I grew up primarily reading classic literature. As someone who was hyperlexic and reading books at the age of 2 years old, I had many years during which to indulge my love of reading and my parents made certain that I primarily had older, quality representations of literature available to me.
Unfortunately, my obsessive rereading of classic literature didn’t help me very much in understanding modern culture.
To give a few brief examples:
I was frustrated and perturbed when I discovered in 3rd or 4th grade, through being teased, that the word “gay” had dramatically changed meanings in the last hundred-ish years.
The world of Narnia held little practical value when trying to interact with other 1st and 2nd graders in the USA.
The Little Princess and the March girls lived in a world that was completely unlike the one I had to inhabit.
Peter Pan with his lost boys seemed like the ultimate utopian dream – to get away from the real world and live in imagination, being able to fly, and never having to grow up – but that narrative didn’t help me with any kind of female socialization.
The Boxcar Children had an enviable amount of freedom from adult interference that didn’t translate to my personal experiences at all when I was in early elementary school.
Still, I immersed myself in these worlds where either adults didn’t exist and children did as they liked, or where the rules were quite rigid, although clearly spelled out and comforting in some odd way. They were my escape and my life.
Occasionally I had to leave my bookish world and interact with the “real world” but to me, my beloved books were always more real than anything else.
Despite being fairly oblivious to how the modern social world worked, by the time I was in middle school, I had realized that I didn’t get along the same way other children my age did.
After becoming engrossed in Star Wars, added to my love of Star Trek, I had come to the very obvious conclusion that I must be an alien (being reasonably certain I wasn’t a robot) and I informed my middle school band-mates of that fascinating tidbit about myself. Another friend declared her alien-ness as well and we had a grand time telling each other about the protocols on our respective planets.
It was during my 5th grade year that I began my weekly routine of walking to the local library, checking out 40+ books, and returning them the next week. My parents were very restrictive about which books I was allowed to read at this age and primarily wanted me to focus on older books, similar to the ones that hadn’t particularly helped me very much in understanding current social norms and expectations.
So, after exhausting my options for older middle grade fiction books, having read them all, I began checking out books that my parents had not approved.
Newer books. Books about middle and high school girls that I hoped would give me some kind of glimpse into that world which I simultaneously inhabited and yet found to be completely mysterious. It was an easy matter to keep these forbidden books in my opaque backpack and thus hidden from my parents’ knowledge.
Looking back, I understand that many of the books I read during that time period would have been considered twaddle (definition: trivial or foolish speech or writing; nonsense) and quite a waste of time. I’m certain that factored into my parents’ reasoning about which books I should and shouldn’t read.
But, twaddle or not, those books – books like Sweet Valley Twins along with the better written Judy Blume classics – were my lifeline as I navigated the world of middle school and high school band/choir classes.
To me, those twaddle-filled books were infinitely useful textbooks of allegedly normal tween/teen girl behavior.
In fact, only a year after first beginning to read those books, I had actually made my first female friend who lasted for more than a few weeks or months. She was my fellow alien friend in middle school and she didn’t mind my oddities as we moved into the high school years together either.
Now, I never stopped reading or loving my older favorite books alongside the newer ones, but the older books were of limited practical use to me and having the ability to read modern books about modern situations was essential.
Books that might seem foolish or pointless to one person, are sometimes of priceless value to someone else.