There have been many, many times over the years that I’ve wished that I read something when I was younger, or that it had been released in time for me to read it at a certain age. Some books are just so poignant that you know your younger self would have benefited greatly from it, whether it’s because the message was right or the magic would have appealed more. This week’s That Artsy Reader Girl topic is something I think about all the time, and I’m even more excited to share this list because it’s going to look a lot different than usual.
I feel like a lot of these are going to sound very odd because who actually wishes they’d read The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighierhi at a specific time in their life? I feel like most people probably read at least Inferno in either high school or college, if they’re following the literature track, but does anyone ever look back and think I really wish I’d read the entire Divine Comedy during my Shakespeare semester? I love my life so much. I’m pretty sure I first read Inferno during college. At least, Goodreads tells me it was 2013, though I’m not 100% convinced. That would have been my third year of college, and that seems late in the game for me to first be reading Dante. I didn’t read Purgatorio and Paradiso until last year, though, and boy oh boy, do I wish that I’d read all three during my Shakespeare semester. I was already a pretentious asshole that year, and I’d convinced my professor to let me write a paper comparing Cleopatra to Lucifer (I am forever going to mourn the loss of all my college papers because what I wouldn’t give to read that again now), so I was primed and ready to view the Comedy as the gay, heretical, Satan-friendly piece that it truly is.
I probably got about twenty pages into Secrets for the Mad by Dodie Clark before I was wishing desperately that I could travel back in time to my high school self and plead with her to read this. It would have been so powerful to know, truly, that I wasn’t alone, that there were other people out there who felt exactly like I did, that those people had gone on to find success and start the journey of loving themselves. There was not a single thing that I did not hate about myself growing up, and this book would have literally changed my life.
While Dodie was my high school book, Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me by Lily Collins was my college book, and I’m still looking for that post-college, late-20s, help I’m dying book. Danielle Dulsky has done a lot for me in my late 20s, but I need one similar to Dodie & Lily Collins because damn, this would have rocked the foundation of my world in college. It’s such a light, breezy read that the topics it covers are sometimes shocking in how gentle they are, but I needed that in college, and this book is another instance of realizing I wasn’t alone, that someone incredibly well-known was experiencing these kinds of things, too, and still managing to live a wonderful life.
Honestly, most of these books are ones that I wish I’d read in college, and most of that is because English major get out my way Mary would have DIED over them. You Must Change Your Life: The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin by Rachel Corbett is no exception. I was already in love with Rilke (thanks, Stiefvater) and slooooooowly making my way through his entire collection of poetry, which took me literal years to do because I was so sad to leave him behind, and while I loved having this as an adult, I would have loved even more to have read it as a student. It is one of the few nonfiction books ever that I’ve really wanted to reread, and I definitely think I would have reread it as an adult after first reading it in college if I’d had it back then. It’s just the exact kind of thing I would have loved while studying all my favorite dead white men.
I’m glad these two ended up together. It’s just very fitting. I think pretty much everyone goes through a miserable period in their life, and mine was from my second year of middle school to about my third year in high school? So, from age 12 to probably 15. I had no hope in myself, in the world, or in whatever big grand plan God had for me. At the time, though I was starting to question Christianity, I was still actively practicing it. The whole telling your kids that you’re disappointed in them if they have questions about the religion you forced them into before they were old enough to make a decision is a whole different post in and of itself, one I will probably never publicly write because it is a deep wound for me, but had I discovered Tibetan Buddhism or just literally the possibility of anything else besides “you’re going to hell if you don’t obey God with no questions asked”, I might have not been so hateful for half of my life? I wish like anything that The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by the Dalai Lama & Desmond Tutu and Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World’s Religions Can Come Together by the Dalai Lama had been on my radar in my early teenage years. Heck, just my whole teenage years because I didn’t discover Tibetan Buddhism until my second year in college, and the couple of years just before it were really fucking hard.
This is an incredibly heavy and controversial topic for the middle of a top ten Tuesday, I realize, but it’s at the center of my very being. Being told that the saddest day of someone’s life was the day you officially renounced a religion you never made a decision about being part of is just–I’m never going to forget that. Being constantly forced to participate in conversations where people want to try to “bring you back to the faith” and “reintroduce you to God” is something that literally haunts me. It’s gotten better over the years, but if you know me in real life, you know that I have a very complicated relationship with Christianity. I think it’s fascinating, and I often study it like a scholar might–objectively, from afar, and treating the Bible like a classical text rather than a nonfiction. But I also have deeply rooted personal issues with it, and I truly believe that a lot of the suffering I went through over the course of those eight teenage years could have maybe not been solved, but massively alleviated if I’d had these two books in my corner.
Anyway. I didn’t really mean to go down this route today, but here we are, staying true to character.
Oh look, two poets hanging out! I Am Her Tribe by Danielle Doby is another book that I think I really would have enjoyed in college. It would have been a powerful way to realize how inherently badass I am, and I think it would have been a really nice complement to Tibetan Buddhism, which I was beginning to study in college. This is such a small, but impactful book, and I know it would have made me go woah several times.
Annnnnd, the last of pretentious English major Mary would have carried this around all the time is Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. I honestly don’t know why I didn’t read this until later? I 100% would have stuck this in my bag anytime I left my room in college for no other reason than to be like, oh this? Rilke? Yeah, he’s my favorite. UGH, I’m rolling my eyes at myself so hard right now, but college!Mary would have enjoyed this thoroughly.
And this is just the last college one in general. As I’ve said above, I was a pretty miserable child, and I think I’ve only released that misery in the last few years, but I would have saved myself so much damn trouble if I’d just had Becoming Dangerous: Witchy Femmes, Queer Conjurers, and Magical Rebels by Various in college. Not only would I have been able to realize my own inherent feminine power, I would have just been able to come to terms with all the things I love about myself so much faster. Honestly, this is probably the most fitting book for that mid-20s space.
To Love and Let Go by Rachel Brathen is a bonus on this list because it came at the exact right time in my life. Two years after my best friend of twelve years told me that he never wanted to speak to me again, this book came out. I knew that it was going to be difficult to read because it was about the loss of a friend, but I don’t think I quite realized what an effect it was going to have on me. I’ve never read something that felt quite so explicitly like active healing as this book. I also don’t know if I’ll ever really be able to explain the experience of reading it. It moved literal mountains for me, and I am going to be forever grateful that it came into my life when it did.