“…try to be a filter, not a sponge.”

I didn’t realize when I was reading it that Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being A Wallflower was over a decade old.  As I contemplated the title prior to reading it, I envisioned lots of teen angst.  It was there, along with a little more.

Daughter, The Eldest gave me the book warning me that there could be some things that might make me uncomfortable.  But apparently, not so uncomfortable that she was afraid to give me the book – of which I’m very glad.

The book consists of a series of letters written by Charlie, a high school freshman in 1991, to an unnamed friend.  As Charlie’s story unfolds, we understand that he is shy, awkward, intelligent.  We also slowly begin to understand that he suffers from mental illness.  As Charlie makes friends with a couple of seniors, he encounters and confronts many of the issues teenagers face:  sex and drugs being the two major (and to a parent, scarrier) ones.  The novel is a little more graphic than I would prefer teen and YA books to be (or any books for that matter), but it stops short of being gratuitous.

Charlie also becomes friends with Bill, a first-year English teacher.  Recognizing Charlie’s intelligence and problems, Bill assigns extra books for Charlie to read – simply because he feels the books would benefit Charlie.  The books that are assigned to Charlie are fairly standard high school English books:  The Catcher In The Rye, The Great Gatsby, To Kill A Mockingbird, Hamlet, The Stranger, Walden, A Separate Peace, This Side Of Paradise.  These were all great books that I read myself when I was in high school (with the possible exception of Walden -which I was only required to read part of).  Bill also assigned Kerouac’s On The Road.  I had not heard of this novel until I was an adult out of college, but it’s a great book, too.

Then, out of left field, Bill assigns to Charlie Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead!  This choice floored me.  I’ve never read this book or anything else by Rand (but have always wanted to – my reading project for 2013 is starting to shape up).  I only know a little about Rand, but this book seemed completely out of place with the other books Bill assigned.  Charlie reads the book and absolutely loves it.  In the course of discussing it, Bill brilliantly tells Charlie to “…try to be a filter, not a sponge.” I don’t know if it’s just a natural ability for me or not, but I’ve always read books as a filter as opposed to a sponge, even as a teenager.  If I absorbed and adopted as my own every thought, idea or philosophy presented in the books on my bookshelf, I don’t think I’d be able to function.  Even if I don’t adopt an idea, it doesn’t mean I cannot appreciate it or at least understand it.  On rare occasions when I’ve been criticized for what I let my kids read, the criticism always comes under the assumption that my kids and all kids are sponges as opposed to filters.  While I very much recommend parents and teachers being involved with teenagers’ reading (and providing guidance to them in general), I think that teenagers have more filter than adults give them credit for.

I’m happy to have read this novel and have to confess that I’m proud that Daughter, The Eldest felt comfortable enough to give the book to me to read.   I’ll probably be back to YA novels sometime, but now I’m on to Charles Dickens.

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