When I was in middle school, I was assigned a project called "My Life as a Sine Curve," which required me and my classmates to chart the highs and lows of our lives on a graph. (Highs being awesome vacations, first boyfriends, awards won. Lows being deaths, moving away from friends, cousins joining the army.) This was a math assignment and the result was pretty stunning. We drew our graphs on large poster boards and hung them in the school's hallway. I always felt a little uncomfortable knowing everyone could see the undulating rise and fall of my life's events.
My mind still wanders back to that project and I thought recently how neat it would be to apply the concept to books read over the course of one's reading life. So, I asked our team to participate in a little experiment. Here's how it works: I asked them to pick five books they've read and to rate them on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 being that they either didn't like the book or it had a sad or negative effect on them. 10 being it was life-changing in a positive way, or they just really loved the book. I then plotted all the books on a collective graph and color-coded each person's "reading curve" — very mathematically imprecise and nothing to do with actual sine curves, but still pretty neat.
I love, love, love the result. I love that two people picked the same book (To Kill a Mockingbird) and one gave it a 9 and the other a 5. I love that some curves are super optimistic and increase exponentially across the graph, while others follow a downward trajectory, sliding from a 5 to 3 to 2. The takeaway is that our respective reading highs and lows curves are as varied and unique as our taste in literature.
Each person who participated also gave a reason for their rating, which I've copied below. You can view more pictures of our epic graph here.
Tell us, how does your reading rise and fall? If you could graph the books you've read, what would your reading curve look like?
- The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis: 9 (It ignited my imagination and to this day, I credit it to my love for fantasy and great storytelling).
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: 5 (Medium. It opened my eyes to the world’s injustices and I was an emotional wreck for a while, but it gave me a hero I could admire - Atticus Finch).
- The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne: 3 (I just was not into this book in high school. I need to give it another try).
- The Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin: 10 (Excellent storytelling. Dynamic characters and a wonderful cultural examination of city culture in the 1970s and 1980s.)
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: 2 (Beautiful story, but I have never wept so hard reading a book. Depressed for days.)
- Home Before Dark by Susan Cheever: 2 (Great memoir! I stayed up half the night reading it, then got sick to my stomach thinking that someone’s childhood could be so consistently horrible, especially the child of a writer I revered.)
- Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown: 1 (One of the most scalding—and important—books I’ve ever read. I was a white kid in a suburb who learned about a black kid in Harlem. How could life be so mind-bogglingly unfair and brutal? Still no answer.
- Ulysses by James Joyce: 8 (An incredibly challenging read, hence an 8 instead of a 10. I needed a professor and a raft of other books to guide me through it, but it forever changed the way I think about language. When words are strung together the right way, with sibilance and all that, they become music.)
- A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway: 10 (It made me want to move to Paris when I was young, and I did.)
- A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole: Do you have an 11? (Off the charts hilarious. One of the funniest books ever.)
- Life of Pi by Yann Martel: 8 (I loved the adventure, and how the ending is truly up to the reader!)
- My Sisters Keeper by Jodi Picoult: 2 (Such a sad book, I was sobbing while reading it.)
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: 8 (I couldn’t get enough of Katniss and the suspense of the games mixed with her love story kept me hooked.)
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: 4 (Great read, but I was stressed knowing how manipulative the wife was being in the story.)
- Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: 9 (Loved this book. It made you feel like you were part of the circus while also pulling on your heart strings!)
- Nancy Drew: The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene: 10 (The first “grown up” book I read on my own and I became a mystery lover.)
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: 9 (I read this later in life for the first time and LOVED it. And finally completely understood what everyone was talking about.)
- High Fidelity by Nick Hornby: 7 (I laughed a lot and it set off a binge reading session of Nick Hornby books.)
- “Unnamed book”: 2 (I won’t give the title because this book made me make the rarest of decisions. To not finish. And it broke my heart because I love the author otherwise.)
- Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk: 5 (I made it through the hundreds of pages it but didn’t love it.)
- A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness: 2 (The witch/vampire love story angle needs to stop.)
- A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin: 10 (I seriously couldn’t get enough of this series.)
- Defending Jacob by William Landay: 1 (Yikes this was dark and depressing!)
- World War Z by Max Brooks 9 (So good that I read it twice, back to back.)
- Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James: 1 (No. Just no.)
- The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin: 9 (I was a kid but reading this made me feel like an adult…it didn't talk down to me at all.)
- Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl: 1 (It was assigned reading in 8th grade and really the first time I'd been exposed to the horrors of human history.)
- The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald: 6 (Now it's a favorite and I enjoy it more each time I read it, but I was conflicted that first time.)
- Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell: 8 (Happy tears!)
- The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver: 3 (I'm not even done yet and I'm already wrecked and anxious. I know bad things will happen, and I desperately want them not to.)
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: 4 (Still wondering what all the fuss is about...)
- Jack in the Green by Allen Atkinson: 9 (The first picture book I ever fell in love with. I checked it out of the school library religiously.)
- The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter: 2 (Summer reading assignment in 8th grade. Really didn't like it.)
- Othello by William Shakespeare: 8 (High school English class. I still remember the essay I wrote on the symbolism of Ophelia's bouquet.)
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith: 10 (LOVE. One of my all-time favorites. I could read over and over.)
- Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov: 3 (I had to give a presentation on Pale Fire my first day of graduate school. It's a 999-line poem that's brilliant and also utterly confusing. I was intimidated and exhausted by it.)
- The Passion by Jeanette Winterson: 9 (This was the first book I ever read by Winterson and I was captivated by her style. The protagonist is a red-haired, web-footed daughter of a Venetian boatman...enough said.)
- Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson: 10 (Hands down one of the most stunning books I've read. Robinson captures what it means to have a sister and for that I am very thankful.)
- The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman: 5 (A lot of hype around this one. I'll admit it made me cry, but I was disappointed in how cheesy it ultimately was.)
- Swamplandia! by Karen Russell: 10 (I'm singing this book's praises every chance I get. It's dark, twisted, hilarious and moving. Read it!)