I’ve spent a lot of my life with my head buried in a book. Because of this, I’ve grown up creating stories of my own and, at any given moment, am likely building a fictional scenario inside my head. I think there’s merit in finding yourself within the pages of a book, not only for how it lets you live inside another’s reality, but for how it helps you construct and understand your own. Still, I’ve often worried that maybe I spend a little TOO much time inside my head. Luckily, someone very recently (we’ll get to that in a bit) talked some sense into me. My good friend Harry had asked our mentor, Albus Dumbledore, if what we had just experienced was real or had in fact been happening inside his head. And that’s when A.D. dropped knowledge right into the center of my soul, wisely informing Harry (and me), “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” Below, a few of the reasons I feel reality is best left to the imagination:
Summer Sisters, Judy Blume
Growing up, I devoured every Judy Blume book. But it is Summer Sisters, the book Blume wrote specifically for adults, which defined my adolescence more than anything else. This book spread like wildfire among the girls in my sixth grade class, and when I read it I instantly related to and idolized Vix and Caitlin. I’ve since revisited it countless times throughout my life, each time gaining new insight about the characters and my own sense of self. Vix and Caitlin helped me draw the map for navigating life and relationships as both a teenage girl and an adult woman, and I owe so much of my emotional growth to Blume and her ability to capture specific moments in time while understanding how our current experiences can shape how we read, and connect with, a piece of fiction.
Silver Days, Sonia Levitin
I first met Lisa Platt in Journey to America, when she and her family were fleeing Nazi Germany. I have always been obsessed with this period in history, and I’ve spent more time than I can measure reading books, watching films, and traveling to sites throughout Europe in order to better understand the Holocaust and the people who endured it. Journey to America may just be where that lifelong obsession began. Levitin perfectly encapsulated the fears and mindsets that teenage girls, no matter into which era or circumstance they are born, share. Through Lisa, I discovered the human side of the Holocaust. But Silver Days is even more special. In Silver Days, Lisa straddles two identities as a Jewish American girl during WWII. In so many ways, Lisa – someone with whom I so deeply connected – was each of my grandmothers. Through this book, I discovered just how similar I was not only to Lisa, but to Shirley and Evelyn as well.
Gidget, Frederick Kohner
As soon as I met Gidget, I knew I had found a soulmate. Here she was: a five-foot-tall brunette who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. Gidget had spunk. She had grit. She was feisty and sassy and, despite her size, had no problem standing out in a crowd. Gidget was 100% unapologetic about who she was, and never pretended to be something she wasn’t. Gidget taught me that I should tell people to take me as I am, or take a hike. Plus, she spent her days surfing with people named Moondoggie and wearing adorable 1950s outfits. How could I not aspire to be exactly like Gidget?
Wild, Cheryl Strayed
After finishing this memoir, I sat hugging it to my chest. That’s how much it spoke to me. Strayed’s message that we all have the power to change, strengthen, heal and forgive ourselves is so important, and I constantly return to her lessons for reassurance and guidance. Strayed didn’t let her past define her, but she did take responsibility for it. She accepted her path and used it to propel herself forward into shaping her future. Her example has motivated me to embrace my own winding path that got me to where I am today, accept who I am, and forge the path ahead into who I want to be.
Harry Potter series, JK Rowling
OK, here’s the thing. Despite the fact that Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone came out when I was 11 and in perfect position to receive my own Hogwarts letter, Harry & Co somehow eluded me until this past February. Ever since, I have consumed Nothing. But. Harry. With no knowledge of spoilers, I created the entire world inside my head, and it was, for lack of a better word, magical. I’d lay in bed at night holding my hand over the bottom of each page to prevent uncovering any twists even a second too soon. I’d text my Potterhead friends at 3am with new predictions, reactions and theories. As soon as I finished Deathly Hallows (through lots of tears), I started a movie marathon complete with golden snitch cake pops, pretzel wands and a calzone Nagini. All in all, I am obsessed. While I could regret having missed out on the wizarding world until adulthood, I honestly think everyone receives their Hogwarts letter when they do for a reason, and I’m grateful I got mine when I did. Still, that hasn’t stopped me from buying my six-month-old nephew a (stuffed) owl. After all, it’s never too early for him to learn just how great reality can be when it’s created inside one’s own imagination.