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Headlong into adulthood. What to read?
February 27, 2012 5:10 PM   Subscribe

Remember that book you read at exactly the right time in your life? Looking for recommendations for books for a young man 17/18 years old.

What would that be? On the Road? Slaughterhouse Five? The Magic Mountain? What stays with you?
posted by Morrigan to Media & Arts (65 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ready, Okay! made a pretty big impression on me at that age. Here's some more info on it.
posted by griphus at 5:13 PM on February 27, 2012


On the Road for sure. Even more so Desolation Angels.
posted by Kafkaesque at 5:16 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Magus by John Fowles.
posted by incessant at 5:17 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I read Going After Cacciato around then and have reread it several times since. It's a war novel but it's also about possibility, the power of imagination, and difficulty of assessing your own character honestly. Good book.
posted by headnsouth at 5:25 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance by Robert Pirsig
posted by orangemacky at 5:25 PM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


17/18 years old was just about exactly the right time in my life to read Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah.
posted by Balonious Assault at 5:27 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Alchemist, by Paolo Coelho, is good.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:30 PM on February 27, 2012


Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.
posted by michaelh at 5:33 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Siddhartha - not for me, but for a friend.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:33 PM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Colin Fletcher's The Thousand Mile Summer. I think it's out of print again, but it's available used for <$15. I read it at that age and it really resonated with me.
posted by mosk at 5:33 PM on February 27, 2012


Yeah Vonnegut, but start with Breakfast of Champions and work backward.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:34 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The "Gormenghast" trilogy by Mervyn Peake. I hit that at 16 and it blew my mind.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 5:38 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Stranger -- Camus

It let me know about existentialism and it just clicked with me and made me feel like I could fit in the world.
posted by LeanGreen at 5:41 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Stranger in a Strange Land (The original, not the later unedited one.)
posted by cjorgensen at 5:42 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Things I read at that age that stuck with me:
The Plague - Camus -- it seemed more humanistic and hopeful than The Stranger

The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien -- same author as Going After Cacciato, but it's always seemed better to me.
posted by pombe at 5:48 PM on February 27, 2012


As a young man at 17 you should read all of Hesse,Vonnegut,Heller, the rest of Kerouac,Kesey and Tom Robbins if you haven't already. As you sart towards college maybe pick up Ferlinghetti and Brautigan. Re-read Fitzgerald. After that read Fante and Hubert Selby jr. Wait till your 30s to read Hemmingway, Bukowski and Henry Miller. After 35 read Philip Roth and John Updike.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:54 PM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Dhalgren, Chip Delany.
posted by mwhybark at 5:56 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read Moon Palace and Hand to Mouth, both by Paul Auster, back to back when I was 17. After I was done reading them I knew I wanted to be a writer. 14 years later that's what I do for a living. I should mention a third story I read, just before that, which also helped form that decision, Why I Left Harry's All-Night Hamburgers by Lawrence Watt-Evans. It's available in his short story collection Crosstime Traffic.
posted by Kattullus at 5:56 PM on February 27, 2012


If he hasn't read any Vonnegut yet, he needs to get on it. I think that The Sirens of Titan is a great place to start.
posted by Elly Vortex at 5:57 PM on February 27, 2012


It was A Prayer For Owen Meany for me. HMMV.
posted by kuanes at 5:58 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Foundation Trilogy
Anything by Chaim Potok
posted by HuronBob at 5:59 PM on February 27, 2012


I would recommend Rule of The Bone by Russell Banks. His knack for absolutely nailing the thoughts and speech of a 17 year old kid is uncanny, and it's just a great read.
posted by broadway bill at 6:00 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Time of Gifts and everything else by Patrick Leigh Fermor.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:01 PM on February 27, 2012


A Confederacy of Dunces.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:04 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Denton Welch's fictionalized autobiography A Voice Through a Cloud, which takes place in midcentury Britain and narrates the crippling accident the author suffered and his painful, methodical quest for independence as a young person who has suddenly become very ill. Very immediate, finely observed, and, in the end, strangely uplifting.
posted by Nomyte at 6:07 PM on February 27, 2012


Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett.
posted by Etrigan at 6:23 PM on February 27, 2012


At that age, I was obsessed with Richard Brautigan.
posted by buriedpaul at 6:30 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Steppenwolf is important I think, although certainly a version with Hesse's account of his view of the story.

Psmith in the City and Psmith, Journalist contain vital life lessons for a young man on the supreme virtue of lightness of spirit.

If I were to recommend a single Chesterton, it would probably be The Club of Queer Trades, although one might argue for The Man Who Was Thursday. Both perform superbly that Chestertonian miracle of showing you that the unfamiliar and the commonplace are ways of seeing, not properties of the world.

