My whole life has been affected in one way or another by my love for books. As an only child who was rather shy and who didn’t have many friends outside of school, one of my favorite things to do was clean and reorganize the little bookshelf I had in my room. I only had a few dozen books back then but they were my most favorite possessions. Girls my age at the time were obsessed with horses and dolls; I was obsessed with books. I loved to read so much that I quickly figured out how to read and walk at the same time. It seemed like a waste of precious time to simply walk places- I could also squeeze in one more precious page, sentence, or word. Looking back, I think I was always meant to be an English major!
Certain books stick with me for years after I initially read them and, in some cases, make me want to read them over and over again. Some people do not understand why I choose to read books again before enough time has passed for me to forget what happens so I can be at least a little surprised with the end. I find more in between the pages of a book each time I reread it. I remember what was going on in my life as I was reading a book for the first time when I reread it. I’ll think to myself, “I was at this part while in the waiting room at the doctor’s office,” or “I finished this book at 2 a.m. on a school night…that may not have been such a good idea.”
I have always struggled between wanting to read a new book I’ve been dying to read for months (maybe years!) or reading a
book I particularly enjoyed for the second or third time. One of my favorites I have read a handful of times in the past two years is John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, which has recently been released as a film adaptation and proved to be a box office hit. The Fault in Our Stars, commonly abbreviated to TFIOS by its fans, tells of sixteen-year-old stage IV cancer patient Hazel Grace Lancaster. While attending a weekly support group, Hazel meets Augustus Waters who had a “little touch of osteosarcoma” a year and a half prior to the time of the plot. They almost instantly hit it off and the two of them are left to navigate the two worlds of adolescent romance and the tragedy of cancer simultaneously.
While a great deal of the novel focuses on the growing romantic relationship between Hazel and Augustus, the most profound aspect of Green’s book was the way in which Hazel and Augustus saw and interacted with the world around them.
Warning: Massive TFIOS spoilers lie ahead!
Despite the incredible successes of medical advancements, cancer is still a significant threat in the lives of practically every individual in America. While I did not have cancer when I read TFiOS, I could sympathize with Hazel and the struggles she faced that were outside of her cancer. Being faced with cancer for so long, Hazel sees the world not as a “normal” teenager, but much more like an adult twice her age. Concerns that other teenage girls do not phase her: prom, fashion, and dating are the last things on her mind. Instead, her life revolves around cancer treatments, support group, and her favorite book, written by fictional author Peter Van Houten. I know that Hazel is not real, but I cannot help but think that the two of us would have gotten along rather well. She loves An Imperial Affliction the way I love so many books in my own life and through reading Hazel was able to see and deal with the world around her. That book helped her through some tough times in her life and I owe TFiOS for helping me through some tough times of my own.
At the beginning of the book, Hazel gives her opinion on the concept of oblivion and made me fall in love with the way she thought:
“There will come a time when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you. Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this will have been for naught. Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever. There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.”
I first read The Fault in Our Stars during my junior year in high school when I was having a hard time fitting in and struggling with making sense of the world around me. I was a little bitter like Hazel and struggled greatly with depression (I go more into that in this blog post). After all, no one would remember anything I or anyone else did hundreds of years from now. I only did enough to get by and giving my all at anything I did seemed like such a waste of effort. My life, just like the lives of every other living thing on the planet, had a certain number of days. It was unnerving how much of myself I saw in Hazel, and none of our similar qualities were those I would be overly thrilled to possess.
However, by the end of the book when Hazel is dealing with Augustus’ impending death, she appreciates even the smallest things in life and appreciates more than she ever had. Knowing that he is going to die, Augustus asks Hazel to write a eulogy to present at his funeral:
“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”
I did not choose this quote for its romantic factor, but I did choose it for the message it presented to me when I first read it. TFiOS came at a time when I took so much for granted. I remember what I was going through the first time I read it and I am determined to not slip back into that state of mind. Because of this book, I look for my own little infinities. My days are numbered in the sense that I will not live forever, of course, but also numbered in a sense that there will come a time when LMU is no longer an active part of my life. I’ve come to realize that that’s okay and that it’s okay to be upset with the fact that nothing lasts forever. Just because my days are numbered does not mean I cannot have “a little infinity” of my own and make the most of what I have while I still have it.
TFiOS is not the only book I’ve had such a profound experience with but it has continued to have an important role in my life as I look back to where I was when I first came across it. Back then I was unsure of what the future held for me and, while I cannot say I have too much of an idea what the future holds, I am excited about all of the “little infinities” I can make for myself in the next three years as a student at LMU. I am excited for the endless possibilities that are out there for me, but I am just as excited for all of the new books I will get to read! For those who say that books cannot have a significant influence on lives, all that I must say, in the words of Augustus Waters:
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me or leave a comment on my blog!