Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Perks of Reading

Sam and Charlie...The Perks of Being a Wallflower cast photo from Tumblr

I've grown tired of pretending I had the best say on what books one should read. Besides, I've been educated to keep an open mind and to always allow ones self to explore different things. Months ago, I've been hooked and picky on books that I add to my small library and most of the time it turns out that the coolest looking and sounding books that I pick, end up collecting dust on my shelf. I told myself I better drop the act that I had some literary radar for each and every good book out there. It is, anyway a matter of personal preference and it shouldn't be the way that just because you think it's good, it is actually good. 

There are way too many qualifications for a good book, had you asked other people. You've got writing style, content, what those 500 plus plus pages mean are school-ready-sounding. Others consider books with prestigious titles or affiliations a measure of their value. I remember my Western Literature professor telling us that how a New York Times Best Seller doesn't validate any literary weight for a work of literature. But anyway, what I've learned from reading a good amount of books is that you can never really say a book is gold or if it has any worth until you really, really read it.

It does hold true though, I believe that the real measure of a good book is when it touches humanity. Any facet, angle, side to humanity that a book successfully shares is definitely of great value. No contentions here, an example of one is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It may be my favorite, but the reason why kids still study this is because it shows you something about the human soul, something about love and how far a man could go just for it. 

So, imagine my relief to have finally understood the magic that is behind The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. A year or two ago, I saw people tweeting quotes from the book or how they're reading it and stuff and automatically, had never given the 1997 published title a chance or the time of day. I always thought "Oh how emo...The title alone says it all." And I thought I knew better.

While I was having the hardest of time reading this 70s-published espionage novel---which is part of a trilogy with its first novel already on film like Perks, I talked to Jemma (thank you soooo much for lending me the book Brit!) about books and she's mentioned Perks as an interesting read. So I borrowed it. I told myself I better start widening my list of books and not have them restricted to just some highly-affected list of titles. It was also my chance of learning why the book had such an impact on people.

It took me a total of 2 and a half days to finish it. What it did to me was put me down. I've grown quickly attached to (or in better terms, "sympathized with") Charlie because that is exactly how it goes in my head. How he thinks, is how I think at times. If you haven't read it, it's basically all of Charlie's thoughts and some dialogue but is mostly the workings of his mind. It felt heavy for me because in some ways, I could relate to Charlie and some of the things he's gone through. It is also pretty obvious that how his world has been shaped by events and the people that come before him consume most of the novel, driving and shaping its main character to eventually, breakdown...

Still I pressed on despite a few little (I consider) problems in the story, such as all the way-too-cool music for me and things to that effect and felt rewarded that after the tiring and slightly depressing experience of Charlie's world, you get something hopeful in the end. 

I do applaud Chbosky for the writing style he's gifted with. I like how the story's written in letter-format and you have no idea who exactly Charlie's writing to. Until you just get so caught up in the story, you feel like you're the recipient of all such precious and dark secrets of the main character. In the end, what you've got is a book that most young people could easily relate to, lots of chunks of quotes and phrases that are memorable  and basically a touching story of growing up, learning to love one's self and the people around you and of hope.

Couldn't say I loved the book, but it was definitely worth my time. No big words here to conquer, no lofty ideas to crane your necks to and I guess these things contribute to how young people have fallen in love with it. It's straight-to-the-point but gives you enough room to think and reread a few pages to fully grasp the story. 

What touched me the most, among the many things I've learned from Perks is the simple truth that we all want and need validation. It's not selfish, it's just how we're made and when Charlie wrote about that, it was extremely simple (also timely for myself and for my best friend Tj, alam mo yan) it almost wouldn't make as much an impact quoted compared to having read the entire book, but I'll be quoting it anyway:

"When I was driving home, I thought about the word “special.” And I thought the last person who said that about me was my aunt Helen. I was very grateful to have heard it again. Because I guess we all forget sometimes. And I think everyone is special in their own way. I really do."

This, I consider a good book. I suddenly felt deeply ashamed of how disgusting and pretentious a reader I was before this book, judging it based on superficial grounds. After all, the perks and beauties of reading is the many different worlds it opens up to you.

While titles, authors, New York Best Seller-titles and everything else contribute to a book, these things do not, at all, perfectly sum up its value. I'm looking at so many books I need to read this year, others the coolest-looking and sounding I've purchased and others seemingly boring titles I feel I'd sleep on, and am already trying to reserve judgments only for after devouring each one.

I suggest you pick up Perks if you're interested to understand the love it has gained. I also suggest you watch the movie after reading the book. I sure am catching it once it hits cinemas.

So far so good, have finished my first book for 2012 and I've tons more to go. Wish me luck on my reading project (because I am this close to believing I'd be published---finally and hopefully, as an author this year. So reading is training and mandatory for me).


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