David Copperfield. The balance between the ridiculous, the light-hearted, the simple and personal, and the everyday tragedy of life is probably more perfect there than in any other Dickens.
posted by howfar at 6:32 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Godel, Escher, Bach was my own omg yes yes yes book at 17.
posted by flabdablet at 6:45 PM on February 27, 2012


White Noise by Don DeLillo did it for me, but then again I was already a cynical little shit so YMMV.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 6:52 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Kafka on the Shore. Any Murakami, really. I read his entire catalog a few years older than that and wished I had done it earlier.
posted by supercres at 6:54 PM on February 27, 2012


This Side of Paradise by Fitzgerald. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins.
posted by singinginmychains at 7:03 PM on February 27, 2012


C. D. Payne's Youth In Revolt did the job for me. I remember conjuring up some teenage rage when I heard they made a movie out of it.

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank really stuck with me too for some reason.
posted by murkywaters at 7:14 PM on February 27, 2012


Well, I didn't read it when I was 17, but kinda wish I had: Wolf by Jim Harrison.
posted by Bron at 7:18 PM on February 27, 2012


A Poetics for Bullies by Elkin really struck a chord with me at that age. It details the link between irrationality and identity, and the lengths one will go to in order to justify their existence. It was also the first work of literature I had ever read [and still one of the few] where the author didn't project themselves into the main character and attempt to rationalize or glorify the actions of the protagonist. In short, it's an extremely cathartic read when you're entering adulthood.

And, I was a little younger when I read it, but "The Brothers Karamazov" is always a good bet for that age where you're trying to cement an identity and explore morality.
posted by oxfordcomma at 7:18 PM on February 27, 2012


Seconding The Things They Carried.
posted by bendy at 7:23 PM on February 27, 2012


I was somewhere in my early 20s when I read them, but David James Duncan's The River Why and The Brothers K more or less exist for the purpose of being that book.
posted by brennen at 7:24 PM on February 27, 2012


Keep The Aspidistra Flying
posted by pompomtom at 7:27 PM on February 27, 2012


Things I read at that age that really resonated with me:

The Magus - I think that book is almost specially written for adolescents.

The Great Gatsby and anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has such a wonderful, empathetic understanding of late adolescence. The characters, having lost something but struggling to articulate what, the beautiful prose, and the unbridled sense of romance.

Murakami - another writer with a particular affinity for adolescence.

Gormenghast, especially the eponymous novel blew, my mind. Fabulous allegory for adolescence, like nothing I'd ever read before (or since).

Nthing Siddhartha - another great metaphor for dealing with growth and change.

Depending on where your teen is at with reading and their personality, Ender's Game by the horrible Orson Scott Card may resonate very strongly, also its sequel Speaker for The Dead and Xenocide.

Philip K Dick was such a discovery to me at 16. His core insight - that acting sane in an insane world is itself insane - seemed so relevant to me at the time, typified by Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Now Wait for Last Year.

The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin would have been a terrific read at that age for its similar provocative yet digestible questions.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving also resonated strongly with me - its eccentric, human, anxious characters struggling towards understanding.

I'm sure there are many, many more.
posted by smoke at 7:28 PM on February 27, 2012


Gulliver's Travels + Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
posted by No-sword at 7:31 PM on February 27, 2012


Lots of great recommendations, and I'd second Orwell, Steinbeck, Vonnegut, Robbins, Kerouac, Gödel, Escher, Bach and Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.

I'd also recommend the USA Trilogy by John dos Passos. It's a vast, sprawling look at America from before the turn of the twentieth century up into the Depression. It's a masterpiece, and a seventeen-year-old would be strongly hit by the aimlessness and wandering and confusion of some of the characters. As would anyone of any age.

Of all the things I read when I was seventeen, this (and Orwell and Steinbeck, and Hammet and Chandler) still affect me strongly. Vonnegut and Robbins and Kerouac and Salinger are, I think, best read at that age and then left in fond memory.
posted by wdenton at 7:46 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kafka maybe? Affecting at any age, but maybe especially so at 17-18.

Cloud Atlas is a great book that I can see being especially mind-blowing to a teenager, because of the weird, twisty narrative structure.

