What Happened When I Read the Same Book as a Teenager, Then Again As an Adult

One book. Two completely different experiences.

After nearly 10 years, my favorite book is still Looking for Alaska by John Green.

I didn’t read it when it first came out, but after I accidentally discovered the Green brothers indirectly though NaNoWriMo, I jumped at the chance to read a book by an author I’d never heard of.

I loved LFA. It was a powerful story that captivated me from the very first page. But I felt no real-world connection to it. It was a good story – but even then, I tended to read a book, say how much I loved it, and then move on to the next one without many further thoughts.

I think it was my favorite book then because it felt different to me. I didn’t understand why then, but it did. I wasn’t a very adventurous reader at 15: I had a few favorite authors, and Meg Cabot’s long list of titles kept me busy the majority of my reading time.

When the 10th anniversary edition of the book came out a few years ago, I was excited enough to buy it, even though I already had a paperback copy. I’d been watching Vlogbrothers videos from start to finish for the first time, and felt very strongly about supporting John in, honestly, a kind of selfish (but still totally worth it) way.

There are only a select number of books I have ever read more than once. I’m one of those people who always says I’m going to reread something before the movie comes out, then never do.

With a new, shiny hardcover in my hands, I made the decision to read LFA a second time.

It was nothing like the first time I read it. Not even close.

The first time, I shed no tears. I related to the characters enough, but not on a deep, empathetic level. I liked the story, but it wasn’t life-changing.

But since I’d read LFA for the first time, I had grown up significantly, both in age and in spirit. I had also lost someone very close to me not long before. I had experienced grief in a number of unexpected ways in my young adulthood by that point. But I did not expect that to matter so much.

I spent what I can only estimate to be about 30 straight pages in tears. I understood it now. That scene in the gym where the MC tells the principal the assembly can’t start yet absolutely destroyed me. Because I had felt that feeling. I got it. It spoke to me.

Many people over many lifetimes have been touched by books. I know I’m not the only one. But first of all, it bothers me when people assume young adult books are only for teenagers. I’ve gotten more out of YA books as an adult than I ever did when I was still in high school.

Second of all – how amazing is it, that we can read the same book twice, years apart, and have a completely different experience the second time?

This is important for a writer to understand. You already know that not every person is going to relate on a deeply personal level to every story you write. It’s just not possible. It can be frustrating, because you want to reach everyone.

But just because someone isn’t changed by a story now, doesn’t mean they won’t be someday.

You’re reaching more people than you think. People with very different experiences and disappointments and dreams and failures and fears.

The audience you are writing for is very important. Your genre is important.

The depth of your story, how relatable your characters are, your theme – these are even more important. When you are writing fiction, you are saying to someone, “Here – let me tell you a story.” And you are hoping that at least some piece of it will speak to them. You are hoping that at least one paragraph, one page will be enough to motivate them to hold that book close to their heart. To love it. To need it.

Maybe someone won’t need it now. But they might need it eventually.

A good story isn’t about pleasing everyone. It is about meeting people where they are, about saying to them, “You are okay. You are understood, and you are loved.”

I don’t love books because they make me happy. I love them because they make me feel alive.

Write stories that make people feel. Books are not an escape. They are discoveries. To some readers, books are adventures. Take your readers on epic quests. Change their lives. Make them feel whole.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

My Favorite Sentences from Books I Read This Year (2015)


By the conclusion of 2015, I will have read 40 books. 41, if I can squeeze one more in before the holidays hit for real.

This is the time of year everyone is posting their top x of 2015 listicles (list posts), and I’ve never really done that. So I thought I’d hop on the bandwagon, try it out, see how it goes.

But I didn’t want this to be just any ordinary end-of-year favorites post. Even if I did want to make it about books, since I’m a writer and that automatically makes me a reader. So instead of telling you my top five books from this year’s reading list, I’ve pulled five sentences from books I read in 2015, which I think capture the beauty of each in a different way.

You can watch the video right here.

