Jacob Have I Loved
I remember afternoons stretched out on my grandparents couch, reading through an entire stack of library books in a matter of days. I remember sitting out recess in favor of reading at the edges of the playground. I remember (or rather remember the retelling) of my cousins’ grandmother taking me aside and telling me I could go read in her room to escape my spirited family.
But what I don’t really remember is what I read. I wish I did. But most of the books I read as a girl have left me. I loved mysteries, even then. I know I read so many Mary Higgens Clark and Patricia Cornell books. But the stand alone books, I don’t really remember them. Except for a handful.
When I was in middle school, or maybe even elementary school, a librarian suggested I read Jacob Have I Loved (written by Katherine Paterson, the author of Bridge to Terabithia). I read it. And reread it. And then read it again. I clearly remember going to the middle school book fair (which, how great were those?! I used to pour over the store list for weeks before the sale) and buying a copy of the book, which I still have today. Rereading books is not something I normally do, but this book was the exception.
The main character, Louise, is not very “likable”. She is a misfit, she is a little cruel to those she loves, she likes to complain without doing much about the situation. But I love her. And unlike some other books where I have complained about the author tying up loose ends just to hand the reader a tidy story, I really like that we get to see what happens in her life. The last section of the book puts a big ‘ole knot in my throat.
I decided to read this as my 52 book of the year, and when I was rereading this book, I wondered about what it was about this story that made me love it so. It’s a little dark, and on the surface, I didn’t have a lot in common with Louise.
Growing up, I was one of the lucky ones. I was well liked, and had good friends, throughout all of grade school there was only one person who was mean to me (and that didn’t even happen until my senior year). I felt comfortable in my own skin. (Which, I hesitate to write, because women are not supposed to like how they look. I mean, how terribly messed up is that?). I didn’t know that I longed to leave my small town until I left.
I know middle school and high school are hard for many. I know that I was lucky to escape those years relatively unscathed. And yet, parents cannot protect their children from everything that life brings their way. Not even my own wonderful mother. And there were things that were happening in my family that were difficult. I had a emotions swirling inside of me that I couldn’t articulate, that I didn’t feel like I, as a perpetually cheerful person, would be allowed to express.
And so, something in this book spoke to me. It made me feel not so alone.
Year in Reading, 2013-2014
Below is a list of what I’ve read over the past year. I’ve starred my favorites, but I’m a pretty strong believer in putting down a book if I’m not connecting with it, so that means that if a book is on this list I enjoyed it (the exception to this is Tenth of December, which I did not really like at all).
- Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
- Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran*
- Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
- Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
- Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
- The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
- Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield*
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman*
- For the Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro
- A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
- Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick*
- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
- When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
- The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes
- The Signature of all Things by Elizabeth Gilbert*
- Out of the Big Easy by Ruth Sepetys*
- Beyond Shades of Grey by Ruth Sepetys
- The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty
- Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
- Tenth of December by George Saunders
- After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman*
- A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra*
- I Hear Sirens in the Street by Arian McKinty
- Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins*
- The End of Everything by Megan Abbott
- Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan
- We Are Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler*
- The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter*
- The Rules of Civility by Amor Towels
- The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont
- Dare Me by Megan Abbott
- Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
- Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
- Over Tumbled Graves by Jess Walter*
- Every Secret Thing by Laura Lippman
- Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman
- The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien*
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie*
- we were liars by e. lockhart
- The Hollow by Agatha Christie
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer
- The Rosie Project by Graeme Simison
- Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller*
- Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
- The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani
- The Vacationers by Emma Straub*
- Vivian Versus the Apocalypse by Katie Coyle*
- The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith*
- The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr
- California by Eden Lepucki*
- Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson*
- All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner
- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
*Books I loved
**As Roxane Gay says, etc. But, you know, some things are good to keep private.
On 52 in 52
*Art created by students at the middle school across the street from my office. Warms my heart!
Two months ago someone asked me what I was doing to take care of
myself, and without pausing to think, I replied, “well, I’ve read
twenty books since April”. For my whole life, books and stories have
served as my retreat for when life gets challenging. It wasn’t until I answered that question though, that I realized out of all the things I was doing to heal, the dinners with friends, long walks outside, and making plans to get excited about, that the time I spent alone with a book was the most healing for my heart and mind.