Jonathan Coe's House of Sleep is a perfect first year of college book... (well, it's actually great at any age).
posted by kettleoffish at 8:05 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Catch-22 is actually as good as everyone says it is.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 8:39 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


For me, it was No Logo.
posted by koucha at 9:53 PM on February 27, 2012


Andy Warhol's autobiography "A to B and Back Again" definitely made a lasting impression on me at that age.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 10:14 PM on February 27, 2012


War and Peace by Tolstoy. I read it when I was 19 and wish I had read it earlier, since it could have spared me lots of trouble in my relationships ;) Tolstoy's insight into the human mind is just baffling and his characters are absolutely life-like.
posted by kampken at 2:25 AM on February 28, 2012


My 18 year old says her life changed reading All Souls.
posted by kinetic at 3:11 AM on February 28, 2012


Nthing Catch-22
The Dharma Bums for his Keruoac fix (after On the Road)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff was a favorite of mine at 18 but YMMV
posted by thewestinggame at 4:57 AM on February 28, 2012


Robert Anton Wilson's two trilogies, Illuminatus! and Schrodinger's Cat.

Caveat: their effects can be... unpredictable.
posted by Mayor West at 5:14 AM on February 28, 2012


Homage to Catalonia by Orwell made a big impression on me at that age.
posted by OmieWise at 5:17 AM on February 28, 2012


Seconding these:
Catch-22
Stranger in a Strange Land
Godel, Escher, Bach
posted by marginaliana at 6:15 AM on February 28, 2012


I was head-over-heels for Douglas Coupland around that age. Particularly "Generation X", "Microserfs", and "Life After God." All three are great "coming of age" stories about life right after college.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 6:38 AM on February 28, 2012


Around that age for me it was Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. The first part of it deals with Frankl's experience in Auschwitz; the second deals with the psychological theories he developed as a result.

The other big ones for me at the time were The World According to Garp and The Sun Also Rises.

Also, nthing Catch-22.
posted by johnofjack at 7:08 AM on February 28, 2012


I am not a dude. However...

The Great Gatsby... But really anything by Fitzgerald.

A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Solzhenitsyn... But really anything by Solzhenitsyn.

Night by Elie Weisel.

Might be kinda generic highschool reading stuff, I don't know, but those were some of those writers who made me feel like my eyes were being opened to the world around me.
posted by takoukla at 7:49 AM on February 28, 2012


Catch-22 was what I needed as a teenager.

If he digs that and Camus, here's an obscure suggestion: Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe. It's a Japanese existentialist novel, but unlike Camus, the plot is pretty intense.

I would strongly advise against any Ayn Rand. It appeals to latent teenage feelings of 'holier than thou'-ness, and they'll be embarrassed and call it a 'phase' when they hit 25. I've seen it happen over and over again.
posted by spamguy at 7:52 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mark Twain and "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and "Band of Brothers."
posted by wenestvedt at 9:01 AM on February 28, 2012


The Catcher in the Rye no question, read it first when I was 16, read it again at 19, and probably every 5 years since.

Cat's Cradle was the first Vonnegut that I read, and I remember it really speaking to me when I was around that age.

And hopefully this doesn't seem to emo of me but, The Perks of Being a Wallflower I loved. I recommend burning the mixed tape Charlie makes for his friends for the reader to listen to while reading… somehow it really enhanced the mood of the book for me.
posted by Quincy at 10:59 AM on February 28, 2012


The Magus, Slaughterhouse 5, Catch 22, Lanark, Gormenghast, The Wasp Factory and pretty much anything by J.G. Ballard.
posted by Decani at 1:16 PM on February 28, 2012


Oh, Lanark - since it might be less well known in the US. An absolutely gorgeous and beautifully troubling mindfuck.
posted by Decani at 1:18 PM on February 28, 2012


I would strongly advise against any Ayn Rand. It appeals to latent teenage feelings of 'holier than thou'-ness, and they'll be embarrassed and call it a 'phase' when they hit 25. I've seen it happen over and over again.

If they've already been exposed to Rand, the earlier Le Guin recommendation might almost have been written specifically as an antidote.
posted by brennen at 1:54 PM on February 28, 2012


Chiming in re: Rand: her philosophy is like chicken pox. You may never encounter it and you'll be fine. But if you do, you really want it to be as early as possible when you've got very little of an established life to damage. A 17-year-old self-styled Objectivist is ten times more tolerable than a 25-year-old one.
posted by griphus at 2:02 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember reading all of Salinger's books around that time, when I was in my last year of high school. Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters, is still my favourite book ever. Franny and Zooey is also really good.
posted by chunking express at 6:39 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers did it for me when I was around that age.
posted by awenner at 8:30 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hiroshima by John Hersey

It's actually why I didn't join ROTC and thereby was one of the most expensive books ever written.
posted by mearls at 9:29 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


To Kill a Mockingbird

Seconding Catch-22, AHWOSG

Kafka? Not sure if Coupland is/was too era-specific, don't think so..
posted by raider at 10:23 AM on March 4, 2012


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