Today is the day officially known as “Black Friday.” Originally, the term was coined as a bad thing (a day when no one wanted to be out and about because of the crowds), but recent generations think of “Black Friday” as the day when stores finally break even after running in the red for the first 11 months of the year. While I do think that the extreme displays of conspicuous consumerism are egregious, I used to enjoy participating back in the day when all the stores opened around 5 a.m. Now that the tradition has infiltrated Thanksgiving, I no longer bother with the long lines; it’s just not an event anymore.
Which brings me (very tangentially) to today’s Book that Shaped My Life. When I was young and impressionable (as opposed to middle age and impressionable), I really got into the books of Robert Cormier. He was probably the first author I discovered that I wanted to read all of what he’d written. Many kids got into Mr. Cormier through the ironically assigned required reading of The Chocolate War. The protagonist of this book is a teenage boy who refuses to participate in selling candies at his school, refusing to bend to the will of mass consumerism posing as fundraising (there’s the tangent). Reading the story of a schoolboy who is bullied and then stands up against both the bullies and the teachers who enable them was practically a rite of passage for my generation.
However, the Cormier book that most resonated with me was, in fact, I am the Cheese. The story of a boy on a journey to find out his true self, I am the Cheese is the ultimate childhood alienation story, borrowing (and darkening, if that were possible) themes from The Catcher in the Rye (stay tuned) and lending ideas to a novel like Life of Pi. I don’t want to give away too much, but the pacing, tone and style (not to mention the shock ending) was what marked me most when I first read this book. I believe it was the first novel to make me cry (and not in a good way).
As I grew older, I tried out some of Mr. Cormier’s books aimed at an older audience, but those novels didn’t pack the same punch. In much the same way as John Hughes with film, Mr. Cormier simply had a handle on the young teenage mind and how hard it was for some of us to fit in. I was—and in many ways continue to be—the cheese. I stand alone.