My Growth As A Reader In Three Parts
by Cori McCarthy
PART 1: Emily Dickinson is a Ninny.
My introduction to a love of reading (and writing) came a bit later in life than most people: via my eighth grade unit on Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. You might have just rolled your eyes. That’s okay. So did I when my awesome English teacher announced that the next few weeks would be poetry, poetry, poetry.
We started with Emily Dickinson and with each new poem about carriages and death and feathers and hope, I made faux-gagging faces behind my book and often threw myself on the ground. I was quite dramatic—so no one really noticed.
The class moved on to Whitman, and I readied myself for more sentimental pithiness. We read Whitman’s Oh Captain, My Captain. And I felt feelings. Then we watched Dead Poet’s Society, and I wept and wanted to know more about this Whitman. I went to the bookstore and found his Leaves of Grass, leafing through it at top speeds. Whitman was as fascinated as he was frustrated by his sense of self. He believed in America but saw all it’s terrible, terrible fault lines. He turned his words calmly, rationally, surprisingly, and passionately. I bought the book and rushed home, spending the next several years retreating into Whitman’s poems when the real world stumped me.
This is something I still do twenty years later.
PART 2: Flirting Advice from Holden Caulfield
A year after my Whitman Revolution, I was well-known for being a reader and writer in high school. Books became a way for me to wedge something between the world and myself. Like sunglasses. Or sarcasm. I discovered J.D. Salinger’s embittered, angsty masterpiece and carried it around like a lifeline—only slightly upset that my behavior mirrored that of John Lennon’s murderer. I have to be honest, though…I didn’t really “get” the story. I suppose I didn’t have enough darkness in me yet—I just like the miasma of attitude that followed that book like a storm cloud.
But then I fell in love. It was the sort of heartbreaking, crushing, massive kind of love that only happens when you’re young and emotions are hurricanes. Also, it was unrequited. Double bonus. I became desperate to spend time with my love in a way that left me wandering around after school, wanting to see him. I have very specific memories of sitting on top of the school’s graffiti painted rock, reading and waiting for him to get out of his after school meetings so that I could ask for a ride. It was during this time that I started to read The Catcher in the Rye for its true story. My feelings had been thwarted like Holden. I was powerless like Holden. I wanted to do something dramatic like Holden. And yet I knew I wouldn’t—just like Holden. The lasting message of that story became the nuances of disappointment, and I’ve carried that theme with me ever since.
Holy depressing, Batman. Let’s leave this thing on a funny note.
PART 3: The Lord of the Rings Reread That Scarred Members of My Family
My father read The Lord of the Rings to my brothers and me when I was very young. I believe I played with My Little Ponies the whole time and honestly thought Gollum was just an unhappy frog. The summer between college and high school, my eldest brother, Evan, put the book back in my hands. I think I squirmed, but the first LOTR movie was coming out in less than a year, so I thought, time to re-discover this story, I guess. Now, what you first need to understand is that I loved Frodo. I know—he’s like the least popular character, but I also had a massive crush on Elijah Wood and the pictures that were surfacing online from Peter Jackson’s adaptation left me giggly and red-cheeked.
So I don’t want to throw any spoilers at you, but there’s a moment deep in the third book when Frodo dies. Like really dies. And when I got to this part, I had been reading in my room for long hours and was already tired-emotional—I threw the book mid-page and started crying. I burst into my parents’ room and yelled. “I hate Evan! I hate him!” Then I called him at his college apartment across the country and continued my rant into his answering machine (this was 2001, guys). “EVAN! You’ve destroyed me! He’s dead and I hate you!”
Three days passed before my brother called me back (as was/is his way). He was laughing and asked if I was all right now. “Of course not,” I told him. “Frodo is dead and it’s all your fault.”
“Cori,” he replied. “Why don’t you just finish the page you were reading?”
I submit the following photographic evidence…
About the Author
Cori McCarthy studied poetry and screenwriting before falling in love with writing for teens at Vermont College of Fine Arts. From a military family, Cori was born on Guam and lived a little bit of everywhere before she landed in Michigan. Learn more about her books at CoriMcCarthy.com
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Learn more about the Growing A Reader series here!