Words by Dredheza Maloku
ART by Amanda laforest
And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.
The above is the most overly quoted line from Stephen Chbosky’s epistolary coming-of-age novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The novel gained huge recognition once it was turned into a film that gained traction for starring Emma Watson, as she debuted an – admittedly impressive – American accent for the first time. Gone were Hermione’s signature curls and know-it-all flair, only to be replaced by the edgy Sam, the protagonist’s love interest in the novel.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The film was executed well. It brought those characters that I had found endless solace in as a fifteen-year-old girl to life brilliantly. This isn’t surprising, seeing as Chbosky himself both directed the film and wrote the screenplay, so I had high hopes for its release. The problem, however, lies in internet and tumblr culture amongst my generation.
Chbosky’s beautiful exploration of life on the outskirts, life as a wallflower, suddenly morphed into a teenage tumblr-obsessed girl’s goldmine of quotations and references, rendering the novel into yet another hyper-quoted joke and causing avid fans of Chbosky’s sensitive writing to roll their eyes at each out of context reference: ‘We accept the love we think we deserve’ – was plastered all over Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter. But what does it mean, you perhaps wondered briefly, and then scrolled on to the next pretty image or quotation. This commercialisation is so detrimental to the power of both the book as a whole, and to the out-of-context sayings.
When I first read this novel at fifteen, there was a lot that I did not particularly understand. This is the beauty of favourite books. You return to them time and time again, with each reading revealing just a little more about both yourself and the writing. You interpret certain chapters and phrases in the novel differently. The book resonates with you in new ways, because you are not the same as you were upon first reading it. And this experience is slowly being diluted by Internet culture, by those people appropriating beautiful, meaningful quotations for the popularity of their own online presence. It dumbs down the novel. It dumbs down the film. And it numbs people to the journey of the reading experience.
I first read The Perks of Being a Wallflower when I was fifteen, immediately feeling an affinity with the protagonist, Charlie; an abnormally sensitive and precocious character that you cannot help but love. Charlie is endlessly relatable for kids who, like myself, have either now or in the past been privy to observing their peers rather than participating. I worry that in this media-infused day and age, powerful novels such as this one will slowly become distorted, tired, mocked. The perks of the Internet include widespread coverage and information at the click of a button but this quickly gives way to the pitfalls: de-contextualisation, overexposure and the tendency to trivialise or belittle works of literature.
Chbosky’s novel poignantly and realistically addresses some potent issues that are just as present today as they were upon the book’s publication in 1995. There is a solace to be found between the personal, memorable pages of a book that simply cannot be found through a computer screen or a phone screen. A book travels with its reader just as a reader travels with a book; I have fondly tossed The Perks of Being a Wallflower into my suitcase every summer before a trip, keen to revisit the characters and to discover more about how my reading of the novel changes each time.
There is something inherently important in those people in our lives whom we may deem ‘wallflowers’; they will very often be the ones who love to read and to live vicariously through the characters in novels. They are the ones who truly observe, remember and understand whilst the rest of us are too busy flitting from one thing to the next.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, make sure that you do not let your most prized books become distorted by the Internet; encourage people to actually read the entire thing rather than just a snippet of the book on the Internet. It is books like this one that keep the magic and empathy of reading in circulation. They gently implicate the reader into the story and we carry the characters with us long after the final page is finished. So I urge you all to find the time to actually read Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower the next time you see it offhandedly quoted on social media. Take the time to see what the fuss is about and to discover why those quotations have become so resonant and popular, even by those who have probably never read the novel.
Here are the few lines that precede the infamous, ‘And in that moment, I swear we were infinite’, quotation: ‘Anyway, Patrick started driving really fast, and just before we got to the tunnel. Sam stood up, and the wind turned her dress into ocean waves. When we hit the tunnel, all the sound got scooped up into a vacuum, and it was replaced by a song on the tape player. A beautiful song called “Landslide”. When we got out of the tunnel, Sam screamed this really fun scream, and there it was. Downtown. Lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. Sam sat down and started laughing. Patrick started laughing. I started laughing. And in that moment, I swear we were infinite‘
It is important to know why these characters felt infinite. So remember to be curious enough to discover why certain quotations from books become commercialised through the Internet; there must have been something inherently special preceding them.