Generation-defining books
February 13, 2005 7:32 PM   Subscribe

What books have defined your generation?
posted by Wayman Tisdale to Writing & Language (52 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Penthouse and Hustler.
posted by quonsar at 7:38 PM on February 13, 2005

"A Series of Unfortunate Events."
posted by Krrrlson at 7:39 PM on February 13, 2005

"The Chronicles of Narnia"
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 7:40 PM on February 13, 2005

What a great question! Would it be possible for people to list their ages as well?
posted by Arch Stanton at 7:41 PM on February 13, 2005

Generation X.
posted by xo at 7:42 PM on February 13, 2005

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Maybe the Corrections. I'm 30. If it were up to me, Robert Lasner's For Fuck's Sake would hold the title.
posted by tomharpel at 7:46 PM on February 13, 2005

Another Douglas Coupland classic for this 30 year old. "Microserfs"
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 7:52 PM on February 13, 2005

I'm 22 -- the first thing that springs to mind is that almost everyone I know has read FIGHT CLUB at this point. I wish our generation's book was SNOW CRASH, but it's probably not.
posted by logovisual at 7:53 PM on February 13, 2005

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Women, Bukowski

The Handmaid's Tale

posted by tr33hggr at 7:55 PM on February 13, 2005

Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.
posted by Leonard at 7:55 PM on February 13, 2005

Oh, 39

The Martian Chronicles as well, and 1984
posted by tr33hggr at 7:55 PM on February 13, 2005

Catcher In the Rye, Lord of the Flies, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Stranger in a Strange Land, On The Road, The Invisible Man, Notes of a Native Son, To Kill a Mockingbird,
Portnoy's Complaint, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, The Joy of Sex, Catch 22, Silent Spring, Exodus, name but a few.
posted by NorthCoastCafe at 7:56 PM on February 13, 2005

1984, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Slaughterhouse-Five.
posted by nj_subgenius at 7:58 PM on February 13, 2005

posted by nj_subgenius at 7:58 PM on February 13, 2005

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 7:59 PM on February 13, 2005

No Logo.
posted by Quartermass at 8:26 PM on February 13, 2005

I'm 47. I'm quite amazed that "The Lord of the Rings" hasn't been listed. Mind, its possible that this applies more normally to a group maybe 10 years older than myself, I was hanging with adults quite early. The other would be "Stranger in a Strange Land". But it seems EVERYONE had read or was reading Tolkien, and talking about it.

Someone listed the Narnia Chronicles, but I felt that got read because of The Rings. Funny enough, the first trailer I saw for Lion King I thought was going to be an animated Narnia.
posted by Goofyy at 8:37 PM on February 13, 2005

Sadly, Chicken Soup for the Soul.
posted by ontic at 8:43 PM on February 13, 2005

For all of us who share a Simpsonian Worldview: Planet Simpson.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:47 PM on February 13, 2005

Prozac Nation? I'm 24.
posted by Arch Stanton at 8:54 PM on February 13, 2005

I'm 25... Even though lots of current 25-year-olds will probably mention Dave Eggers, I will put money down that 50 or 100 years from now, readers will look back and cite David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest as the generation-defining book for people who are currently my age. They might also cite his book of essays A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. Wallace's books are the template for a lot of the literature people in my age group identify as uniquely theirs.

And as Quartermass says, No Logo also comes to mind as a generation-defining book for my age-group--it's the work behind so many other books, like Commodify Your Dissent and Nickel and Dimed, that have mattered a lot.

And if you widen the sample to make my generation include people five to ten years older than me, I'd say Lorrie Moore, Birds of America, and Amy Hempel, Reasons to Live and Tumble Home, are books that defined what fiction could be about in recent years, and that honed in on a certain way of looking at the world a lot that of people around my age seem to share. Those four books seem to mark out a kind of period for me.
posted by josh at 9:06 PM on February 13, 2005

Perks of Being a Wallflower, in all of its cliche glory.

