Tuesday, June 12, 2007

'wallflower' left me standing on the sidelines

On a recent trip back east I got to spend some time in The Book Keeper, one of my all-time favorite bookstores. Many moons ago I had an English teacher who was always reading something from the New York Times' list. The Book Keeper kept a table at the front of the store stocked with books from that week's list. They, along with that English teacher, started me on a habit that continues to this day. I don't choose all my books from the list, but for the most part on any given day I've read at least something that's currently on the list.

The Bookkeeper also keeps a well-stocked "We recommend" shelf and that's where I found Stephen Chbosky's novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower. According to Wikipedia, Perks is in its twentieth printing so admittedly I've come to the party late. But now that I'm here I'm not convinced I want to stay.

Perks is all about being in high school. Chbosky has captured the utter confusion of the experience perfectly -- which makes for admirable art but somewhat uncomfortable reading. I found myself remembering, "o yes, I felt that way too" and then realizing that I was quite happy to have forgotten the feeling.

Towards the end of the book the main character, Charlie, asks, "Just tell me how to be different in a way that makes sense." Isn't that exactly the heart-cry of so many high schoolers? The perk of being a wallflower seems to be Charlie's willingness to accept his different-ness without question. It is simply a fact about him as indisputable as his height or the color of his hair. Throughout the book people keep telling him to participate, but they miss that Charlie is participating, he's just doing so differently. He sees everything -- what is really going on and who is and is not who they claim to be.

Action is always so highly valued but the advantage of being on the sidelines is that it gives you such a clear view of the room.

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