Category: Special Features

Falling in Love With…The Day I Became an Autodidact by Kendall Hailey (Elisabeth from The Dirigible Plum)

Falling in love with books finalHappy Friday! For Day 14 of Falling in Love With Books, I’m absolutely delighted that my friend Elisabeth from The Dirigible Plum jumped in with a book she has fallen in love with and that has affected her life in multiple ways. Trust me, you want to read this post, and look for this book. You’re in for a treat today…

Kendall Hailey changed my life.

I still remember pulling The Day I Became an Autodidact off the shelf at the bookstore where I worked part-time after school.

autodidact

I was a high school senior with a very bad case of senioritis. But not learningitis. I couldn’t bring myself to go to my own classes, but I accompanied my mom to her college night classes in English whenever she’d let me. I read her textbooks. I skimmed her lecture notes. I sat in the hallway and read Bacon’s essays and Donne’s poetry.

The only thing I wanted to do was read. Everything. All the time. I couldn’t even get to sleep at night because there were too many books to be read.

I worked part-time in a bookstore, but the job was mostly an excuse to use my employee lending privileges to check out brand-new hardcover books that my library wouldn’t be purchasing for months and to exercise my organizational OCD (which only comes out at bookstores) aligning the edges of book stacks so they match up just so and spotting misshelved titles.

That’s how I met Kendall.

I was organizing the self-help section when I saw it. The Day I Became An Autodidact. The rainbow print writing on the spine intrigued me, as did the word “autodidact,” which I had only just recently learned.

I slipped the book off the shelf, correctly identified it as biography/memoir, but I didn’t shelve it in its proper place. Instead, I took it home with me, where it’s lived on my shelves ever since.

I knew I had found a kindred soul after reading the first few paragraphs, which find Kendall horrified to receive a letter from school during the summer and even more horrified when she discovers it contains a required summer reading list.

“I read (rarely skimming) everything school tells me to from the middle of September to the middle of June, but the summer is mine. And being told what to read during the summer suddenly made me realize that I don’t really like being told what to read during the fall, winter, and spring either.”

And so Kendall resolves to get herself through high school as quickly as she can and to embark on a project of self-education. She uses summer vacation to “get a head start on reading everything ever published,” starting with Anna Karenina.

The book recounts three years of Kendall’s journey as a reader, writer, daughter, sister, friend, and autodidact. She reads voraciously (mostly a self-chosen curriculum of what we generally considered the “great books”); she watches a lot of old films and goes to the theater (her father is a well-known playwright); she talks writing shop with her mother (novelist Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey); she travels; she paints; she bickers with her sister; she writes; she struggles to write. And always, she reflects, trying to figure out what it all means.

“I have been given the chance to live my own best life, but no instructions were included with the chance. So I haven’t been exactly sure how to do it or if my efforts have been any good….But even if the struggle to get the most out of my freedom is sometimes hard for me, I don’t want to stop struggling.

I know that for certain now. I’ve seen too much of life, and even if I haven’t loved all I’ve seen, I’ve loved being able to see so much. I don’t ever want the days to slip together in some terrible way and I’ll look back and life will be gone. I want to feel something every day, even if occasionally it happens to be a little misery. Even if at times I feel a little lost, I want to find my own way.”

What keeps me returning to The Day I Became an Autodidact twenty-five years after I first read it is Kendall’s voice. Fresh, funny, immediately engaging. There is a sweetness and charm to her voice that could be mistaken for naivete but really, it’s nerdiness at its finest.

Kendall Hailey was the original nerdfighter.

As John Green so eloquently explains in “Harry Potter Nerds Win at Life”, the great thing about being a nerd is that you can be “unironically enthusiastic about stuff,” and Kendall is so incredibly enthusiastic about everything. She is wide-eyed with wonder at the world.

She is no Pollyanna. There is suffering here too. There are hard things in every life. Her father’s illness. Her uncle’s illness. Her aging grandmother. Her own struggles to write. But everything in life is worth her close attention. Everything is worth writing about, wondering about.

When I was sixteen, The Day I Became an Autodidact became both invitation and permission slip. It was too late for me to graduate early from high school, as Hailey managed to do, but it wasn’t too late to take time off before college.

And that’s what I did. One year turned into two. I stayed up late reading and slept through the mornings. I haunted libraries and bookstores. I watched great films and wrote hundreds of letters and started writing (but never finished) at least twenty novels. I traveled. Like Kendall, I had the chance “to live my own best life” and to discover for myself before I even turned 18 what I needed in this world to be content.

And for the past twenty-five years, that hasn’t changed very much.

When I first discovered The Day I Became an Autodidact, I thought it was misshelved. But it’s turned out to be the best self-help book I’ve ever read.

Elisabeth, thank you so much for this fantastic glimpse into your life and the impact of this book on your younger self. I so appreciated reading about your “journey.” One thing I can say is–Wow, twenty novels! I really like the idea that you mention comes up in the book–that everything is worth writing about. What an important reminder…

Have any of you heard of this book? Feel free to ask Elisabeth questions in the comments below, and Happy Weekend!

What Katie Read

Falling in Love With…The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (Alicia from A Kernel of Nonsense)

Falling in love with books finalWelcome to Alicia from A Kernel of Nonsense! She’s prepared a Valentine to one of her favorites, The Raven Boys (#2 in The Raven Cycle) by Maggie Stiefvater. Read on, and Enjoy!

cover_ravenboys_300Dearest Blue (and her Raven Boys),

Perhaps this is an opportunity to reflect on the brilliant ensemble of characters encompassed in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys and the subsequent books in her series. But I’d be lying if I said that my interest in you and your colorful array of Raven Boys is based entirely on the execution of certain literary devices.