I'm 19.
posted by itchie at 9:13 PM on February 13, 2005

I'm 27, and I can't say any one book has defined my generation-- not enough readers. However, Grant Morrison's the Invisibles seems to cast a unique, looming shadow over the hearts, minds and beyond of a small and diverse, yet uncommonly connected, segment of my generation.
posted by samh23 at 9:18 PM on February 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

29. None. My generation hardly reads. Seriously. I wonder if there is any book that a random call of 6 of my friends would have read.

Culture has become more fragmented than before, that's the new defining characteristic. More choice means fewer, if any cultural anchors. And reading is now a choice that not everyone makes, let alone reading a similar set of books.
posted by sien at 9:26 PM on February 13, 2005

The Taguba Report

The Bybee Memo [pdf]

Orrin Hatch's speech in support of Alberto Gonzales

(Well, these are what will define us in the eyes of the Arab world for the next thirty years. How old am I? I'm old enough to remember when America stood for liberty.)
posted by orthogonality at 9:29 PM on February 13, 2005

Fast Food Nation. David Sedaris.
posted by gramcracker at 9:30 PM on February 13, 2005

Lord of the Rings. I am in my early 50's.
posted by Lynsey at 9:32 PM on February 13, 2005

Hmmm, I'm 25 and an avid reader, but I can't say I've read anything that really captures my experiences. It seems most books are written by writers who grew up in a high middle class background than I did.

I bet it'll be some Brett Easton Ellis book though.
posted by drezdn at 9:33 PM on February 13, 2005

I like talking about books, but I have no idea what this question means. Is it asking for books that are popular among my age group? Books that have influenced my generation? Books that remind me of my culture? Books that future generations will think of as the best of this generation? Books that future generations will identify with the current zeitgeist? Help!
posted by painquale at 9:51 PM on February 13, 2005

Is it asking for books that are popular among my age group? Books that have influenced my generation? Books that remind me of my culture? Books that future generations will think of as the best of this generation? Books that future generations will identify with the current zeitgeist?

All of the above, I believe. If so, I'm going to have to say Fight Club.

(late 20s)
posted by Lush at 10:52 PM on February 13, 2005

House of Stairs,
Diary of Anne Frank,
The Chronicles of Narnia
Children of the Star Trilogy,
A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet
posted by Jim Jones at 11:17 PM on February 13, 2005

I'm 24. The Reflection Engine had quite an impact on me when I was writing it, and when I gave up after ~60k words :P
posted by delmoi at 11:24 PM on February 13, 2005

People might not want to mention it, but where is Harry Potter in all of this?
posted by aquitone at 12:21 AM on February 14, 2005

21. I don't particularly care for a lot of "my generation's" reading, it's difficult to sort through all the fluff.

Now, what I've personally read that's had major influence on me, that's a separate matter.

Foundation. In fact, just about anything written by Isaac Asimov. 1984. The Earthsea Trilogy. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Also, I've noticed that the relatively recent influx of manga comics from Japan has taken hold on not just children, but even those of my age. Sadly, the market has taken to fluff pieces even over there, so it'll take a bit of time and a few really inspired series to catch more people on, but I wouldn't be surprised if the graphic novel format winds up being a definitive part of my generation.

On preview- Aquitone, I was thinking about that... but I'm one of the only ones I know who hasn't read the series.
posted by Saydur at 12:35 AM on February 14, 2005

For my generation:
The Bennington novels: The Rules of Attraction, The Secret History, From Rockaway--I think there's one or two others, but I can't remember what they are. Spy magazine put out a parody of Cliffs notes at the time.

Influence on me: Erica Jong, John Irving, Margaret Atwood, Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres, David Leavitt--there are others, but I can't think of them at the moment.
posted by brujita at 6:13 AM on February 14, 2005

I'm 22, and I'd say, sadly, that Glamorama summed it all up for me.

Amazing, amazing book, but if you've ever read it, you'll know why I'm sad that that's my answer.
posted by saladin at 6:30 AM on February 14, 2005

Life After God, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Dr. Seuss, The Watchmen, Neuromancer and the Sandman books, sort of... kind of... I can think of a hundred movies and television shows that are a lot closer to defining my generation than any book, because as noted, most people don't read much anymore. Hell, even my friends with B.A.'s in English don't read much anymore. I'm 29.

