When I was in 4th grade, I read IT. Yes, that IT, by Stephen King. The IT that is 1,138 pages long and so terrifying I still can’t walk past a storm drain without looking twice even though I am a grown-ass woman. To be honest with you, I really don’t like bathtubs either and (SPOILER ALERT) being murdered in one, with your blood used as an art project for a deranged clown is literally the stuff of my nightmares. If my parents found out that 10 year old me was reading that book, I am telling you here and now, I would have been toast and probably would have had to write “I will not read books about child murders and racism” two hundred times as punishment. Luckily they didn’t find out, and I moved on to Ryan White: My Own Story about the AIDS epidemic lickety-split.
Funny story about that - I had this book on my desk in reading class one day. I 100% innocently asked my teacher (who, let’s just say, was getting up there in years) what the word “circumcision” meant and then pointed to it in the book. Because that’s what you’re supposed to do in reading class, right? I freaked my teacher out so badly, she started stuttering and like a geriatric ninja, maneuvered her way out of answering me.
Now, American puritanism in regard to sex getting in the way of the educational process is a whole other topic for the blog, but here is what IS relevant:
Ami Dar, the founder of Idealist.org (and one of our guests on the podcast), told an almost identical story on Episode 2! He apparently was really diving into The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany , the feminist tome Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape and The Gulag Archipelago as a 13-year-old -- his teacher also freaked out with a capital F.
Jokes aside, I think it’s an interesting pattern that seems to bridge generations, and it made me wonder if more of our guests than just Ami and I were also reading books that were way too advanced for most kids their age.
Turns out, Audrey Truschke (Episode 5), a professor at Rutgers and a historian who has taken Twitter by storm says she had her head in Atlas Shrugged for months as a teen.
I find myself wondering if we start looking for mentors long before we even know what they are or why we need them. And I’m wondering if that search starts in books. It makes sense, right? Easy access. A wealth of knowledge at your fingertips.
What about you? Did you read wildly age-inappropriate books as a kid? What were they and how did they influence you or the work you do now?
(Full disclosure, Audrey and I also both read Flowers in the Attic when we were way too young for that kind of book. SCANDALOUS! Raise your hand if you did too?)