What kind of reader were you as a kid? The kind that finished books as if it was an Olympic event 鈥 鈥Harry Potter, yeah I finished that in a day?鈥 The kind that took forever 鈥 鈥淲hat the heck! All this time into Little Women and Amy marries Laurie? Why should I even go on?!鈥 Or maybe you were the kind that read everything in your elementary school library at least once 鈥 鈥淗ey, it鈥檚 better than dodgeball?鈥

BabySittersClub

Whatever kind of reader you were, you probably have fond memories of burying yourself in a book with old friends like Stanley Yelnats, Sarah Crewe and Kristy Thomas (who probably grew up to date Mary Anne). You read those books, and when they took you to a new world you felt safe.

As an adult, safe places become a thousand times more necessary and less readily available. Some days you wish you could go back to the old days and see your former fictional friends. Still, people might give you weird looks if you鈥檙e engrossed in Ella Enchanted on the subway (believe me, I鈥檝e done the field research), so here are some books that will help you bridge the gap between old favorites and new.

1

Then: A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Now: Cat鈥檚 Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Though these books gave me crazy depressing nightmares, you have to admit, Lemony Snicket is kind of a baller writer. If you read this book, you dropped crazy advanced vocabulary words like 鈥減enultimate鈥 in second grade because he went out of his way to explain what that meant. Not only that, but he inserted himself as a character in his books and made snarky asides often (this is a good thing because in real life Daniel Handler鈥檚 asides are kind of racist). Likely he learned this technique from Vonnegut (the snark, not the racism) because he is the master of the same devices. His books are soft Sci-Fi mixed with dry humor and a more refined minimalist style than Snicket鈥檚 that still conveys the same dark wit. Read Slaughterhouse Five in high school and hated it? No problem 鈥 Cat鈥檚 Cradle is a shorter, slightly less complex and timey-whimey story about a writer who goes to an island to research the man who helped make the atomic bomb. Vonnegut鈥檚 insights about humans and who they pretend to be will remind you of all the quirky characters you loved in Series and may just give you some new vocab as well.

alice and loathing

Then: Alice鈥檚 Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Now: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

I promise I鈥檓 not just trying to shill for Johnny Depp movies with this one (though as an aside, is he doing okay lately? I just saw Tusk and that was pretty crappy, and Lone Ranger? Can someone go check on Johnny Depp please?)

Everyone remembers the feeling of plunging into Wonderland for the first time and being awed by the weird and whacky world it conjured. Now imagine that with lines of cocaine, tabs of acid and a healthy sprinkling of good old-fashioned mescal and you鈥檝e got Fear and Loathing. Fear and Loathing is a grown-up romp through worlds unknown, and seriously, even if you think you鈥檙e hot stuff these days, no one parties like Hunter S. Thompson now. This book鈥檚 rabbit hole will take you into the seedy, gaudy underbelly of Thompson鈥檚 visit to bat country complete with madcap characters and nonsensical encounters. Remember that one bad kid in your school who insisted that Alice in Wonderland was really about drugs? They were full of crap: Alice in Wonderland is about childhood, fantasy, and light British politics. Fear and Loathing is DEFINITELY about drugs.

rd rt

Then: The Royal Diaries Series

Now: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

If you were a booky girl worth her salt, you had stacks on stacks of these puppies and Dear Americas on your shelves. They were so sneaky, teaching you history by way of books that felt like a passed note from a girl just like you鈥ven if that girl did end up beheading the heck out of most of England and Scotland. These books were fun and let us see history in a more relatable context and highlight strong-as-hell females along the way. The Red Tent tells the story of a woman who gets only one line of mention in the Bible. It鈥檚 a larger story about generations of women that sucks you into biblical history and engages you on a more human level than a cold reading of the good book would. The Red Tent is rich and raw and unshakably feminist and will pull at your historical fiction heartstrings like Royal Diaries did back in the day. Plus it will make you super jealous that you can鈥檛 hang out and eat snacks with your girlfriends when you鈥檙e on the rag.

goosebumps

Then: The Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine

Now: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

If you liked horror as a child (I鈥檓 also looking at you fans of the truly terrifying Scary Stories To Read in the Dark), you鈥檒l love this creeping slinking beast. House of Leaves tells several stories at once, and it鈥檚 hard to pick a favorite, but mostly the plot centers on a sinister house. The book itself is an adventure to read as the text mimics the action (getting narrower when describing hallways or sometimes pages blacking out but for a few words to show the beam of a flashlight). The scariness of this book is a slow boil, but will give you the shivers in a good way.