No, my love for you is produced from a rather stubborn part of me that refuses to believe that because you are fictional, any attachment I feel towards you is false, ridiculous, a figment of my imagination.

In a way this is true. I will never run into a sprightly Blue, who has always felt she was out of place in her family of psychics because she herself does not possess a similar gift. But the funny thing is, I have met you. I’ve met you in those moments when it seems that I myself am a fish out of water. I have met you, Blue, in those quiet moments when I see possibilities I never imagined for myself, when I desperately want something more.

And though I fancy that someone out there may be quite similar to the incomparable Richard Campbell Gansey III, I have yet to come across a boy, whose wealth might grate on the nerves if he didn’t possess an utter lack of self-awareness, full of insatiable curiosity and drive. Then again (and I suspect like you) a part of me would like to experience even the tiniest fraction of the kind of ambition (the one that consumes heart and soul) that makes Gansey so different from the rest.

I have met more than a few hotheads in my day, which is probably a really nice way to describe Ronan Lynch.

I’m sorry to say that he and his otherworldly abilities will never be a part of my world, but I find that his propensity for sharp words mirrors my own tendency to dole out caustic replies and we may or may not struggle to find a way to express ourselves well without bringing down an entire house in flames. Ronan Lynch is the part of me that bites, but deep down we’re softies…even if it is buried very deep down.

I don’t know if I’ve ever met an Adam Parrish.

People like Adam are so very good at compartmentalizing, determined to only show you a tiny piece of who they are. But I know the Adam Parrish in myself, the part of me that can be my own worst enemy. I’m learning that asking for help does not make me weak. Like Adam, I’m still working on it.

Noah is not me and I am not Noah. I cannot say that I read about him and see myself laid bare on the pages.

But to me Noah represents the unlikely friendships in life, the kind of people that sneak up on you and worm their way into your heart. They are the ones always there for you, the ones willing to listen, the ones who see more of you than you ever intended to show.

You see, Blue, I’ll probably never find myself surrounded by people like you and your Raven Boys, I’ll probably never hunt for lost kings, or feel the earth alter beneath my feet into something magical, but when I open the pages of The Raven Boys, I feel a different kind of magic. It’s the kind of magic of finding kindred spirits in print and looking up from the pages and seeing the world differently, so I want to thank you for letting me share in your journey.

With Love,

Alicia @ A Kernel of Nonsense

I’m blown away by this creative and heartfelt Valentine to The Raven Boys from Alicia! This is a wonderful reflection of how we fall in love with our books. Thank you many times over, Alicia, for visiting the blog and taking part in this feature! I think you may have captured some more readers for The Raven Cycle.

It’s not over yet–Falling in Love with Books continues for a few more days!

Have you read The Raven Boys? What about other books by Maggie Stiefvater? Have you ever written a Valentine to your favorite book?

 

What Katie Read

Falling in Love With…The Cubicle Next Door by Siri Mitchell (Daphne from Gone Pecan)

Falling in love with books finalIt’s Day 12, and I’m proud to say that Daphne from Gone Pecan is taking over today. Daphne is part of the 30s and Over Blogger Group I’m a part of, and I love her! I think you will too. She’s sharing a fun, romantic read, but that also features some parts that might break your heart…”in the best way.” Enjoy!

The Cubicle Next Door by Siri Mitchell

cubicle

Siri Mitchell’s insightful, funny chick-lit style shines in this story of putting up walls and tearing them down–all for love.

Jackie Harrison, a computer administrator at the Air Force Academy, is a self-proclaimed geek who must share her cubicle space with the new guy, instructor and former pilot Joe Gallagher. She turns to her online journal to vent and eventually to express growing feelings toward this office neighbor who is everything she is not–fun, happy, and social.

But when her blog is featured as a top pick on primetime news, everyone reads it–including Joe. Will he figure out the words of adoration and confusion are written about him? And will Jackie ever risk expressing her heart offline?

This is one of my all-time favorite books, I’ve read it multiple times.

Jackie Harrison works at the Air Force Academy and lives with her grandmother. She is very socially stunted and awkward. She has very definite feelings about things and does not venture outside of her comfort zone. When she gets a office mate, Joe, a former fighter pilot, she’s pretty angry about it and writes about it in her blog, The Cubicle Next Door. Over the course of the book, Jackie reluctantly becomes friends with Joe because he pretty much inserts himself in her path and won’t move. Then Jackie starts to fall for Joe but does not know how to handle it.

I have a soft spot for socially awkward characters. I don’t know why, but they get me right in the heart. I feel for them on a level that I cannot describe.

Jackie is not only awkward, she’s opinionated, she’s stubborn (oh, is she stubborn) and she’s broken. Joe is tough and smart, and he won’t let Jackie get away with keeping people at a distance.

There’s so much to love about this book and I wish it was more popular.

There are some really fantastic and romantic scenes in this book that I sometimes go back to read because they’re beautiful and they break my heart in the best way.

Thank you, Daphne, for sharing this favorite of yours! I wonder how many other readers are familiar with this one? And guess what? Lindsay discovered that this book is only $3.99 on Kindle.

More books to fall in love with tomorrow–we have Jen from Fefferbooks stopping by!

What Katie Read
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