Ender’s Game

“Sometimes lies were more dependable than the truth.” (Orson Scott Card, p. 2)

Tell the Wolves I’m Home

“Maybe there’s a whole assortment of impossible people waiting for me to find them.” (Carol Rifka Brunt, p. 347)

The Casual Vacancy

“He saw the boy, chocolate-stained, ill-kempt and unappealing, and walked past, his happiness in tatters.” (J.K. Rowling, p. 459)

Saint Anything

“You always think you want to be noticed. Until you are.” (Sarah Dessen)

Looking for Alaska

“So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.” (John Green, p. 111*)

What did you read this year? More importantly, which pieces of those stories have stuck with you?

*10th anniversary edition, hardcover

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

There’s One Part of the New Edition of “Looking for Alaska” I Almost Like More Than the Book Itself

blog0625 Yesterday afternoon John Green teased us with the “possibility” of Looking for Alaska movie news. Since then he has officially announced that a movie is in the works, and though he’s had mixed feelings about it since handing over the movie rights, he’s probably just as excited as we are (well, I am).

Alaska was not only the first book Green published, but it also happens to be the first book of his I happened to read. Which explains why, even though I don’t buy “doubles” of books or read them more than once (with a few exceptions), I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a 10th anniversary edition.

I read it straight through, cried like a baby and felt my love for writing and editing take flight again.

There are a lot of books out there, I know. This one is probably one of my favorites though. I fell in love with it all over again—faster, harder the second time, even—when I got to the back of the book for the new edition’s “extras.” I hadn’t paid much attention to what those would be before I got there. I fell for it from the outside in, which you can’t really count as judging a book by its cover since I’d read it once before (loop hole).

What I found back there? I liked it almost as much as I liked the book.

Real-World Editing

I’ve been a magazine editor for over two years now, which doesn’t seem like a very long time unless you truly understand how much daily work goes into the process (a lot). I’ve been an “unofficial editor” longer than that, because not only do I love ideas and words and storytelling—I also love refining a finished product.

So if you have your own copy of the 10th anniversary edition, you know why I was so intrigued.

The new edition includes notes and excerpts from Green and his editor, giving readers a glimpse into the revisions process and how difficult it can be to take a good story and make it good enough to sell. I can’t remember off the top of my head how many times he had to rewrite one of the shorter, yet one of the most significant, scenes in the story (no spoilers, but if you haven’t read it, why are you here??), but it took multiple revisions to get it where it needed to be. They had to count days and keep track of dates.

To me, this was eye-opening enough to motivate me to keep working on my own book, even though I’m not working with an editor. You don’t think about how much work actually goes into a book when you’re reading it, sometimes not even as a writer. I enjoy a good story, and just because I’m an editor doesn’t mean I can’t separate my editing brain from my reading brain (though it does creep in with a criticism every now and then, and typographical errors drive me absolutely insane). I loved seeing this. I needed to see it. I’m sure not a lot of people even looked at these excerpts. But I did.

Why It Matters

While I do love the story and it really spoke to me, rereading it at a particularly rough patch in my life (I’m happy, just stuck in a rut—we’ve all been there), I’m fascinated by how stories transform from first to final drafts. It’s one of the things I love most about being an editor. I can evaluate where a writer is at the beginning of an internship semester and watch her develop her skills and improve significantly by the end, from week to week. Even from raw draft to article. I love my job because I understand what it’s like not to realize your own shortcomings until someone else offers to help you fix them up. I think novelists and their editors go through similar processes.

Green has talked before about how Alaska started and how much he struggled to get a full story on paper at first. I think this is also something else readers forget: writing a novel sometimes takes years before it even gets to the revisions stage. Editors don’t get enough credit. They’re the ones who help transform books from good to better to astonishing. I love how this edition of the book highlighted the importance of a relationship between writer and editor, even if that wasn’t the original intent (or maybe it was, I haven’t done my research, I apologize, it’s finals week—my excuse for everything lately).

I have such respect for successful authors because they’re the ones who are really willing to go through revision after revision to make their stories the best they can be. You can’t work with an editor and expect everything to be perfect the first, third or even fifth time around. Criticism can be hard to take, but you learn over time how important it is to take it seriously, not personally. I don’t ask for a lot of feedback for my own work (maybe I should get into that habit)—not because I don’t want it, but because I want to have a finished project to work with.

I’m just like you—I struggle with time management and juggling everything and trying to keep writing toward the top of the to-do list. But it took years for Alaska to become the book we know it as today, and even longer for the promise of a movie to unfold. I can wait a little longer, until the end of the week when I get a short break from school and can focus on writing and editing and all the things that keep me going (including these posts, so if you’re reading, I appreciate you, I really do).

