Awesome book for teen boy
March 31, 2010 7:50 AM   Subscribe

A friend's son is turning 17 this week - what mindblowing book could I get him?

I don't know a ton about how well-read he is, but he is looking at all Ivy League schools, so I'd assume he's very bright and well-read. Looking for something a little out of the ordinary.
posted by roomthreeseventeen to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
If he hasn't read it already, I've always thought Stranger in a Strange Land was mind-blowing on a philosophical level.
posted by Pragmatica at 7:58 AM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Well, if you really want to blow his mind, The Illuminatus! Trilogy ought to do the trick.
posted by mosk at 8:01 AM on March 31, 2010 [4 favorites]

welllllll... there is always Robert Anton Wilson's works:

Schrödinger's Cat Trilogy perhaps.
posted by edgeways at 8:02 AM on March 31, 2010

posted by edgeways at 8:02 AM on March 31, 2010

Naked Lunch. I read it for the first time when I was fifteen. I don't think it did any permanent damage. Of course, this kid's parents may never speak to you again, so there's that.
posted by dortmunder at 8:06 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Catch-22 surely blew my mind around that time.
I'm also really impressed by Don DeLillo's denser novels, such as The Names and Ratner's Star.
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:06 AM on March 31, 2010

Slaughterhouse 5.
posted by handee at 8:08 AM on March 31, 2010

Ghostwritten by David Mitchell

(or Cloud Atlas, but I think GW would be better)
posted by evadery at 8:09 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and my 17 year old mind was blown by the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges, especially The Garden of Forking Paths.
posted by evadery at 8:10 AM on March 31, 2010 [4 favorites]

A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:12 AM on March 31, 2010

The two most important books I read around that age, two that still affect me profoundly:

The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, by Alan Watts - Watts wrote the book for his own two children, to read as older teenagers, and it is full of the best wisdom about being.

The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers - Campbell's most readable text, a book-length interview with Bill Moyers (also available on DVD). Totally and completely changed my worldview, primarily by explaining and exploring metaphorical readings of religious scripture and mythology. Turns out there is far more truth and wisdom in those books when you read the poetry as poetry rather than as prose.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:17 AM on March 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I read it for the first time when I was 17 (it was the first book assigned in class that I actually enjoyed). I've read it almost annually since.
posted by CharlieSue at 8:31 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture.

Or, if you're a contrarian sort, Atlas Shrugged. Just don't expect him to be tolerable for the next... whenever.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:55 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

He's basically an intelligent adult, so I personally wouldn't worry about appropriate content. The books that blew my mind and changed my life around age 17:

-Ulysses; Finnegans Wake
-Naked Lunch (how permissive is your friend? This is a questionable one, obviously, but it's mindblowing at that age in particular, and you can guarantee he won't have encountered it in his coursework)
-Anything Samuel Beckett - this reader did it for me
-I didn't read this until my 20's, but it should also be recommended: Pale Fire
-Political: The Zinn Reader or something by Chomsky
posted by naju at 9:03 AM on March 31, 2010

The Catcher in the Rye
posted by 4ster at 9:06 AM on March 31, 2010

Gang Leader for a Day. It's highly readable and an interesting insight into a world and an economy that the average ivy league applicant isn't familiar with.


Even at that age I'd have been way less motivated to read a book that an elder gave me that s/he hadn't read themselves. Even a callow youth recognizes a difference between "here's this book that I loved and had a big impact on me" and "here's a book I've never read but which a lot of other folks say is a big deal/life changer." So I'd highly recommend you stick to stuff you can say you read and which had an impact on you as well.
posted by phearlez at 9:14 AM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

"Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds." Written in the 19th century, it still can teach a lot about how today's world works.
posted by jtron at 9:23 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Infinite Jest, so he can discuss it with all the other brainy nerd boys in college.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:33 AM on March 31, 2010

Someone gave me a collection of Hunter Thompson's reportage, entitled "The Great Shark Hunt," when I was seventeen. It is a good book for someone that age.
posted by jayder at 9:50 AM on March 31, 2010

2666 is another mindblowing read that everyone seems to be talking about right now.
posted by naju at 9:51 AM on March 31, 2010

When I was that age, my mind was blown by Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo. I'd also second Slaughter House Five and Godel Escher Bach, which is mind-blowing at any age.
posted by lexicakes at 9:30 PM on March 31, 2010

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.
posted by usonian at 9:37 PM on March 31, 2010

The 48 Laws of Power - Robert Greene
posted by jasondigitized at 6:10 AM on April 1, 2010

How to Win at College - Cal Newport

I really, really, really wish that this book had been around when I was just starting undergrad--it's a really amazing guide to becoming a truly well-rounded student and making the best of your college years in both academic and non-academic ways.
posted by HeKilledKennedy at 8:42 AM on April 1, 2010

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