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Friday, July 31, 2009

My Most Influential Book(s) When I Was A Teen

My teen years were a weird time for me when it came to reading. Actually pretty much after age 11, I stopped reading age appropriate stuff. I went from Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume to VC Andrews and Stephen King. One summer, I actually picked my dad's copy of Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead, which is definitely not meant for 11 year olds. I was just a voracious reader and I loved everything from realistic, contemporary fiction to classics to sci-fi/fantasy and horror. I really did want to read about teenagers, but there was nothing about them out there that I related to since my teenage life was a far-cry from the Wakefield twins of the Sweet Valley High Series.

Then I discovered Francesca Lia Block. She wrote about troubled kids, misfit kids and set her stories in this beautiful, magical, though often times poisonous version of Los Angeles. Francesca Lia Block is best known for the Weetzie Bat series and though the collected books of Weetzie Bat (Dangerous Angels) would be my stuck on a desert island book for sure, the book I read over and over again was The Hanged Man. First of all, it's structured around Tarot cards and I was absolutely obsessed with Tarot in my early teens. But ultimately it's a book about a girl who is coming to terms with repressed memories of sexual abuse. Somehow Block was able to write about this broken girl who was in such pain with such beautiful language and that made reading The Hanged Man like an escape and a confrontation at the same time. I could get caught up in the beauty of the imagery, but I was also forced to face some of my feelings that were very similar to Laurel's. I was emerging from an abusive relationship at the time and I saw my own reflection in descriptions of Laurel like: "I will be thin and pure like a glass cup. I move my hands over my body--my shoulders, collarbone, my rib cage, my hip bones like part of an animal skull, my small thighs. In the mirror my face is pale and my eyes look bruised." Laurel was definitely the fictional character I related to most at 16 and reading her story over and over again really helped me heal.

I also read a ton of nonfiction as a teen. And one of the books that was my bible was Girl Power by Hillary Carlip. Hillary had hung out with, talked to and told the stories of so many groups of teen girls, groups she broke down into four categories: The Outlaws and Outcasts, Outskirts, Outsiders, and Insiders. Of course, I related to The Outlaws and Outcasts and the Outsiders the most, but for the first time I was able to see that even the Sorority Girls and Teen Queens shared the same feelings as I did. Girl Power made me really proud to be a girl. But most importantly it introduced me to the Riot Grrrl movement. I knew about Riot Grrrl through some magazine mentions and through the music, but in Girl Power, the grrrls talked about what it meant to them, what they found in the movement and it shared excerpts of zines.

This inspired me to go on the hunt for zines and to start creating my own. I met so many likeminded grrrls who helped me through the darkest period of my life. And that was when I really started using my voice and telling stories out in public. People often compliment me on my honesty in both my fiction (ie not being afraid to show the darker side of life) and on my blog. It's one of the biggest compliments in the world, but I absolutely wouldn't be as honest as I am if I hadn't come of age in the Riot Grrrl zine community.

Interestingly enough my two favorite books connect in a way. Francesca Lia Block and Hillary Carlip came together in 1998 and put together a book called Zine Scene and that book marked my first ever publication. On page 16 you'll find this picture of 17 year old me that comes from a page in my zine Hospital Gown.

So ultimately Francesca and Hillary taught me to be honest and that writing could be lyrical and full of dark truths. They gave me something to strive toward and in a way, they launched my career.


little miss gnomide said...

I really have to check out some books by Francesca Lia Block. I've only heard of her recently, but now I feel like I've been missing out on something.

Another great post, Stephanie!

Danielle Joseph said...

Wheetzie Bat was the first book I read in a children's writing class in college and I loved it! Very cool about the zine. I was a big fan of zines in high school and even had a few pen pals from some of them. I agree, another great post:)!