Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Best Books to Read with Your Closest Friends - Part 1

Update: Part two right here

As I was wasting my life away on the internet today, I came across a nifty Buzzfeed post: 19 Books You Should Read With Your Closest Friends.  It's a nice, quick read, and a lot of the books sound wonderful.  I've read a handful of them.  I'm particularly fond of Harry Potter, you know.  That said, the author gave reasons the books were good.  She didn't necessarily explain why they'd be good to read with friends.  So because I'm not feeling creative or smart enough to come up with my own post topic, I'm going to make a list of books I think would be great to read with close friends. 

(Disclaimer:  I'm going to list some of these as great books to read with your close friends at a particular age.  I'm 23, so this will probably be lacking.)

1.  Let's start by pointing out that the author was right to include The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  I read this when I was in my third or fourth year of college.  I enjoyed it, but I think I might have enjoyed it more if, like many of my friends, I had read it while a senior in high school.  I consider it a good book, not a great book.  (I happen to adore the movie.  The dance scene!)

Why is it great to read aloud or simultaneously with your friend(s)?   

If you're around 16-21 and you read this book with your friends, you will likely have a lot to talk about.  I mean, this holds true if you're not those ages, but since they're dealing with high school and college, you'll probably relate to it a bit.  The reason it's great to read with close friends is that the characters have a lot of serious issues going on.  Aside from lessons in empathy and personal struggle, it's a good conversation starter if you've been wanting to tell your friend something but didn't feel comfortable with it or didn't know how to bring it up.  In the book the characters have to handle things like sexual abuse, drug use, childhood abuse, and being gay in a place where it's not safe to be gay.  Those are things that real people go through.  After reading this book, one of my friends said something along the lines of, "yeah, that's how I felt," when talking about Patrick's boyfriend hiding from his dad.  Until then, this friend didn't know how to talk about his personal struggle with coming out.  No matter how close you are with your friends, there are things you might not feel comfortable talking about.  This book can help get that conversation started, if you do want to talk about something you've gone through. 

2.  Another winner on that original list!  Harry Potter!  The entire series will forever be my favorite, and I could go on and on about why, but... time is a thing and this is not that post.  

“Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”

Harry Potter is terrific to read with your closest friends because Harry Potter is terrific to read in any and every situation, with all people.  I think the main reason for this is that it has such universal values.  On top of that, though, magic is fun.  There's so much room for wonder in the series.  And because it has an entire made up world, there's no end to possible discussions.  It's also pretty well written.  And there are so many kinds of people in it.  Your closest friend is really into sports and stuff?  Cool, he or she will probably love the series.  The sports in the wizarding world are intense.  I cannot fathom a hardcore sports fan not getting worked up about the Triwizard Tournament.  I mean, dragons?  Come on now. And Quidditch?  Don't pretend you haven't imagined yourself playing.  

Or maybe your closest friend really loves school.  She relates to Hermione.  

Orrrrr maybe your closest friend was from a poor family and relates to the Weasley family.  Or maybe s/he didn't have parents and related to Harry.  It goes on and on and on.  When you read the series, there's no way you and your friend won't feel connected to certain characters or story lines.  And when you read it together, it'll likely bring you even closer, because friendship is one of the main themes throughout the books.  Two friends reading about friendship (and the sacrifices, the gifts, etc that come with it) have no choice but to become even better friends.  JUST TRY AND PROVE ME WRONG. 

And just to beat my own record of longest blog post saying the same thing over and over... and over.  There's another reason to read this with your friend(s)!  Especially as you get older, I think it's a terrific idea to read this with your absolute closest friends more than once.  Or at least, reread them along with your friends.  There are seeds that are planted in our brains when we read HP for the first time, but those seeds can really start to grow when you read the books critically with your friends.  (Bear with me on the seed analogy.  I have to work at a greenhouse some days, so fresh on the mind...)  As you and your friend(s) get older and have to live in the real world, there will be so much more to explore in the series.  You can start to see feminism.  You'll start to see Christian themes.  You'll see themes of oppression and revolution.  As a kid, I understood the basic good vs evil structure in the books.  As I got older, and more importantly as I started talking about the books with my friends, I started to see the ways Rowling depicts women (magnificently), how the main characters often mirror Christ, how Hermione's devotion to SPEW was badass.  And we start to apply those lessons to real life, and I honestly believe it makes us more mindful people.  Better people.  

Also, if your good friend happens to be someone you're crushing on, the Hermione-Ron relationship gives ample room for you to drop not-so-subtle hints like, "Wow, see how amazing and beautiful it is for these two good friends to enter into a relationship and get married and have babies?  Are you seeing this?  Wow look how possible!  WOW THEY ARE OUR AGE! WOW WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?"


3. A People's History of the United States.  I read this in high school for a class.  It was good then.  But know what was better?  Reading it with close friends in college.  We grow up thinking America is the greatest thing (especially if we're white because we're not given immediate reason to dispute that in our everyday lives), and it's really hard to question that.  It's also very uncomfortable in an itchy sweater sort of way to realize the ways in which you're privileged or the kinds of things you've been turning a blind eye at and sometimes, if you want to talk about that, it's best to do it with a good friend who isn't going to judge you but also is going to tell it to you straight.  Especially great to read with friends from different backgrounds, whether racial or economical.  

4. For this next one, we're gonna make it fun by having a board game option at the end.  Grab your best friend and read Murder on the Orient Express together.  

This is slightly cheating, because there's nothing touching or heartwarming or anything like that to make it great to read with close friends.  So why is it on this list?  WELL.  I have this thing where I can't be an ahole to strangers.  But my best friends?  Lol yeah, hi.  This book is a mystery.  Not only is it a mystery, but it's a wonderfully written mystery, the kind where the facts and the circumstances are laid out but you can't quite solve it on your own.  So, aside from being absolute fun to read with friends, you can have a bit of a bet on it.  (Apparently I think betting is an ahole activity?)  You and your friends can all guess what the ending will be, and whoever is closest wins something, OR the people who are furthest from the correct ending have to do something horrible.  Basically a more in-depth version of truth or dare.  (I always go with dare.)  

And when the book is done and the dares are dished out, you and your friends can enjoy a game of Clue.  With or without a few wine coolers.

This is on here because I play board games with close friends and rarely with acquaintances.  Social.  Anti. 

5. You already know I am a big fan of Mindy Kaling.  Her show is my favorite on TV at the moment.  Her book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) is also awesome.  I haven't technically read this "with" a friend, but when my old roommate, Stephanie, read it I heard constant laughter.  And because she's the sharing sort, Steph would often read me excerpts.  This is the sort of book that would be hilarious to read together (everything is funnier when you're exposed to other people cracking up), but at times it's got a personal feel to it, so I wouldn't read it with anyone other than a good friend. 

“I’m only marginally qualified to be giving advice at all. My body mass index is certainly not ideal, I frequently use my debit card to buy things that cost less than three dollars because I never have cash on me, and my bedroom is so untidy it looks like vandals ransacked the Anthropologie Sale section. I’m kind of a mess.” 

Only my close friends can join me in side eye-ing one another with the, "yeah that's us" look after reading that sentence.  

You feel me? 

So I guess that's where I'll end the first part of this.  I plan on having three parts.  I think reading books with the people who mean the most to you can be a really intimate thing.  But it can also be good fun, and it's probably a better idea for bonding than a trip to McDonalds to test out the new menu items.  Probably.  

Read on. 

Part 2 here.

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