Wow, my memory sucks. I know there’s a reason why I picked up one of my all-time favorite books The Perks of Being a Wallflower again, but I can’t for the life of me remember now. And I only started re-reading it a few days ago.
On that same theme, I can’t quite remember why I picked the book up in the first place. I know I was in high school and saw commercials for it on MTV (it was published by MTV Books, which I think is now defunct), but I can’t remember specifically why I bought it. I do remember a young lady named Emily (not my Em) being involved, she either read it first and suggested it to me or vice versa. I guess it’s not really that important.
Anyway, I’ve now read the book twice as I very rarely read books more than once because it can take me a long time to read and I usually have a stack of new books waiting to be read, but something drew me to reading it again. It actually took me longer to read it this time than that first time in high school. Then I read the whole 213 page book in a night, this time it took me a couple days thanks to me being an old man who falls asleep before midnight on the weekdays now.
But damn, this is an amazing book. I’ve never read something that so accurately captures how I felt in high school (and still now to some extent) without describing a single event I experienced in high school. Our main character, Charlie, goes through some pretty crazy shit during his first year of high school, good and bad, and, even though I didn’t go through most of these things myself, I can relate to the emotion behind them. I also used to have mild panic attacks (at least that’s what I self-diagnosed them as in high school) which the author Stephen Chbosky captures perfectly.
I don’t want to get into too many details about the actual story, which is told through letters that Charlie writes to someone he doesn’t really know. All we get are Charlie’s descriptions to this mystery person about his life, friends, family and all the trials and tribulations that come from living in a modern society. I really think there’s something in here that everyone can relate to, unless you somehow had a perfect high school experience, but I’m guessing if you’re reading a blog, you didn’t.
I will note that, the first time I read the book I was somewhat obsessed with trying to figure out who Charlie really was, but I had to keep reminding myself it’s just a book. I was even trying to figure out how I could get a look at the Penn State football team roster for the 1991 season to try and spot his brother. I don’t remember actually doing that, but that’s how well Chbosky fleshes his character out, you feel like he’s real. You worry about him when things are bad and feel warm when things are good.
A few things struck me this time around. I know that I liked this book when I read it, but I’m wondering how much influence it had over me without me even knowing it. First off, I kind of think like Charlie a little which weirds me out. I’m not sure if my train of thought chugged along on similar tracks before I read the book or after, but the whole back and forth thought patterns, sometimes having trouble staying on topic felt very familiar.
I also share with Charlie an affection for literature, even though I’ve gotten away from it since graduating from college. Bill, his English teacher, gives him extra books to read and do reports on because he sees Charlie’s potential. A lot of these are classic standards that everyone’s supposed to have read, but I haven’t, so I might be checking a few out of the library from Ghostbusters if I can get a library card (I word a few blocks from there now).
Speaking of books, there’s a very quick mention of the book The Mayor of Castro Street which Charlie gives to a friend of his after the friend comes out to him. The funny thing about this is that, years later, when Rickey and I were roommates, we went to the huge outlet mall near where we used to live (and where Em and I live now). It’s mostly upscale stores that didn’t offer anything we were interested in, but we did find a book store that was going out of business in a far away branch of the mall. I ended up buying a stack of books there that, so far, have all been fantastic and fascinating, including The Mayor of Castro Street. I finally got around to reading it a year or so later on my honeymoon and was very moved by it. I thought I had never heard of it, but maybe some small part of me remembered it from Perks. I dunno.
One very small thing that I noticed this time around is that when Charlie refers to his Aunt Helen the capitalization of the “a” changes over the course of the book. Being an editor I was impressed by this small bit of business. Charlie starts off by always capitalizing the “a” even when it’s inaccurate, but as he goes through the school year and learns from Bill, his English teacher, he stops using it incorrectly. After a certain point he’s mastered that rule, until he’s high and/or freaking out and things get a little dicey grammatically as you might expect.
The last thing I wanted to mention is that I discovered a new character in this read-through, that of the person getting the letters. The only thing we find out about him or her is that Charlie heard a girl in his class mention this person to some of her friends. Charlie lays it out in the first line of the book: “I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try and sleep with a person at that party even though you could have.” Can you imagine getting these kinds of letters from someone? I’d be fascinated and worried all at the same time, especially during the lengthier gaps after sadder letters. I think I’d go a little crazy. So, I guess, this time, instead of relating to Charlie the whole time I kind of related to the reader of these letters. How would I have felt in 1991 and 1992 if, out of the blue, I started getting letters like this and then they suddenly stopped before the kid’s sophomore year? How did this person feel? How would you feel?
The only other people I know for sure who have read Perks are Rickey and Em, because I asked her too. She asked how my emo book was when I was re-reading it, to which I responded “It’s pre-emo.” But in my head that turned into “primo.” So, who else has read it? What are your thoughts?
By the way, Best of the Best will be a recurring post where I talk about my favorite things. Also, I just remembered why I read Perks! Dan Trachtenberg of Totally Rad Show fame talked about it on last week’s episode when they did a tour of his place! Take that really early onset Alzheimer’s!