I hated every page of it. It was confusing. It was nonlinear. It broke the basic story rules that had been drilled into me. Beginning. Middle. End. This deviated. It told tales and tales and tales, leaving me wandering around in a story wasteland for months. The characters shared the same names, and even some of the same personality traits. I couldn’t keep everybody straight. I thought it was bizarre, even thought it was strangely lovely.
But that box of unease and anxiety has also become smaller since I’ve grown a little older. Jack says women hit their Fuck You Period at around 50 or so—what a relief to realize you honestly no longer care whether you’re voted Miss Congeniality.
Growing up my father’s preferred answer to the question, “What does ‘insert alien word here’ mean?” was, “Go and look it up.” Because he was an English professor uninterested in dialing down his words when his kids could tune up their vocabularies, it was a question I asked a lot.
The first ‘real’ book I ever read all the way through was Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Although I have little memory of the novel’s plot, I still claim it as one of my favorites. What I do remember is the name Sal Paradise, the weight of the pages, the feel of the back cover on the pads of my fingers. But only one short scene still lingers in my mind. “It was always mañana,” Sal narrates. “For the next week that was all I heard—mañana, a lovely word and one that probably means heaven.”
I had a friend who always rode his bike with his pet rat perched on his shoulder. He let me try it too, and we had a great summer biking, losing the rat under the patio and coaxing it back out with some peanut butter, and getting into trouble for nailing our plywood fort to the side of his apartment. We were at that perfect age when the world is still entirely good, before puberty sets in and children mock one another for playing with rats or having the opposite sex as ‘just a friend.’