Modern novels of youth [20s-30s] and figuring out life?
November 14, 2009 2:49 PM   Subscribe

Modern novels of youth [20s-30s] and figuring out life?

I just read "Norwegian Wood" this afternoon and remembered how much I love first person novels about first loves and trying to figure out what you want in life. I'm kind of one of those spots in my life.

Some examples of what I'm thinking of..
Ask the dust, Catcher in the Rye, Goodbye Columbus, On the Road/Dharma Bums, Mysteries of Pittsburgh, The Moviegoer, The Sun Also Rises, Bright Lights, Big City, Play it as it Lays.

I think The Stranger, The Great Gatsby, The Sportswriter would also fit into the same mindset. Any ideas? Thanks!
posted by mattsweaters to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
David Mitchell's number9dream
posted by mannequito at 2:53 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage. It's a masterpiece.
posted by smorange at 2:58 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've always had a soft spot for Colin MacInnes's Absolute Beginners. It appears to be out of print these days, but check your library or see if you can find it used.
posted by scody at 2:59 PM on November 14, 2009

The entry on the Bildungsroman might help you out here.

As far as personal recommendations,
Chabon's Kavalier and Klay and
Lethem's Fortress of Solitude.
posted by stresstwig at 3:02 PM on November 14, 2009

Read the other Fante novels if you haven't.
posted by fire&wings at 3:06 PM on November 14, 2009

posted by hermitosis at 3:10 PM on November 14, 2009

The Invisible Circus - Jennifer Egan
posted by cmgonzalez at 3:18 PM on November 14, 2009

The Magicians by Lev Grossman has a supernatural bent, but it's one of the best of this type I've read in a while.
posted by something something at 3:19 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Chiming back in: The Secret History by Donna Tartt isn't so much about first love, etc., but it might fit in with the darker side of the mood you seem to be looking for.
posted by scody at 3:23 PM on November 14, 2009

Not quite a novel, but rather a set of connected stories, I would recommend Bad Haircut: Stories of the Seventies by Tom Perrotta . Also the graphic novel Blankets by Craig Thompson is excellent.
posted by gudrun at 3:38 PM on November 14, 2009

The Boys of My Youth, Jo Ann Beard. Memoir rather than novel, but very good.
posted by sulaine at 3:41 PM on November 14, 2009

I really enjoyed the Loop Trilogy, a series of novels by Chuck Rosenthal, someone I think is a very under-appreciated author (by the way, my username is from a character in the books).
posted by Red Loop at 3:53 PM on November 14, 2009

And You Shall Know Our Velocity
Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Both by Dave Eggers. I swear I'm not obsessed with him or anything; it just popped into my head.

There's a book my wife read not too long ago about a man who sets off across the country on a bicycle after the death of someone close to him. Maybe someone here knows the title.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 3:56 PM on November 14, 2009

Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 4:37 PM on November 14, 2009

A Place in the Country by Laura Shaine Cunningham (also memoir, but definitely a figuring-out-what-you-really-want story).

A Big Storm Knocked It Over by Laurie Colwin.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:42 PM on November 14, 2009

"Generation X" by Douglas Coupland.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:47 PM on November 14, 2009

I'm really surprised that no one has said A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce yet.
posted by chicago2penn at 5:32 PM on November 14, 2009

Anything by Jonathan Tropper.
posted by essexjan at 6:00 PM on November 14, 2009

I would recommend Microserfs or Girlfriend in a Coma over Generation X if you're going to do Coupland. Some other goods ones:

- The Great Santini by Pat Conroy
- Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding
- Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
- Life of Pi by Yann Martel
- The Beach by Alex Garland
posted by JoannaC at 6:20 PM on November 14, 2009

le grand meaulnes by Henri Alain-Fournier is one of my favourite coming-of-age books. it will make you ache.

i can't recommend the perks of being a wallflower enough. it's my favourite book in this category. i love it. i've given it to a few students (when i was a student teacher) and also to several friends. it's a very thoughtful read.

everything is illuminated is awesome too.

and before i stop babbling, i'll second Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
posted by gursky at 7:27 PM on November 14, 2009

Oh yeah, another thumbs up on Portrait of the Artist.
posted by scody at 7:49 PM on November 14, 2009

Dropping back in to add Tapping the Source by Kem Nunn .
posted by gudrun at 8:45 PM on November 14, 2009

If you like science fiction and don't mind free audio fiction, the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series by Nathan Lowell does this pretty well. Start with Quarter Share. It's the story of a young man coming of age in the Merchant Marine. In space.
posted by JDHarper at 9:50 PM on November 14, 2009

Benjamin Kunkel, Indecision
posted by ewiar at 10:28 PM on November 14, 2009

Youth by JM Coetzee.

Please, please read this book. Don't worry about reading it out of sequence with his other memoirs, just read it.
posted by SebastianKnight at 5:32 AM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

W. Somerset Maugham - The Razor's Edge
posted by djgh at 7:20 AM on November 15, 2009

The Fuck-Up by Arthur Nersesian

The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy

True North by Jim Harrison

Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow (Gene Henderson is older, but it is still one of the best books about finding oneself ever written. You will not forget Mr. Henderson.)

Seconding 'Youth' by J.M. Coetzee
posted by Darth Fedor at 11:18 AM on November 15, 2009

I recently read A Fortunate Age, and found it very thought-provoking.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 11:40 AM on November 15, 2009

Spike's wife probably read Ron McLarty's The Memory of Running. I enjoyed that book a lot.
posted by xenophile at 1:44 PM on November 15, 2009

Marge Piercy's The High Cost of Living really makes me think of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, though I think it might be in the third person.

In case there hasn't been enough of a Coupland pile-on already, I actually think Girlfriend in a Coma is my favourite of his books for this, taking the characters from their teens to their thirties.
posted by carbide at 3:11 PM on November 15, 2009

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar. Larry McMurtry, The Last Picture Show (and the movie is great, too).
posted by equalpants at 3:12 PM on November 15, 2009

Black Swan Green
posted by pxe2000 at 4:23 AM on November 16, 2009

Adding to the Douglas Coupland recommendations: Shampoo Planet
posted by ye#ara at 2:13 PM on November 16, 2009

Stone Junction is good stuff.
posted by talldean at 6:10 PM on November 16, 2009

"All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers" by Larry Mcmurtry. Absolutely his best book.
Also, seconding "The Razor's Edge."
posted by Brittanie at 7:36 PM on November 16, 2009

Ooh I love this question (see my name). A lot of good stuff in here already that I second - The Secret History, Cat's Eye, Perks.
I would add: Franny and Zooey and at least parts of Nine Stories, This Side of Paradise, and David Foster Wallace's The Broom of the System - I know a lot of people think it's one of his lesser works, but it's the book I finished most recently, and I loved it and can't stop thinking about it. It sticks with you the same way Norwegian Wood does.
posted by naoko at 9:27 PM on November 16, 2009

Hurry on down, by John Wain. Also known as Born in captvity.
posted by Baldons at 3:21 AM on November 17, 2009

seconding both number9dream and black swan green by David Mitchell - great, great reading.
posted by amrangaye at 8:27 PM on November 21, 2009

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