The Young Reader is on Her Own

Last Saturday, James Wallace Harris asked on Book Riot what 12 books one might give one’s 12-year-old self. I have been pondering this all week. When I was 12 (as far as I can remember) I was graduating from middle grade fantasy novels to ever-larger adult fantasy novels. My English teachers in junior high would occasionally give me a taste of the more literary stuff but, as far as I was concerned, I wanted magic, dragons, and questing. My reading tastes are far different as a 35-year-old woman—as you can probably tell from the blog.

I finally came up with two books that I might recommend to my 12-year-old self today. Based on what I know about myself now, I think I could have used How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran, and Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. The thing that has kept me wondering about this question is whether I would have been ready for these books when I was 12 or even a young teen.

When I reflect on who I am as a reader and a person, I think of my personality as a slowly accreting collection of ideas, characters, climaxes and resolutions, concepts, and so on. Everything I’ve read has contributed to who I am and how I think. If I had jumped the mental queue, so to speak, by reading either of my two choices I know that I wouldn’t have appreciated them. In the case of How to Be a Woman, I wouldn’t have appreciated it because I hadn’t yet experienced decades of articles telling me what the “ideal woman” was or because I hadn’t yet read books about women destroyed by the idea of being perfect. In the case of Man’s Search for Meaning, I wouldn’t have had enough life experience or historical knowledge to understand what Frankl was trying to express.

I suppose I could suggest books more suited to the age group but there are two problems with that. First, apart from a few children’s/middle grade/young adult titles, I don’t remember much of what I read before college. Second, stories at that time were just stories. I wanted high adventure, remember. I didn’t know how to read to glean lasting meaning from a story.

All that said, I would recommend both How to Be a Woman and Man’s Search for Meaning to myself as a 19-year-old just starting her freshman year. I would have needed these books then.


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