grim

Then: Grimm鈥檚 Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm

Now:The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

I think we all had a fairy tale phase, which was followed a few years later by a 鈥渉oly crap, that鈥檚 the real version of that fairy tale???鈥 phase. There was a twofold delight in this, first loving stories of princesses and talking animals then cringing and fascinated by their intrinsic gore or sex. John Connolly takes both of these feelings and gives us The Book Of Lost Things, a story of a boy in WWII England who yearns to escape. He finds a magical world populated by the same creatures from fairy tales but twisted by childhood fears and anxieties. This book is so engaging and modern and also deliciously scary and macabre that there are whole chunks of it I have to file in my brain under 鈥渄on鈥檛 think about just as you鈥檙e falling asleep鈥 (see also 鈥渢he twin scene鈥 from The Shining or Guts by Chuck Palahniuk). Still, this appreciation for fairy tales that goes from wholesome to complex and twisted is kind of a metaphor for this whole growing up thing if you really think about it.

intw

Then: My Side of The Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Now: Into The Wild by John Krakauer

There was a clear delineation when I was growing up; you were either Team My Side of the Mountain or Team Hatchet. I was always the former (even though if you fall into the latter team you should read any non-fiction by Gary Paulsen because he鈥檚 a bad a** ). Hatchet was so stressful (this is before we all watched Lost and knew what real island stress was) and My Side was so planned out and cool. Plus I desperately wanted to have a falcon as a best friend. Into the Wild tells the story of someone who went to live off the land in real life. It鈥檚 the perfect read for anyone who enjoyed the ingenuity of the kid in My Side but always secretly thought 鈥渨hat the hell, I can鈥檛 believe his parents just let him haul out and live in the forest.鈥 Christopher McCandless is the protagonist of this story, a kid who eschewed the trappings of formal society to live on his own in the elements. This book will hopefully give you the same transcendental wilderness feel of My Side but also teach you to be responsible and make sure someone knows where you鈥檙e going.

greek

Then: The Greek Gods by Evslin, Evslin, and Hoopes

Now: Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

There are lots of great kids鈥 compendiums of Greek myths (shoutout to the impeccably illustrated D鈥橝ulaires version) but this one is by far my favorite. If you were cool enough to get the entire set of them via the hallowed paper book order, you were pretty much guaranteed hours of epic enjoyment with gods and monsters (and the vague sex references every kid secretly wants). C.S. Lewis, yes that same one, re-imagines the myth of Eros and Psyche in his novel Till We Have Faces. This time it鈥檚 narrated by Psyche鈥檚 sister and set in ancient Greece. It does a good job of giving a former villain a reasonable and pragmatic voice that makes sense to adult readers. This book expands on the myth and shows a new side of it while weaving in all the philosophical waxing of Lewis that you loved from Narnia and none of the heavy-handed Christianity.

eewfc

Then:Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Now:Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Cinderella is a story that has been retold billions of times. There is something inherently appealing, across cultures and generations, about someone who started as nothing and then became something great ( Drake = ultimate contemporary Cinderella). Ella Enchanted did a brilliant job of infusing the story with more magic but also more humanity than many versions, and I re-read my little blue paperback until it literally fell apart in my hands. For grown-up girls who are still dreamers, Like Water For Chocolate gives the classic story a sensuous twist. Like Ella, the protagonist in this book is also cursed by duty. She鈥檚 forced to work as a servant in her mother鈥檚 house while her sister marries the man she loves. The story is told with recipes and beautiful sprawling prose. You鈥檒l fall in love all over again, and if you like this book it鈥檒l open you up to the gorgeous, sexy world of Latino magical realism.

jbfg

Then:Are You There God? It鈥檚 Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Now:Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Lucky for us, Judy is still writing to this day. She鈥檚 written a few books for adults that encompass the kind of honesty and humor you liked when you were a kid, and honestly, if you get a chance, you should check out her book tour this summer. She is sassy and fabulous! Another author that captures growing up in all its cringeworthy glory is Rainbow Rowell. Fangirl is the most perfect representation of what it feels like to be a freshman in college I have ever read. It has none of the John Green-esque romanticizing of how kids talk (love you John, you just get a little carried away sometimes) and instead will remind you of conversations you had with your best friends. She writes about the anxiety of being at a new school, dealing with mental illness, and the nerd community in a way that is both frightfully frank and truly hilarious.

jp

Then:The Joey Pigza Series by Jack Gantos

Now:Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

As all the accolades for Inside Out are proving that mental health is a subject that needs to be covered thoroughly in children鈥檚 media. The Joey Pigza Series told the story of a boy being raised by a single mother and dealing with ADHD at the same time. He was hyper, manic, and good at heart and a character everyone could relate to. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is in part about a young boy dealing with grief and anxiety (and likely somewhere on the autism spectrum). The first-person narration really puts you in the heads of the characters and by extension lets you experience their anxieties firsthand. The prose is beautiful and the book is enhanced by multiple narrators and fabulous images that will put you right in the action.

What was your favorite book as a kid? Tell us in the comments!