From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
1967, Atheneum Publishers
There’s a montage in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums during which the young siblings Margot and Richie run away from home and camp out at a museum. The scene only lasts a couple seconds, but I remember seeing it and thinking, “I could watch a whole movie about this one shot.” I didn’t realize at the time that Anderson had taken this idea from From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, a children’s book that had been written three decades earlier. In the book, 12-year-old Claudia and her younger brother, Jamie, run away from home because Claudia is frustrated with their family’s dynamic. They end up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, spending their days learning about art and their nights hiding from security and sleeping among the exhibits. I didn’t read the book until I was an adult, but the timing was still perfect. It was during winter break, and I was home visiting family. I hid myself in the bathroom and locked the door so I could read in peace. I was drawn to Claudia’s need to live and learn on her own terms. She’s curious about the world around her, but discouraged by a status quo that tell her she can only engage with it in structured, pre-approved ways. I’d like to think that if she were a real character kicking around today, Claudia would be a Rookie reader. —Anna F.
The Price of Salt
I read Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt when I was 14 or 15, and I was totally dumbfounded by how romantic it made falling in love with a woman seem without overtly fetishizing lesbian sex—a quality I had never really come across before in literature. The book, which she originally published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan due to its RACY GAY CONTENT, follows Therese, a young department-store clerk working in New York, and Carol, a dignified and beautiful older woman she meets there. They embark on a road-trip-based tryst away from Carol’s husband, who hires a private investigator to tail them, and visit towns across America with “sexy-sounding names,” as Therese correctly says, like Lusk, Wyoming. The love affair is met with consternation and punishing consequences by the other characters, but the book is still a portrait of a lovely union between two women. As a teenager who was starting to realize that I might want that for myself one day, it was hugely important to me. It still is. —Amy Rose
2009, The Dial Press
After Lucy is murdered in front of her 8-year-old daughter, Sophie, in their posh London neighborhood, her childhood best friend, Ellie, drops everything—her husband, her job, her entire life in Boston—to fly to England to care for Lucy’s family. Lucy’s husband, Greg, is drowning in grief, and Sophie has stopped speaking. To try to coax Sophie out of her shell, Ellie introduces her to The Secret Garden, her own favorite book from childhood. While Ellie grieves for Lucy, she discovers that there was a lot her best friend didn’t share with her. She sifts through the pieces of Lucy’s life and faces a sobering fact: The reason she dove headlong into helping Lucy’s family was to escape what she’d been mourning back in Boston. This novel is a beautiful exploration of the complexities of grief, friendship, and the secrets we keep—from the people we love and ourselves. I was dealing with a loss when I read it, and I found comfort and guidance in Ellie’s path toward closure. —Stephanie
1926, Methuen & Co. Ltd.
My ancient hardcover copy of this book, which is missing its dust jacket, is the same mustard-yellow color of the Pooh stuffed animal I had as a kid. Back then, I loved that the book’s introduction explained that Christopher Robin, the child at the center of the story, and his teddy bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, were equally real. This made me believe that maybe—just maybe—the House at Pooh Corner, the Hundred-Acre Wood, and Pooh’s friends (tiny Piglet, whom I related to because I was also shy and undersized; the brainy and slightly annoying Owl; the definitely annoying Rabbit; and the grumpy Eeyore) were real, too. Their sweet friendships and their predicaments, like Pooh getting stuck in Rabbit’s hole after eating too much honey or Eeyore losing his tail, have never stopped amusing me. When I’m sick or emotionally drained, I still sometimes pluck my old copy off the shelf and disappear into the adventures of Pooh and the rest, until they lift me up again. —Stephanie
Stranger With My Face
1981, Laurel Leaf
Books like Carrie and movies like The Craft sparked my teenage curiosity about paranormal activity. Despite years of warnings in church about the big bad world of the occult, I couldn’t tame my interest in the possibility of unearthly superpowers. Lois Duncan’s scary novel Stranger With My Face fed my fascination with its story of Laurie, a girl whose parents and boyfriend start encountering her in places where she knows she didn’t go. Laurie discovers how she could have been in two places at once when she meets a stranger who, as it turns out, is her paranormally gifted identical twin. Duncan’s book was adapted into a Lifetime movie that I haven’t seen yet because I’m too obsessed with my childhood attachment to the original story, which is a terrifically creepy page-turner. It left me wondering what it would feel like if your soul left your body or—even scarier—if someone else had the ability to inhabit and possess it. Do not read this book before bed. —Jamia
