When the late-November gloom starts to set in and the stress of picking next term's classes begins to gnaw at our work ethic, we sometimes find ourselves in need of a reminder that there is more to life than just stress and school.
A moral pick-me-up, if you will.
Sometimes this reassurance can come in the form of a relaxing night with friends, or maybe a visit home to put things back in perspective. This week, I found it wrapped in a little book called The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
The movie was all the rave last year, starring actors Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller, but I was curious about the literature that had inspired it. Written in 1999 by Stephen Chbosky, the book is a coming-of-age narrative told in the form of anonymous letters to an unknown person written by a boy under the pseudonym "Charlie". He introduces himself in the first letter by explaining that he just needs someone to talk to and doesn't want to be found by the recipient of the letter.
And so he starts to write about himself, about his family, and eventually about the friends he makes and the things that happen to them. The letters serve almost as a diary, letting the reader follow Charlie through the course of an entire year - from the day before his first day of high school to the end of the following summer. Quietly observant of everything that goes on around him, he understands people without passing judgement. Each letter is an analysis of something that has happened or a thought that he's had, pedantically beginning with "Dear Friend" and ending with "Love always, Charlie".
The first letter consists of Charlie's reflections on the suicide of his friend Michael. At first Charlie's writing is distracted and almost childish, much like an actual diary would probably read like if you published it as a book. He has trouble focusing on what he's trying to say and just jots things down as they pop into his head. This can be frustrating at first as a mature reader but over the course of the year as Charlie changes, so does his writing.
He meets Sam and Patrick who come to be his best friends, and Bill, his English teacher who quickly realizes what no one else seems to notice that underneath Charlie's shy and quiet exterior lies a unique and intelligent mind. He comes into his own as a friend, student, and as a writer. He also develops a great taste in music, which culminates into a wonderful mixtape that he makes for Patrick.
Without giving too much away, I'll say that the book isn't the typical teen novel happy ending, which made it all the more realistic. Life is messy, and things don't always go the way we plan. But somehow The Perks of Being a Wallflower still leaves you with a feeling that the world is bigger than your problems, and that you're part of something more than just yourself.
The book also provided some great reading suggestions as Charlie is himself a class-A bookworm. The following were some of Charlie's favorites:
On the Road - Jack Kerouac
Naked Lunch - William S. Burroughs
Walden - Henry David Thoreau
The Stranger - Albert Camus
The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand
This Side of Paradise - F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Separate Peace - John Knowles
The weekly nook
On a whim I found myself in the Ford School of Public Policy earlier this week, and let me tell you, they've got some pretty great reading couches. The main lobby on the first floor is a big open space naturally lit by enormous windows, scattered with leather and soft fabric armchairs underneath two chandeliers. Complete with a tasteful portrait of Gerald R. Ford himself, it's a quiet and relaxing space. If only it were open on the weekends.