Love&hugs, Meg

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.

An Apology to John Green and an “Assignment” for Aspiring Writers


If you follow me on social media, you already know I just finished reading the tenth anniversary edition of my favorite book, “Looking for Alaska” by John Green. Let me premise the rest of this post by saying this was the first time I had read the book since I bought it sometime between 2008 and 2010.

There are a few decent reasons why I bought a new edition as an excuse to read the story over again, the main one being I’ve felt a little trapped lately, a little sad, a little wary of my past—and while I don’t plan on [SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER], I felt like reading a story I could relate to much more now than I could in high school, and I was right: I cried through about half of it, and it was beautiful. It made me feel alive; it made me feel whole, which, if you’ve read the book, is amazing.

This concept of feeling trapped in a “labyrinth of suffering” is a motif throughout the novel, one a lot of people can relate to. Unfortunately, most readers want to relate to it so much that they’ve gone as far as adopting the following as their mantra:

“The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.”

As I mentioned above, I just read “Alaska” (it’s now Tuesday; I finished Sunday). And I made an interesting discovery, even before I finished the book for real. And like all millennials bursting at the seams with curiosity, I turned to Google to prove, or disprove, a theory.

I had a gut feeling about this quote. I had a gut feeling it was, devastatingly, not actually a quote from my favorite book after all.

Out of all the search results about the quote, at least on the first page, only ONE blogger questioned whether or not the quote was actually in the book.

I have news for you, “Alaska” fans, Nerdfighters, John Green book lovers: THE QUOTE. IS NOT. FROM. THE BOOK.

The concept is. The same message is implied. But nowhere in the 272 pages of “Looking for Alaska” does this quote appear. Miles never makes the word-for-word conclusion that the way out of the labyrinth of suffering is forgiveness.

Was I disappointed? Of course I was. I’ve tweeted, Instagrammed and Facebooked (verbs?) this quote before, fairly recently, actually, just like every other fan of the book, I’m sure, has fallen pray to doing. Then something miraculous happened. I sat down. I finished the book. I waited for pages and pages to come across that quote so I could, once again, highlight its magnificence on social media. As I approached the last few pages, I started to panic. Did I miss it? Did I just skip right over it?

But it wasn’t there. I skimmed the last page. Nothing.

Not only is this very sad proof that people don’t actually read books (they just pull “quotes” off of Goodreads, I guess) but we’re doing exactly what we do with Bible verses, and song lyrics: taking quotes out of context, reshaping them to fit what we’re too lazy to say ourselves, and not bothering to fact-check our sources or even try to understand where our new “favorite quote” came from.

I’m sure it was an accident. Someone misquoted—a pretty good quote, which is why it’s sad it turned out to be an imposter—and this happens all the time. But I have to apologize to John Green for not catching myself soon enough, and falling in love with a quote I found online before I had a chance to fall in love, again, with the actual original text of the novel.

If you can’t tell, this has upset me enough to prompt a post about reading books, which is something I don’t often do on a site catered to aspiring writers. But I’m still talking to you, fellow aspiring writers (and current writers, authors, novelists). And I have a request. An assignment, if you will.

Your assignment: pay attention.

Pay attention to what people are posting about your work online. Pay attention to the quotes, the conversations, the context. If something springs up that didn’t come from you, you have a right to call someone out on it. Kill the weed of misattribution before it starts spreading.

Green has been misquoted online before, and he isn’t the only one, but as best you can, no matter how vast the black hole of the Internet may be, defend your work. Don’t let another aspiring writer draft an entire blog post about how embarrassed she is to have claimed to love a book, only to find out the quote she loved the most did not actually exist.

Read before you quote. Quote as you read. THAT’S how it should be done. But please, don’t forget to appreciate a piece of writing as a whole, instead of dissecting it into smaller pieces that you put back together to speak for you. Speak for yourself. Write something of your own that’s just as beautiful as someone else’s words.

Also, please stop using this quote, unless you plan on joining me in my defense against good books that don’t need new words added to make them good. Or stop saying it’s from “Alaska” because it’s not. You can read the entire thing cover to cover if you don’t believe me. It certainly would not be a waste of your time.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.