wall by Patrice Kindle – probably obscure, probably because of wierdness. My dad bought me this book because it looked weird. It’s the story of a little girl who is shy to the point of being more or less invisible. In an effort to escape having to go to school, she builds a small hidden apartment inside her family’s large house and moves in. After wondering for a few years where she is, her family nearly forgets her, while she watches them from inside the walls and steals food at night. In her early teens, she finds a note slipped into a knothole and starts to think about moving out…
Doppler by Erlend Loe – Norwegian. Meaningless and weird, but funny. I would never have read it if it weren’t for the recomendations from friends, because I bear a grudge agianst the author, Erlend Loe. A guy named Doppler moves into the woods to escape the world. When an overpowering urge to eat sugar brings him creeping to a nearby house, his wherabouts are discovered, and other people start moving into his own personal wilderness. Please don’t read any comment on society into this book, it’s just laugh-out-loud funny. And it bears no resemblance in style to The Woman in the Wall.
Klara – Norwegian. Written by _________ when she was 15 (?) years old. I read it when I was about 12, and disliked it strongly. For some unknown reason, I read it again at 16, and realized why someone must have published it: it describes the feeling of being in tenth grade and feeling too old and too young at once while time seems to stand still and still slip by too quickly. Apparantly (and obviously) it’s much easier to describe fifteen-year-olds accurately when you are 15 yourself. The same goes for _______________ by then 14 _____________. Other than that, neither of these books is very good.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine – a more logical version of Cinderella: Ella is bewitched so that she is unable to disobey orders. “If someone told me to chop off my own head, I would have to do it.” It’s an interesting experiment; I can just imagine the author thinking: “What would the consequences be if someone had to obey every order?” The story takes place in a typical fairy tale setting (imagined time and place similar to Europe during the Middle Ages, but with giants and fairy godmothers), but just imagine what it would be like to be bewitched in this way today, with modern advertising: Every time a commercial told you to run out and buy something, you would actually have to do it. (They made a probably horrible movie out of this story too. They keep doing that to my favorite stories. Probably the worst example is Cheaper by the Dozen. Please read the book. Please don’t see the new movie.)
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