There’s a healthy love of reading, and then there’s geeked-out, vision-wrecking devotion to the mesmerizing power of books. As youths with our noses stuck in various volumes, some of us skewed toward the latter territory. But because we’re grownups now, and because it’s become, finally, COOL to geek out over books (right?), we’ve decided to unburden ourselves. Here are our deepest, dorkiest book-nerd confessions:
Claire Zulkey: So, I might have written The Secret History fan fiction. In my defense, this was before I knew fan fiction was a thing, OK? It was summer in high school, and I was working a tedious office job. This was the age before you could make yourself look busy by emailing your friends or trolling the internet, so to entertain myself, I wrote fiction. What a cool kid! I had just reread Donna Tartt’s classic sexy novel about a group of college kids who were smarter and classier than I could ever hope to be, so I wrote up some “extra” chapters of the book that featured, I believe, Francis Abernathy’s mysterious, wealthy, beautiful cousin. She may have looked a lot like me. Don’t hate.
Nicole Hill: As the saying goes, “If you love something, pen a parody song about it.” If I obsessively love something, I have a tendency to set it to lyrics and a melody (that someone else previously invented). Sometimes the ditty is as simple as “The Final Pancake” (“The Final Countdown”) or “Bagel Bites” (“Edelweiss”). More often than not, however, it’s about The Lord of the Rings. I think this is because I could not satiate my love of Middle-earth by attending midnight book premieres, as with Harry Potter. As a result, the music never stops, and the tunes span genres. There’s Christmas music: “Hark the wizard Gandalf sings/ Fireworks to the hobbits I bring.” There’s even a rap or two with advice for Frodo on the Precious: “When a Gollum try to get at you/Drop it like it’s hot/ When a cave troll get an attitude/ Drop it like it’s hot.” You, dear readers, may think that’s not all that embarrassing or excessive. But I posit that it indeed is when you break out your songs on a date with someone who clearly isn’t the right person.
Melissa Albert: In the 9th grade I became obsessed with witchcraft, but, being way too self-conscious to go full-on goth, my love was expressed only through reading. Sadly, this was also the year that my class read The Crucible, which afforded me the dangerous opportunity to give a public presentation on my favorite topic. While everyone else mumbled through 90 seconds of half-baked index cards, I dressed in a full-on period costume, complete with apron and headscarf, and read a story I’d written from the perspective of a dead witch speaking from beyond the grave. The presentation started with the lighting of three sacred candles, which I blew out every time someone in my story died. Though open flames were against school rules, my teacher was shocked into silence, presumably by the force of my nerdery.
I got a B.
Josh Sorokach: I once memorized 10 quotes from The Great Gatsby in a feeble attempt to impress a woman. When I was in college, a girl I would have given up my finest beanbag chair to date was throwing a toga party. I assumed this party would be the night she professed her undying love for me—mostly because I’ve seen toga parties in movies and declarations of love seemed to be fairly prevalent on the big screen. Obviously, I did not major in logic. My Girl Friday surprisingly didn’t declare love to me that night. I know, right? If not at a toga party, WHEN? I did, however, notice a dog-eared copy of The Great Gatsby, so I decided to reread the classic, memorize a few quotes, and impress the object of my affection with my heretofore unseen literary acumen. Plan, consider yourself hatched. A couple weeks later, at yet another party (college!), I started to drop my Gatsby quotes in casual conversation. Nothing. As the night went on, my subtlety deteriorated to the point where I threw a conversational hail Mary and blurted out, “The Great Gatsby is just so nuanced.” I didn’t even know what the word nuanced meant, but it sounded insightful. My potential wife turned to me and said, “I never read it, but my roommate loves that book.”
Amy Wilkinson: Of all the playthings I coveted and never received (which, admittedly, were few, since I was a spoiled only child), the American Girl doll ranks highest. (Order of desire: Samantha, Kirsten, Addy, Felicity, Molly.) My tummy still feels funny every time I pass an American Girl Place, with its troupes of joyful, doll-clutching children scampering about. At the time, I consoled my tween self by reading each girl’s accompanying book series, comprised of six themed volumes (Meet Kirsten, Happy Birthday, Molly, etc.). While perusing one particular paperback (my memory is a bit fuzzy here, but internet research leads me to believe it was Addy Saves the Day, I noticed that the cover included an incorrect version of the American flag—so I wrote a super-helpful letter to the Pleasant Company, pointing out their error. A few weeks later, I received a kindly worded postcard, explaining that the imagery was, indeed, correct. Now, I’m no historian (and my vision certainly isn’t what it used to be), but doesn’t it look like those 1850s-era flags have 50 stars? I’ll bet you a mint-condition Kirsten I’m right!
Rebecca Jane Stokes: Oh man. What haven’t I done in a fit of book-obsessed pique? For the life of me, I can’t remember the book’s name, but in a novel about a girl who moved from foster home to foster home, the main character had a tiny scar on her eyebrow. Upon reading this, I totally shaved out a chunk of my eyebrow, in a bid to seem troubled and mysterious. It did not take. In case you were wondering, ingrown eyebrow hairs are a thing, and they are awful. Also, after reading The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge, I tried to wear riding pants all of the time. I did not ride a horse nor see a unicorn, but with some help from saddle pants, no one had to know that but me.
Lauren Passell, Girl Of Destiny: As an only child who got dragged everywhere by her boozy, partying parents, I was often the only kid around. To curtail my loneliness, I got my parents to buy me a stuffed tiger (it was not a licensed Hobbes stuffed animal—oh, how I wish that had existed!) and brought him everywhere, pretending I was Calvin, playing Calvin Ball, and adopting the same sarcastic repertoire as Calvin and Hobbes. Hobbes, you’re my only friend. I should note: I was way too old to be doing this. I also wrote “Lauren Passell, Girl Of Destiny” on top of all my papers at school. I totally ripped that one from Calvin, Boy Of Destiny. But I’ll never be too old to do that.
Kathryn Williams: I am a book nerd but also a writer nerd. When I was in fourth grade we had a story-writing contest. My opus was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade meets the New Testament (yes, Jesus was my protagonist), and I won. My prize: a little clear box of mineral specimens. Literally, a box of rocks. To this day, one of my proudest accomplishments.
Joel Cunningham: As books were just about my favorite thing growing up (if I’m being honest, Super Mario was neck-and-neck), I could only imagine that all the other kids felt the same way (what are these… what do you call them? “Sports”?). Thus, I spent one summer circa age eight working on a brilliant scheme to make big bucks: every week, I would read a single chapter from a handful of different books (choice selection: Sideways Stories from Wayside School) into my little tape recorder, imagining that by the end of August, I would have a whole pile of cassettes that I could copy and sell to my friends. Riveted, they would demand subsequent installments, and I would soon be drowning in He-Man toys and Garbage Pail Kids. Instead, I lost track of what I was doing after about a month, which is probably for the best. Not because I would have been violating a whole raft of copyrights, but because, as an eight-year-old, I sounded like a baby squirrel. (A few years ago, I found and played one of the tapes for my wife, and she burst out laughing.)
What’s your most embarrassing book worm confession?