The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe book club at my school, which I advise, elected to read Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower for its first book. We plan to go see the movie after we finish the book. I had wanted to read the book for a long time.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary novel about high school freshman Charlie’s adjustment to high school, including finding friends, his first crush, and dealing with some difficult issues. Early in the book, Charlie explains he is writing these letters to an anonymous reader because he heard the reader is a good person. Charlie has recently lost a good friend to suicide and is worried about high school, especially finding friends. At one of the first football games, he befriends Patrick, a boy in his shop class, and Patrick’s stepsister Sam, both of whom are seniors. As he grows closer to the two and becomes part of their circle, he learns how to stop standing on the fringes of life and “participate.”

One of the most interesting aspects of the book to me was that it was set in 1991-1992, which was my sophomore year of college, and was particularly memorable. It was my favorite year of college, and consequently, one of my favorite years of life. I was 20 for most of that school year. What a great age to be. And over half my life ago, now. đŸ˜„Â  I spent a lot of time that year listening to some of the new music coming out of Seattle, as well as some older (but new to me) favorites from the Pretenders, the Replacements, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, REM, and the Rolling Stones. One of my favorite parts of this book was the mixtape Charlie gave Patrick. I remember spending hours making mixtapes for my friends. You can make Spotify playlists in a matter of minutes. It’s not the same.

The book deals honestly with issues such as homosexuality, casual sex, drug use, suicide, abortion, and sexual abuse. In fact, if I have one criticism for the book, it’s that the entire kitchen sink of major teen issues was thrown at Charlie, and I’m not sure it’s common for most teens to experience every bad thing that can happen. However, I also admit I was sheltered. But still.

I can see why this book would appeal to teens, and I really enjoyed it myself. I found Charlie to be a likable character, though the book reminded me a great deal of The Catcher in the Rye. Charlie is not quite as friendless or annoying as Holden (though I admit I feel more empathy for Holden than annoyance with him). I have to admit I had trouble seeing him as a wallflower. It seemed to me as if he were a keen observer, but he participated plenty, in my opinion. Much more than I did as a teen—which could be why I had trouble seeing him on the sidelines of life.

I am looking forward to seeing the movie with the book club. I hope it’s good!

Rating: ★★★★☆
Fall Foliage trip to New Hampshire 2011

Sunday Salon: Book Club

Fall Foliage trip to New Hampshire 2011

I get to live in a place that looks like this in the fall. How lucky am I? I didn’t take this picture, and it’s actually New Hampshire rather than Massachusetts. The leaves have just begun to turn here. Right now there is a very soft rain falling outside. It’s perfect weather for curling up with a cup of tea and a book.

I recently became the new advisor of the Book Club at my school, and as you might expect, it’s full of smart girls. I wish we could have talked more boys into joining. If they were smart, they’d have joined if for no other reason than that they can meet girls. For their first book, the girls picked Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The plan is to read half the book by our next meeting on Thursday, and then finish the other half for the following week. Then we are going to go see the movie. I am more excited than I can say about the Book Club. For one thing, it’s a proper book club. The girls are serious. They love books. It makes me so happy. If you have ever been an English teacher and tried to get students to love books, then you understand how I feel. If you feel like the world would be a better place if only more people were readers, then you also understand how I feel.

I have also become something of a go-to person for YA in the library, and in the next few weeks, I plan to request a big stack of books for the library. I believe that the school library should be driven by student interest as much as by curriculum. Certainly teachers should request books, but it is my hope that students will also see the library as a place to check out the books they want to read. I will be helping one of our librarians out with a display for Teen Read Week. I am so excited about this role because I’m excited to influence and support our students’ reading. I have been fortunate to hear from parents and former students about my role in their development as a reader, and nothing gives me more pleasure than fostering a love of lifelong reading in a student.

I am about 60 pages into Perks, and so far, what a great book! Charlie, the protagonist, makes a mixtape for his friend Patrick, whom he has drawn as a Secret Santa partner for Christmas. I recreated the playlist minus the Beatles songs, which aren’t in Spotify (I substituted with some cover versions). I shared it with the Book Club girls, so I thought I’d share it with Perks fans here. Take a listen.

Enjoy this glorious fall Sunday!

The Sunday Salon

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

First, the good news is that I was able to generate quite a lot of interest in a book club among the teachers at my school.  They graciously allowed me to select our first book, and I chose Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  It’s a perfect book for book clubs, and I believe I had read as much somewhere, but I’m not sure where.  I was taken by the title.

The book is populated with memorable characters who tell their story through letters.  As this is one of only a handful of epistolary novels I’ve read, I’ll call it a unique storytelling device that works well to reveal the plot.  Much better, in fact, than I think a straight narrative would have because it allows for the otherwise risky device of multiple narrators to work much better.  The novel is the story of a writer named Juliet Ashton, who reminded me of Dorothy Parker.  I’ll be curious to see if my book club members thought of her, too.  By chance, Dawsey Adams, a pig farmer on the Channel Island of Guernsey comes upon one of her books in a used book store, and he enjoys it so much that he writes to her.  Over time, Juliet develops friendships with Dawsey and his friends, who formed the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society during Germany’s occupation of the island during World War II.

Any book focused on a setting ought to leave the reading feeling a desire to visit, and that’s precisely how I felt.  I have never thought even once in my life of going to Guernsey, but just like John Berendt’s characters in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil bring the city of Savannah to life and have caused a cottage industry around tourism related to the book, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn something similar happens to Guernsey; however, increased tourism will likely depend on how popular the book becomes.  My favorite books — the ones I couldn’t put down even if they were not literature with a capial L — were all populated with memorable, realistic characters I wish I could know in real life, and now I have one more book to add to that list.

Book Club Picks and Ideas for the Nightstand

The Book Club Girl shares the top ten book club picks for spring and summer. I read about The Uncommon Reader at Book Group Buzz and thought it sounded interesting, and as a fan of Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue and Life Studies: Stories, I had heard of her most recent work Luncheon of the Boating Party, but I hadn’t read it. I was lucky to be able to use Life Studies in a senior short story seminar course that I teach. This year’s class didn’t like Vreeland as much as last year’s class, interestingly enough. She was an English teacher for 30 years in San Diego, and her web site has handy information for teachers.

Stefanie at So Many Books mentions another book that looks interesting: Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon. This book is a reader’s guide to literary landmarks, from the courthouse that served as the inspiration for the Maycomb County Courthouse in To Kill a Mockingbird to the moors captured so eloquently by the BrontĂ«s.

I am over 200 pages into The Book of Air and Shadows, and I suppose it is too much to hope at this late stage that any of the characters will turn out to be likable after all. However, the storyline does move. I can’t quite say it matches the dearth of characterization exhibited by Dan Brown, but one of my prerequisites for truly enjoying a book is liking a character or at least something about a character. Any character.

If you are a teacher, especially a teacher of writing, and interested in joining a professional development book club, I think we have something going. We are going to read Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle. Lisa Huff, no relation, put together a wiki where we can share our discussion. Consider yourself invited if this book looks like something that interests you.

Book Clubs

I have never truly been in a book club. Not because I don’t want to, but because the opportunity simply hasn’t presented itself. And I really want to be in a book club! I teach literature, and I love it, but sometimes I want to discuss books with grown ups. I love blogging about reading and books here, but the immediate interaction of a discussion is missing. I also enjoyed discussing professional development reading on a forum, but the conversation was sometimes stilted due to the course requirements. I would love to talk about books with a group of people who chose a book to read for pleasure instead of a course requirement.

Any suggestions on getting started?