Ten Books I Wish I’d Read Ten Years Ago

10 Years Ago

I looked at the calendar earlier today and realized I graduated from college (well, undergraduate—pretty sure I’ll never be done with college since I’m about to start round three) ten years ago this week. That’s a little mindblowing. Strangely enough, I wasn’t much of a reader ten years ago. I was a total bookworm as a kid, but I think the work of school kind of sucked the fun out of reading for me. By the time I left university and started my first year of teaching a few months later, reading for pleasure just wasn’t a thing I was making time for. But sometimes I do think about the books I wish I’d read and what I might pass back to myself from the future.

 

bastard out of carolinaBastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

I now have a huge soft spot for gritty Southern fiction like Bastard Out of Carolina, but I don’t think I had read anything like it ten years ago. I wish I could go back and put a copy of it in my path during one of my hunts at Kazoo Books.

 

 

 

Handmaids TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I would have been able to get through so much more of Margaret Atwood’s backlist if I had just started sooner! I didn’t read The Handmaid’s Tale until 2011. So much wasted Margaret Atwood time!

 

 

 

MiddlesexMiddlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

I adored Middlesex when I read it a few years after graduation, but I think I would have loved it even more if I’d read it sooner. I was living in the suburbs of Detroit and teaching in the city, which put me right in the middle of the novel’s setting.

 

 

 

BelovedBeloved by Toni Morrison

I waited until last year to read Toni Morrison because I’m the worst. Consider this my well-deserved public shaming.

 

 

 

 

Harry PotterHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse than Toni Morrison, I didn’t read Harry Potter until my late twenties. The books came out when I was in middle school and obviously way too cool to like things that my little sister liked. It took a little while for me to realize that I was not really all that cool.

 

 

George SaundersIn Persuasion Nation by George Saunders

It took me way too long to appreciate and even enjoy short stories, but I think I could have come around much earlier if I had read George Saunders sooner. In Persuasion Nation was published just before I graduated, but wasn’t even remotely on my radar.

 

 

 

Tiny-Beautiful-Things1Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

I would have to go back in time to deliver this one, since it wasn’t published yet, but is it really any surprise I’d want to read one of my favorites sooner? Really, though, new graduate Shannon was in desperate need of some Sugar.

 

 

 

The Secret HistoryThe Secret History by Donna Tartt

I really do feel like The Secret History could have reignited my love of reading at a time when it was nearly nonexistent. If only I had been paying attention to anything remotely bookish, I’m sure it would have come my way.

 

 

 

Why Have KidsWhy Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti

I spent years saying I wanted kids “later” without even realizing not having kids was an option. Reading Valenti’s book was the first time that option really sunk in and I wish it was something I had been able to grasp years earlier.

 

 

 

cover-The-WifeThe Wife by Meg Wolitzer

Just like The Secret History, I think The Wife could have nudged me awake and pushed me toward reading again. Wolitzer has something that I just can’t resist and I think it would have been particularly appealing at that point in my life.

 

 

 

If you could go back ten years, what would you give yourself to read?

 

  • This really does make me think of all the books I shoulda coulda woulda read ten years (or longer) ago. It’s one of those “if I knew then what I know now” kind of moments only something I’ve gotten from books that make me wish I’d read at certain times in my life because it might have made a difference somehow. If any of that makes sense. All to say, I’ve had those “wish I’d read that then” kind of feelings before, too. *sigh*

    • It does make sense! It’s also made me think a bit about some of the books I have sitting on my shelves *right now*…I bet there are a few there I’ll be kicking myself later over.

  • I still haven’t read Harry Potter. I thought I’d do it with my daughter, but she blew through them all in a blink of an eye.

  • Oh my gosh! Great topic! And – here’s my shame – I’ve only read the first Harry Potter…still haven’t read the rest & Handmaid’s Tale is still my only Atwood. I think I would’ve liked to have read Quiet 10 years earlier…it would have explained so much of my behavior!

  • Wow! This is so interesting to think about, Shannon! Gosh, ten years ago I barely had enough money for groceries, was working two jobs and teaching classes to pay for grad school and I definitely was NOT reading much for pleasure – ha! Should I be embarrassed to admit that my roommate convinced me to read Twilight…and I did? On a Saturday, while avoiding my studies, I sat and read the whole thing without a break; I think that explains the state of affairs pretty well.

    • Well, I think I’d have to be embarrassed with you because I definitely read Twilight around the same time. I think I blocked it from my memory because I totally forgot about it!

  • I had to dive deep into my goodreads list for this, but I read “Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids” about a year and a half ago, and it really helped me cement my thinking around having children. I haven’t picked up Valenti’s book (although I love her writing), but would highly recommend this one! It’s a collection of short essays from writers who waffled/delayed/chose not to have kids, and it was incredibly interesting.