Five years ago this summer, I started a job that, to me, felt very
fancy and important. Until then I had been scraping by as AmeriCorps
volunteer, and then all of the sudden I was surrounded by people in
suits with degrees from fancy schools. I was intimidated and felt out of my depth and had the need to prove myself. I had recently discovered Tumblr and the blog 52Books. I’ve been an avid reader my whole life, but when I counted up how many books I had read in the previous year, I only came up with 24. Reading 52 books in a year felt like a daunting and impressive challenge, and I took it on partly because I thought I would enjoy it, but also because I was trying to show my new co-workers that I deserved a seat at the table.
For a while I thought I would start the project at the beginning of the calendar year, but then I got tired of waiting and decided to start in the middle of August. Excited and motivated by the challenge, I was reading at a faster rate than I had ever before. By winter I was making good progress, but it still wasn’t a sure thing that I would be able to meet my goal. At the same time, I was regaining confidence in myself and my abilities, especially in my professional life. My co-workers and I had formed a tight unit, and it was hard to imagine the days where I once felt intimidated by them.
And then a really sad thing happened to someone in our group.
And I didn’t really know how to handle the weight of the sadness that I felt.
And so I retreated. It was winter, and I honestly remember so little of those months, but I read and read and read.
It was the only way I could get through the days. It was the only way to still my mind.
And then I looked up, and it was summer, and somewhere along the way I got so close to hitting my goal. And as it became increasingly clear that not only would I read 52 books that year, but I would hit the goal early, I started asking people what book I should read for that significant milestone. A friend of mine suggested a book that I had loved as a girl, and I immediately thought of Jacob Have I Loved. The book I checked out over and over again in middle school, until I bought my own copy at a school book fair.
I still remember reading the book four years ago. I was on a bus back from Baltimore, where I had spent the weekend with a friend and her family. I finished the book and I cried. I cried because the ending always gets me. I cried because I hit a goal I didn’t think possible. I cried for all the ways life had changed in the year since I had started the project; changed in about a thousand good ways and in one incredibly hard way.
I was slowly starting to feel like myself again, and being able to hunker down with books through that dark season was such a big part of that.
I continued to keep track of what I read each year (with my reading year starting in mid-August), but I never again read 52 (or more) books in a year. Until this year.
This was a tough year, and this spring I was hurting and I needed a retreat. I remember a week where I read five books. Read so fast my head was spinning. But it was the only thing I could think of to do to keep my mind from going places I didn’t want it to go.
Summer is almost over and I feel so different than I did at the start of it. Reading got me through the toughest days.
People sometimes comment on how much I read, how they could never do it. This is my thing. I think everyone has their thing that they do when times get tough. If you don’t you should find it. But this is mine.
I finished my “year in reading” about a week and a half ago. I read 55 books, which is one less than I read in my first year, and I like that I didn’t manage to break that record. I’ll post the list later this week.
Throughout the past few years of keeping track of how many books I’ve read I’ve learned that it’s definitely not the number that matters, but rather what the books do for me that counts.
*Picture of my former team, taken in February of 2010. This is the last picture we will ever have of this group of friends.
"The more experience players, the Dragos to my Rocky, studied word lists and appeared intensly focuse on something the rest of us couldn’t see. Many wore fanny packs without irony-serious fanny packs bulging with mystery."
-Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist (To Scratch, Claw, or Grope Clumsily or Frantically)
Anyone have any idea what is in those fanny packs?
I have never seen The Princess Bride, and I was about to say I don’t
like fantasy but then I realized that isn’t quite true, I just don’t
normally read epic fantasy series (which are my brothers’ favorite
types of books).
But! I’ve been thinking of reading The Princess Bride, and from what
I’ve heard I think I’ll really like it.
So my question. Have any of you read the book and would you recommend it to the casual fantasy reader?
Loved this essay! So glad to finally sit down with this book.
Infinite Jest, Page 191: “Expansion”
"Expansion" - an erasure poem from page 191 of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest
I’m loving this Tumblr so much!