And as an afterthought, the only book I can think of that almost all of my friends have read is 1984. Most read it in high school (without it being assigned material).
posted by picea at 6:30 AM on February 14, 2005

23 - I always identify back to The Hatchet - a person alone with few tools observes their environment and learns how to survive. Thanks to elementary school for that one.
posted by lorrer at 6:56 AM on February 14, 2005

The HAB Theory (Alan W. Eckert) - I still get a little tingle of excitement when I read about mysteroius discoveries, and I worry when the scientists tell us that something has happened to the ice caps, or the axial tilt... /scared!

The Chrysalids (John Wyndham) - had to read it in English classes at school; didn't enjoy or understand it until much later when I read it myself. Probably some of the first science-fiction I read, which got me hooked.

Foundation (Isaac Asimov) - the whole series is amazing.

The "Night's Dawn" trilogy (Peter F. Hamilton) - *big* books, but very rewarding. Scary, intriguiging, fascinating, clever, funny, and lots more.

The Stainless Steel Rat (Harry Harrison) - again, the whole series of stories are wonderful; he's the ultimate anti-hero, and I wish that I could spin a tale even a measurable fraction as good as these!

To be quite honest, I think that all of the books I've read have shaped me, or my thinking, to some extent. The ones listed are those that stand out; the one's I'll read over-and-over-and-over without getting bored, and which I would recommend wholeheartedly to anyone!

I have also read "War and Peace" and "Crime and Punishment" - just so I could say that I have done so :-) (I'm not a sci-fi snob!) Unfortunately, I don't think that I got enough out of them, so I'll probably have another go one day...
posted by Chunder at 7:08 AM on February 14, 2005

Duh - oh yeah, I'm (on the verge of being) 29 - and have been reading voraciously since I was old enough to focus on the page - more or less :-)

It does seem that fewer people of my age (and younger) read for pleasure which I find kind of sad... perhaps they all just haven't found the one book that sparks off their imagination.
posted by Chunder at 7:12 AM on February 14, 2005

Where the Wild Things Are, published in 1963. I'll leave the math as an exercise for you.
posted by TimeFactor at 8:37 AM on February 14, 2005

no one seems to talk about it or have read it, but benjamin anastas' an underachiever's diary was one of the first books i read that felt completely spot on, right down to the details of the crappy upstate new york college years, knowing what constituted education where you'd sent yourself was beer pong and mindlessness but feeling like at least that was better than being just what your parents wanted to brag about vapidly at cocktail parties, and memories of stifling privelege before that. yeah.

and no, i didn't even have a college experience like that. but i'm positive i know which school anastas was describing (i was raised in upstate ny) and i also know what he's talking stupid it is, when there's nothing to rebel against but you're still unhappy, and so you rebel by being mediocre when you've been handed all the keys to be better than that. and knowing you're fucking yourself over by doing that, but doing it anyway because you just feel so out of place. and being angry at yourself for selling yourself short stupidly on purpose, but where the bouts of self disgust flucuate with a numbing apathy. yes.

(i'm 22)
posted by ifjuly at 8:41 AM on February 14, 2005

It is hard to define "My Generation" because a "generation" is twenty to thirty years, and sure enough most of the people that I think of are at least ten years older than I am: Larry McMurtry, John Irving, Jane Smiley, Stephen King, and Tom Wolfe.

Anne Rice's Interview With a Vampire came out when I was a teenager and was hugely influential; it really breathed life into the vampire genre.

David Sedaris is extremely popular and exactly my age, but I would never say he defined my generation.

Several non-fiction books came out when I was a teenager that had lasting influences: I'm OK, You're OK, The Joy of Sex, and All The President's Men which can be summed up as relationships take work, anything sexual between consenting adults is groovy and politics is a dirty business. I took all these lessons to heart.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:57 AM on February 14, 2005

People might not want to mention it, but where is Harry Potter in all of this?

The Harry Potter series is entertaining, but they're not the sort of books that are likely to be life-changing. No one's mentioned any Stephen King (on preview: darn you, SLoG, for ruining my point) or Tom Clancy yet, either, despite their popularity.

