Fangirl Synchronized Reading: Fangirl Post #1: College and Community

Synchronized Readings are a semi-regular feature The Book Bandit and I will be running together every few months.

Our first Synchronized Reading is Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

In addition to our intro posts and (of course) our reviews of the book, we’ve also decided to do at least two posts talking about points of interest during the book. Since Fangirl isn’t officially out yet, we knew we had to avoid spoilers. So our first topic is a general one: the college experience.

(Check back next Friday for our posts on fanfiction in fandom. The week after that our reviews will post.)

Fangirl starts when Cath gets to college. It also starts when her twin sister announces that she wants a different roommate.

I didn’t dorm in college–I went to a college thirty minutes away in lower Manhattan and I commuted for all four years. I was also an English major (like Cath) in a school primarily known for its business programs. It was a great fit for me because it meant there was a smaller community and lots of face-time with teachers. It also meant there were never any huge lectures for classes (except my one science requirement) and teaching assistants were never very visible.

That’s all my roundabout way of saying a lot of Cath’s trials and triumphs were very foreign to me. (I have the same thing happen when I read books about enormous high schools.) One thing I did totally relate to was Cath’s efforts to find a community during that first year at college.

When I first got to Pace I desperately wanted to be a part of the literary magazine. That, however, didn’t happen until my senior year. But I knew I wanted to do something besides go to class so I signed up for the college newspaper. It was terrifying–even worse than being one of two freshman in a Seventeenth Century Lit class. Even worse than getting trapped between floors and in the wrong wing as I tried to make my way to my first class on my first day of college.

But I stuck with it. For a long time that meant showing up to meetings and not taking an assignment. But then, slowly, I took different articles. The editors got to know me and I started doing more. By senior year I even had a book review column. It was a great experience and one I am so glad I pursued even though it was far outside of my usual comfort zone.

It’s an interesting thing going to classes without really meaning to make friends. I don’t always connect with people. I’m prickly until I get to know a person and I am sometimes much better on paper/electronically than in real life. That said, it was always amazing to me how easy it was to talk to other English majors. College was the first time I was really around people who got it–the writing, the reading, the love of words. (It was also the first time I had friends who didn’t make me feel fat and gigantic compared to the short, waif-like friends I had in high school but that’s another story.) This feeling of connection only grew when I met people in grad school who felt that way not just about books but about youth books–wow!

The amount of nostalgia I had while reading Fangirl was staggering as I was reminded of my crazy thesis advisor, the friends I had on the paper and in classes, the drama of the English Department writing awards. I have strong (bad) feelings about Facebook but this book made me wonder if I should reconsider if, for nothing else, the chance to reconnect with some of those college friends I’ve lost touch with. But really the best thing about rehashing my own college experiences while reading this book was realizing that, while it didn’t always feel that way at the time, I wouldn’t go back and do anything differently.