Play It As It Lays
1970, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
I first read Play It As It Lays during a particularly bleak period of my life. It was during the middle of a heat wave, and I slept uncomfortably in my un-air-conditioned top-floor-apartment bedroom with cold washcloths draped across my neck and wrists in an attempt to cool off. I was also in a state of confusion and loneliness. I felt very much inside myself and trapped in the day-to-day. That’s why the novel, which I picked up on a whim at a used bookstore, seemed to have fallen into my metaphorical lap with some sort of cosmic purpose. Didion tells the story of Maria Wyeth, a failed actress recovering from a nervous breakdown, and slowly reveals the events that led up to her institutionalization. We learn about Maria’s childhood in Nevada and how her upbringing eventually leads her to Los Angeles. Maria is surrounded by a wide cast of characters, but she spends much of the book alone. As her toddler daughter undergoes treatment for an unknown disability, Maria’s marriage crumbles. She throws herself into oblivion to forget her life’s pain. Her escape attempts involve late-night drives through the Hollywood Hills and on California freeways, excessive drinking, aimless wandering through motels and bars, and tries at picking up temporary lovers. Maria is flawed and frequently makes mistakes, usually on purpose. There was something so appealing to me about someone who stopped caring in an attempt to find some meaning or feeling, or to just forget it all. It was a reminder that not all great characters need to be likeable to be relatable. I was in a fragile state of mind when Play It As It Lays came into my life. Instead of it pushing me over the edge into nihilism, though, I found in Didion’s incredible writing a renewed desire inside me to create and find purpose. It set me on a path that summer that’s still chugging along to this day. So thanks, Joan. You’re the best. —Hannah
One of the first things 17-year-old Melinda tells us about herself is “i have always been broken.” Mel’s home is also broken: She describes a family trip to a river where she almost drifts away and drowns because her mother isn’t watching. Her mother also chooses to look the other way when “Uncle Jack,” Mel’s stepfather, sexually abuses her. This is what leads her, in the summer of 1969, to leave home for San Francisco, where a man named Henry “rescues” her. Henry opens her mind with new substances and shows her that a man’s touch doesn’t have to inflict hurt. Before long, he takes her away from the city to a ranch that becomes Mel’s new home. She also gets a new family of “sisters” who love and revere Henry like she does. He is their father, their lover, their leader—the only one in the family whose name Mel capitalizes. She tells her story in verse that goes back and forth in time and reveals that she is really part of a fictionalized version of the murderous Manson Family. The imagery and metaphors of Ostow’s poetry helped me connect with Mel on a deeper level than I might have if Family had been written as a traditional novel. Her story is definitely a dark one—her escape is clearly doomed from the beginning—but the gorgeous language sucked me right in and kept me spellbound. —Stephanie
The Garden of Eden
A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s memoir about the years he spent in Paris as a young man living with his first wife, and it will make you want to pack your bags and move there immediately. The book was published posthumously from his notes and manuscripts. IF YOU LIKE FOOD, get ready for what is basically an account of every delicious meal he eats in France. Here is his recollection of just one casual meal: “As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.” Every page is that romantic and aching and beautiful. There are also strange, sad, everyday conversations like this one with his wife: “My,’ she said. ‘We’re lucky that you found the place.’ ‘We’re always lucky,’ I said and like a fool I did not knock on wood. There was wood everywhere in that apartment to knock on too.” I love this book.
Garden of Eden, another posthumous Hemingway novel, is one of my favorite books of all time. It follows a young couple on their honeymoon in the French Riviera and Spain. They eat and drink and make love a lot. Everything (especially the alcohol) gets an extremely satisfying description, but the real focus here is on the female character, Catherine, who is interested in androgynous style and sexual role-reversal, which unnerves her new husband. When they meet a woman they BOTH fall in love with, things get messy and super-interesting. Apart from all the gender and sex and food writing in this book, I am obsessed with Garden of Eden it because Catherine is my Life Style Icon. —Krista ♦