Me? 33. I guess I'd have to say Generation X and the Hitchhiker series. Though I also agree with whoever said that TV and movies have much more influence than books.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:01 AM on February 14, 2005

If it's books that reflect my generation's zeitgeist (i.e. and not necessarily books that shaped and/or delighted ME), I would offer (in no particular order): Less Than Zero; Bright Lights, Big City; The Chronicles of Narnia; The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings; The Earthsea Trilogy; The Bonfire of the Vanities; Invisible Cities/If On A Winter's Day A Traveler; White Noise; Neuromancer; A Handmaid's Tale; The Outsiders/That Was Then, This Is Now; To Kill A Mockingbird; Gravity's Rainbow; The Catcher in the Rye; Beloved/Sula/The Bluest Eye; The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; The World According to Garp; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; Watership Down; Midnight's Children/The Satanic Verses; An Artist of the Floating World; One Hundred Years of Solitude.

These are the books that everyone I knew seemed to be reading and talking about.

I personally was most affected, altered, transformed, etc. as a kid by the Tolkien books, the first Heinlein I read (Podkayne of Mars), Earthsea, etc. As an adult, it was the postmodern stuff, the deeper forays into science fiction, the magical realism, the Old English canon and the 19th century novel. But that's just me .... (Oh, and I'm 40.)
posted by melixxa600 at 9:13 AM on February 14, 2005

Unfortunately, I'd have to say that our generation is defined by film, rather than books. For everyone who crows about "Me Talk Pretty One Day," I'll hear 17 people whose lives were "changed" by ROYAL TENENBAUMS or LOST IN TRANSLATION.

As a writer, it's a grim statement, but literature just doesn't resonate with the Gen Y crowd.

In my ideal world, my gen would be defined by something like "Box Office Poison" rather than McSweeney's anyway.

(I'm 29, but identify slightly younger according to psychographic measures.)
posted by Gucky at 9:19 AM on February 14, 2005

Been down so long it looks like up to me


King James Version
posted by Pressed Rat at 9:32 AM on February 14, 2005

I'm the same age as Melixxa600 and her list holds pretty true for me; maybe there's something in this. But I'd have to add The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Steppenwolf and On the Road - everyone I know has read those. And the Cosmic Trigger.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:33 AM on February 14, 2005

Been down so long it looks like up to me

Oh man, I have forgotten how much I love that book. It's a great camping read, around the fire . . .
posted by tr33hggr at 11:26 AM on February 14, 2005

As far as I can tell, the only universal books for my generation (I'm 23 now) are the ones we all read in school. I'll second the Narnia series and Madeline L'Engle's books, and I'd add Lord of the Flies, Bridge to Terabinthia, and most of what Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss wrote.

Salinger is supposed to be the defining author of my parents' generation. But most of my friends read Franny and Zooey in high school or their freshman year of college and say it changed their lives. I'm not sure why that is, or whether it's true outside my little circle.

And yes, fine, there's Fight Club. Honestly, though, I don't think that book represents my generation half so well as people say it does. Anyway, it's only gotten popular because of the movie, so I'm not sure it counts. If we absolutely have to be represented by an egotistical nutcase I'll take Eggers over Pahlaniuk any day.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:47 AM on February 14, 2005

29, Lord of the Rings

and I'll second the the "behind the scenes" influence of The Invisibles
posted by Metametadata at 12:20 PM on February 14, 2005

Well, I didn't ask the question, but to me a book that defines a generation is not necessarily a book that everyone in a given generation has read. Great literature often defines its 'generation' more to later generations than to current ones. So a small number of people read "The Waste Land" in 1922, but it clearly defines that generation for posterity. And I take 'literature' to mean literature in the traditional (and best) sense--i.e., Harry Potter is definitely not literature.

If you're asking, 'What are the books that everyone in your generation has read,' the answers will inevitably be stuff like 1984 and Catcher in the Rye. Really, however, those define the generations of Orwell and Salinger more than they do all the other ones.

Just my $0.02. Like the Foundation trilogy, for instance, says a lot more about the 1950s than it does about the 1980s, even though that's when I read it.
posted by josh at 4:45 PM on February 14, 2005

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