Are you there books? It’s me, an angsty teenager

Feature Story: Joey Rambles

 

WHEN I was a kid, my favorite person in the world was my uncle.

Looking back, it’s not hard to see why. He lived in Florida, and whenever I visited him, he’d take me to theme parks like Disney World and Busch Gardens. He’d bring me to his woodshop and teach me how to build things like birdhouses or coasters. Best of all, he bought me books all the time.

ALL. THE. TIME. Even when I wasn’t in Florida, he sent me books through the post office. Whenever we received a package that had my name on it and not my parents’, I knew exactly what would be in it. My house became a library thanks to him.

(Although, my aunt might’ve given him a little help in choosing the books.)

Of course that made me become a book lover. But the biggest contribution my uncle gave to my love for stories came in the form of a garden owl statue.

At the front of my uncle’s garden stood a statue of an owl, with gigantic eyes that looked like they were staring at you. This was the first thing that greeted us whenever we went back to his house. My uncle, wisecracker that he was, dead-on convinced me that this owl was real.

He told me that this owl’s name was Ollie, and he told me stories about how every night, Ollie the Owl would come alive and go on all these crazy adventures. Magic would turn him real every midnight, and he’d go flying around the world and make it back just in time before the sun would rise. He even went as far as to make owl noises at 5 a.m. so I’d hear it when I was half-asleep! And then, when I confronted him about it during breakfast, he’d go, “That wasn’t me – that was the owl!”

That was when I knew that stories had the power to connect us, the same way they connected me to my uncle. And the best way to get stories was through books, and so I continued to devour books all through grade school and high school.

Now, high school. This was me at my peak book nerdiness. I was an angsty teenager, and I needed something to distract me from life, and books were just the right fit.

I read a lot of books in high school, which is just crazy to me as an adult. I mean, where the hell did I get all that free time?

After all, most adults don’t get that kind of privilege. We live a lifestyle in which we are busy 24/7. We have work to do, papers to write, deadlines to meet. If we want to read, it’s something we have to actively make time for.

But for all the rose-colored memories that come with remembering how much fun high school was, we tend to forget that high school was actually, like, really boring.

Because of that, I think all teenagers dealt with the boringness of high school in different ways. Some kids hung out and went to Ayala. Some kids watched anime and went to Otaku Fest. Some kids played basketball and went to every single school tournament ever. I, on the other hand, read books and went to National Book Store.

I eventually did make friends from reading books. That’s the great thing about books – they have the power to bring people together. I even got some of my guy friends to start liking books. (Hey, why do boys never read? That’s a question for another time, I guess.)

And every single day, we’d talk about books. We understood each other in a way the other kids didn’t. Literature was our secret language.

But the friends in our group weren’t just us. A lot of our friends were made out of paper. The Little Prince felt just as much a part of our conversations as me, or Katniss Everdeen, or Ponyboy Curtis.

That was the other great thing about books. Most of them felt real. When I read a book, there was no separation between me and the words. The characters weren’t as the actors portrayed them, they were as how I perceived them. And that always felt more personal to me.

Sometimes, the characters felt so much like my friends that I’d try to act like them. Right after reading Stargirl, I found myself collecting newspaper fillers. Right after reading Speechless, I found myself trying (and failing) to keep a vow of silence. Right after reading Charlotte’s Web, I found myself wanting a pet pig.

My parents didn’t completely get my book obsession, and they didn’t try to, either. They were just glad I had something to keep me out of trouble. But oh, how wrong they were. Books weren’t keeping me out of trouble, they were the cause of my troubles. I was once reprimanded by my teacher because I was reading Neil Gaiman during her class. I once snuck away from home just so I could buy the sequel to Divergent. I’ve lost count of all the times I stayed up late on a school night just to finish a book.

But this wasn’t unique to me. None of these were unique to me. Tons of you reading have probably read in class or acted like fictional characters or stayed up late to finish a book.

But as a kid, I didn’t know that. I didn’t think I was better than other kids for being well read. I just thought I was different.

And when you’re different in high school, for whatever reason, that is bad. You are bad. You are weird and an outcast and you will never be accepted by your peers. You ought to be ashamed.

I was a very lonely kid growing up. But when I read books, I felt a little less lonely. These characters understood me and I saw myself in them. Their loneliness and confusion closely resembled mine. Every book I read sent me a message, and that message was, you are not alone.

My uncle died when I was 15. I’m still sad about it. But I’m sure he’ll be happy to know that I’m still reading – and that his stupid owl statue is still alive, except now it’s in my garden, and it continues to stare at me when I walk out of the gate every morning.

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