From time to time, Bas Bleu’s editors will share with you some of the books that have had a profound impact on our lives. They won’t necessarily be grand literary classics or hard-hitting political tomes. They will be books that have stayed with us over the years and shaped who we are. If you’d like to share a significant title from your own life, feel free to do so in the comments section below.
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t influenced by what I was reading. My mom was the type to assign us summer reading (although it didn’t take long for me to become self-sufficient in that realm), I always had to ask for extra pages in Language Arts class, and my idea of a good time was scouring the used bookstore for a new series to take on. My mom and I were part of a mother-daughter book club for years. One year, the club was featured in the local paper due to our enthusiasm for appropriate attire and authentic snacks (e.g., pipe cleaners in our braids when we read Pippi Longstocking).
I was lucky to go to schools that valued an impartial education, where teachers often shied away from the classics in exchange for books that might teach us more about the world than we might experience ourselves. As a prerequisite for the AP Literature class I took my senior year of high school, we had to pick a book from a list several pages long, read it over the summer, and arrive day one with a book report in hand. I went back to the used bookstore, picked out a couple options from the list in case I lost focus, and left them on my bookshelf until August.
When I started Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, I was in a procrastination-induced panic. But even with a deadline looming, I couldn’t bring myself to skim the book for easy quotes or snappy takeaways. It was one of the first books I read that resonated in my thoughts, that introduced and then deepened the idea of an entire fictional world forming social critique. Gilead was somehow more real to me than the fiction that shared my universe, because Gilead was an interpretation and a warning.
It was also one of the first times I recall being physically shocked by the written word. The scenes shared with Offred and the Commander made me contract in fear, as if my instincts could change Offred’s trajectory. Despite being published in 1985, the book still holds the weight of pressing relevance (as proven by the Hulu series of the same name—to this day, I’ve avoided watching past the first episode, with fear that it’ll alter my perception of the book). It’s one of the many books that has stuck with me through the years, one that forces me to pay attention—not only to the implications woven through the pages, but to the notes that hit on reality (even 36 years later) a little too squarely.
The Handmaid’s Tale helped me realize that fiction could have layers to it, layers that run parallel to reality and layers that make us fear reality. It developed in me an affinity for books that breed unease and discomfort because they make reality easier to experience and to understand. And now, despite my avoidance five years ago, I’ve written yet another essay on the novel. This time I didn’t need Wikipedia to tell me what to think—just to remind me of the characters’ names! (RR)
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