By Monica Busch
Sunday morning, for the first time in probably ten years, I made chocolate chip pancakes. I think about chocolate chip pancakes probably once a month but, because I am actually an 85-year-old trapped in a 27-year-old’s body, I feel sick if I eat too much sugar first thing in the morning and usually opt for literally any other breakfast option instead. (The opposite of how I feel at night, standing in front of an open cabinet, pounding marshmallows one after the other.)
On Sunday morning, though, spooning my dog Fitz in bed and awake at the rudely early weekend time of 7:30 a.m., sugar-induced nausea felt less important than the fact that I had managed to spend the entire month of April not reading our book club selection for That’s On My List, the Manqué monthly book club. Whoops.
We’re revisiting The Perks of Being a Wallflower in the coming week, the Stephen Chbosky novel that went what is probably best termed viral among teens circa 2007. It was adolescent me’s favorite book, and probably remained so until sometime in college. I long ago lost track of how many times I’ve read the thing. It was the kind of broken-in-sweatshirt sort of book I’d return to when I was feeling glum and monotonous. But for the last four weeks, I couldn’t bring myself re-open it, despite promoting it on our social channels, and so there it sat on my kitchen counter for the better part of a month.
It’s not that I wasn’t reading anything else in that time. I probably read four books between the time this new copy arrived in my mailbox and when I woke up Sunday morning and resolved to make chocolate chip pancakes. But when it came to Perks, I just couldn’t seem to make myself sit down and do the damn thing. I tried twice, once in the bath and once in bed, to no avail, opting instead for The White Album and, then, some low-grade smut which shall not be named.
Certainly, it was something-something to do with not wanting to find that a story I once loved so dearly did not stand the test of time (more on that later), but even more so, I think it had to do with not being the person I was whenever I was last the person who last reached for the book as a source of comfort. It’s not fair or reasonable to say I have outgrown coming of age stories, by any means. (Obviously.) But as my self-mythology has developed, that worn, dog-eared yellow book had become more than a piece of my personal library. It had taken on a different symbolism, weighed down with memories of teenage relationships and living with my parents and dreams of college, becoming a writer, and moving away and starting a new life. Dreams, in other words, I’ve more or less attained.
As the years went by, Perks transformed from a piece of thought-provoking entertainment to a security blanket I no longer needed or even wanted. Slowly, I forgot about it, left it behind. When we chose it as our April book club pick, I didn’t even own a copy of it anymore because I’d handed it off to my younger brother years prior. He was about sixteen or so at the time.
Anyway, I did re-read it. I sat down over chocolate chip pancakes, a nod to the chocolate chip muffins I used to buy from Cumberland Farms on a near-daily basis when I was the teenager chronically recommending Perks to all my friends, a time when I was often found inscribing its quotes into notebooks and downloading playlists of every song Charlie mentions, reading all the books his first-year English teacher assigns him. That book used to take up so much space in my life. But on Sunday, sickened from chocolate and synthetic syrup, I flipped through the entire thing in about four hours, unsettled that it was so much shorter than I remembered. It should be said that those four hours were, indeed, sweet— spent thinking about teenage-me, who was so often daydreaming about accepting the love I thought I deserved, ordering chocolate milkshakes with a wink to my friends, and contemplating epistolary poetry. But it should also be said that, in the same way that I don’t feel well after eating saccharine breakfast foods, I didn’t feel better in the end. Sweet, yes, but overshadowed by the over-familiar discomfort I expected at the onset.