Books that stay with us

We all have those certain books in the library Rolodex of our mind that, no matter how long it has been, stay with us. They are present when we pick up a new volume, present when we discuss even remotely related subjects. The power of written words is amazing, and so are these books.

When I was in high school, all incoming freshmen were required to take a reading class (essentially, English with nothing but reading assignments). One of the books we read was Go Ask Alice by Anonymous. First published in 1971, this book has been challenged repeatedly and has been in the top ten of the ALA’s Banned Books list for years.Looking back on it now, I am grateful that our teacher included such a staunchly challenged book as part of our curriculum. Go Ask Alice is a diary entry type read in which our 15 year old unnamed narrator encounters drugs and sex and some truly terrifying situations. Reading this book as a young impressionable youth (and being the same age as Anonymous), I remember wondering, are parties really like this? Can people really be this mean and scary? What an eye opening read. It continues to astound me that…several…years later, Go Ask Alice is still so prevalent in my mind. Whether it swayed me from going to parties or scared me to be straight edge is not the ultimate point. What is the point? That a small 200 page book has taken up permanent residence on the shelf in my mind and that is a powerful thing.

Another tome that has stuck with me over time is House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. I use the word “tome” for this 2000 publication because it is indeed “a book that is especially large” (Merriam-Webster). For those who haven’t had the pleasure, House of Leaves is an incredibly layered, hard to read piece that took me, no joke, an entire year to read. This time frame is contributed to only minutely by the size of the text, but is primarily due to the fact that it is so difficult to read! House of Leaves is written in a very unconventional and layered way, dealing with multiple narrators and alternating between storylines. Then there is the content itself. A door appears inside the Navidson house and on the other side of this door is, well, nothing. Except nothing is vast and and deep and possibly housing a monster. This story of the Navidson family is being chronicled and pieced together by an elderly man who dies in the first pages of the book, Zampano, whose work is discovered and continued by the drugged up tattoo assistant Johnny. See why it’s a hard read? But it’s not just how the narrative is composed that made this book stick in my mind. When Navidson and his team go into this abyss it sucks at their souls and I could feel mine being weighed upon just as heavily. When Johnny is compiling the story and starts to wonder if he is going crazy, you yourself wonder if that shadow that just passed your window was that of a tree outside or something much more sinister. House of Leaves is written in multiple languages, is occasionally written backwards and upside down and has more footnotes than it has pages. I felt different upon finishing this book. Mentally and physically.

These two works are just a toe dip in the pond of literature that stays with us long after we close its covers. What are some pieces that have stayed with you over the years? Name the first book that pops into your mind in the comments!

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