    I also wish I had read Atwood WAYYYY earlier than I did!

    • Oh, I loved Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed! Such a wonderful essay collection and it gave me some of the same feelings Velnti’s book did – definitely a great read :)

  • This is a great list and topic! I’m 11 years out of my bachelor’s degree, so right about the same as you. I totally agree about so many of these, especially Cheryl Strayed. I discovered her in my late 20’s and wish I would’ve earlier! She’s one of my favorites. I NEED to read the Why Have Kids? book. I’m 32 and really have no desire whatsoever to have children (luckily my husband agrees) and spend a ridiculour amount of time feeling guilty about it every time someone looks at me funny when I say I don’t want to have kids.

    • I really can’t recommend Why Have Kids? enough. Valenti wrote it right after having her daughter, so it’s from a really interesting perspective of how much life changes/why that may not be best for some people.

  • I wish I’d read Harry Potter earlier too! I’d love to feel I had been an early adopter, but in fact, my mother had to badger me into it (I thought the cover and title were dumb, and I kinda still do), and I only eventually read the books because my best friend was. I think I started reading them shortly before the fourth one came out?

    I’m having a hard time thinking of books I wish I’d read sooner! The experience of reading each book I now love when I did read it (untangle that grammar!) is a nice memory I want to keep. GREEDILY.

    • I think my biggest regret about HP is that I missed out on all the releases and had some of the big things spoiled by the time I read it…ugh, why did I have to be SO COOOOOL?

  • Rebecca Foster

    What an interesting idea. I think I would have had myself read more broadly, especially in nonfiction and works in translation. Back then, having recently finished an MA, I mostly just read whatever I happened to pick up from the library — some of it worthwhile, I’m sure, but not pushing myself.

    • I think that was definitely the issue I faced when I first started to read more after leaving university, too…I just didn’t really know how to find books that I would like, so I read what other people were reading.

  • Kailana

    I may have to read Why Have Kids… There is a lot of books I wish existed for me 10 years ago. I missed something reading them now…

  • My past reader self wanted hip (Tom Wolfe), funny (Carl Hiaasen) and cool (Elmore Leonard). Books which should have been on my list ten years ago, or anytime in my reading experience for that matter, were the classics on literature class reading list.

    For my southern authors, I’m now reading Eudora Welty’s short stories, Ellen Glasgow (Richmond author), Lee Smith, Flannery O’Connor, Richard Ford, Dorothy Parker and am re-reading some of the Faulkner books.

    For others, I’m looking for stories from other places like T.E. Lawrence’s Lawrence of Arabia and Kipling’s works.

  • Love this! I’m a decade older and would have had a few on this list as well like Strayed and Atwood but so glad I got to them eventually. I read Wolitzer’s Ten-Year-Nap maybe ten years ago and didn’t love it but just goes to show that a favorite author is more than just one of their books cause I looooved The Wife.

  • Had never heard of the first one! Definitely on my TBR now though! Loved Middlesex and Beloved! And Harry Potter! It’s been at least 5-6 years since I re-read that series. And, being the sacrificing “book grandma” that I am, I gave my whole hardcover set to my grandkids who moved many miles away! There are 6 kids, so that set should get good use! (My daughter-in-law was thrilled, too! :)) Really, I must get to The Handmaid’s Tale and The Secret History!! (I loved The Goldfinch!) I believe The Wife is on our LIterary Wives schedule, so that’s good. Why have kids? As a mother who tried to stress to her 3 sons that really, you do NOT HAVE to marry or have children to be happy/successful, and now a grandmother of 11 with all 3 of them married, it is definitely valuable to have all options in your mind as possibilities! Then you can make informed decisions! I don’t know why, but the Strayed just doesn’t strike me as “must-read,” though I know so many have raved about it. And Saunders is now on my TBR. Nice list! I try not to regret WHEN I have read a book and rather just assume that it is a good thing I did finally get to it! :)

  • So I feel like I had the reading life you wish you had at 22; I read The Handmaid’s Tale, Middlesex, Beloved, Tiny Beautiful Things, and The Wife between the ages of 22 and 24! Although, to be fair, I definitely read some of those because of your recommendations — thanks! I still need to read George Saunders, though!

  • Wow, what a great prompt. We must be about the same age, because I just realized I graduated undergrad 10 years ago, too. I was the same way with reading then. I didn’t major in literature and all my reading was academic until I got out of grad school. It’s funny how that happens. Harry Potter and The Handmaid’s Tale would probably be on my list – but I’d also definitely have some genre fiction, like sci-fi and fantasy, in mine. I never read that growing up, but as an adult, I like that my reading tastes have become so broad.