Recently, I discovered the column PG-13: Risky Reads in The New York Times. In their words, the column features “authors discussing the books that transformed and matured their teenage minds” because “at 13, you crave the adult stuff — the drama, the relationships, the mind-blowing ideas — even if you’re not ready for adulthood.” I love this idea, and of course, this made me think about the “adult” books that transformed and matured my mind when I was 13. Then I realized that I read some really, really weird stuff when I was a kid.
So this week’s column is a departure from my usual format. Instead of talking about young adult books, I’m talking about the totally inappropriate books I read when I was a young adult. Because when I wasn’t reading Phyllis Reynolds Naylor or Lois Lowry, I was reading things I probably shouldn’t have been reading. So while they may not have been age-appropriate choices, I’m still glad I found these books, because they all taught me a lot about life, love and Tim Allen’s fashion choices.
Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man by Tim Allen
This is a weird choice to start out with, and I realize that. But this was back in the crazy days of the 90s when Home Improvement was super popular (insert the grunt from the opening credits here) and Toy Story was basically the coolest movie ever made. Tim Allen was everywhere, including in my house, because my dad owned this book. Even though my parents were incredibly strict about what movies they let me watch (seriously, it was a big deal when they let me watch Mrs. Doubtfire, a PG-13 movie, before I turned 13), they were pretty loosey-goosey about books. Except for this book. For some reason, they singled out Tim Allen’s essay collection as the one book I wasn’t allowed to read. So, naturally, I made it my mission to get my grubby little paws on it and read it.
I read this book in the only private place in the house—the bathroom. I leaned against the door while I read it, in case anyone tried to bust in and stop me. In retrospect, this was kind of a stupid plan. I mean, wouldn’t someone wonder why I was leaning against the door if they tried to get in? That’s kind of suspicious, Little Kerry.
I don’t know if I learned much of anything from this book other than that 1) men and women are different and 2) Tim can rock a pair of suspenders like nobody’s business (I’m just kidding, you guys. Please no one think I’ve been nursing a weird crush on Tim Allen all these years.). Anyway, I don’t remember much about Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man, but I recently found it at my parents’ house and the empty peanut M&Ms wrapper I used as a bookmark was still in it. Listen, I was a chubby kid. A chubby kid who just wanted to read Tim Allen in peace!
Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
Summer Sisters wasn’t the first Judy Blume book that taught me a lot about life (I literally learned about periods from one of her books because I am a cliché), but it was the first Judy Blume book I read that wasn’t directed towards young girls. My aunt bought me this when I was visiting her one weekend. Presumably, she figured it was another one of Judy’s children’s books. Either that or she just didn’t care what I read. Regardless, I did not expect Summer Sisters to be so awesome. I thought I was getting another Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, and instead I ended up with an explosive introduction to adult life (or what I imagined adult life would be like). There was sex and affairs and love triangles and did I mention sex? But the main thing I learned from Summer Sisters is that true friendship lasts forever, even if two girls go through some seriously intense situations together. My life as an adult hasn’t turned out to be quite as exciting as Summer Sisters, mainly because it involves very few beachy love triangles and many, many nights spent in front of my laptop, but you know what? I’m pretty okay with leaving the drama for Judy’s books.
Any romance novel, ever
If there was a romance novel anywhere in my general vicinity, I would find it and immediately read the sex scenes. I’d feel weird about this if I didn’t know it was a pretty common young girl activity—at least, it was for the girls I knew growing up. I attended multiple slumber parties where someone’s mom’s romance novels were read aloud as entertainment. I don’t know, was this common behavior or was I just hanging out with a bunch of 13 year old pervs? You tell me.
As you might expect, I learned a lot from these books, although I’m pretty sure (okay, 100% sure) that some of the information was inaccurate. I mean, how many sheiks or billionaires are looking for wives, realistically? But I did find out a lot of really creative words for body parts, which provided my friends and I with endless laughter. And, as a bonus, I still have an uncanny ability to open up any book to a sex scene. It’s like my totally useless, creepy super power.
Anything by Stephen King
Did I really need to read Thinner in elementary school? No. I did not. But did I? You bet. I loved Stephen King and all scary/creepy/violent books, despite the fact that I was an easily frightened child (ha, I say “was” as if this period of my life is over!). I learned a lot from Stephen King, like don’t hit gypsies with your car. And stay away from cursed pies! I also learned things that are slightly more useful, like that there are few things in life as satisfying as an interesting plot.
Now it’s your turn…what age-inappropriate or just plain weird books did you read when you were in elementary, junior high, or high school? Did you secretly read romance novels, too? Or were you into the memoirs of middle-aged comedians like some of us (ahem)? Let me know in the comments—or we can just talk about how amazing Summer Sisters is. Next week, I’ll be back to featuring young adult books. If there are any books you’d like to see in Young Adult Education, let me know in the comments, send me an email at email@example.com or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.
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