I was thinking of books I wish to reread, Suzanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell topping that list, and I wondered if I would gain or lose something by rereading certain books. Specifically, would I gain or lose something by rereading books from my youth? Not just any books, but those that were important to me at the time. Very important, because everything in the world is especially important when you are a teenager. Here are eight:
- Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks
- Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
- Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
- Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins
- Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
- In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
- Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
Portions of that list make me sound like I was a damn hippie, and that might not be inaccurate. An important aspect of reading as a teenager, at least for me, was being able to discuss books with friends. The Vonnegut, Robbins, Hesse, Nabokov, and Quinn books definitely got passed around from friend to friend, additional copies joining the group when someone had a birthday or garnered some extra cash. I remember skipping an AP English exam to drive to Athens to hear Vonnegut speak at UGA.
I tried rereading Tom Robbins as an “adult,” and I got bored; it wasn’t the same, at all. I am really not intending to compare Tom Robbins and Ayn Rand here, but I give someone a “pass” if they are a Rand fan under the age of twenty—I assume they will grow out of it. I hate to think I’ve “outgrown” Robbins, but that may be the case. For the record, no one needs a “pass” for being a Robbins fan. Being a Robbins fan makes you awesome.
Do certain books (more than others) appeal to an adolescent perspective or need?
What were you reading as a teenager?
Interesting; only 3 of these have I read and only 1 did I read as a teen (Cat’s Cradle). Were these all voluntary reads? Any assigned by teachers? If all voluntary, I am way impressed.
I did try to read The Sound and the Fury in high school and made it through about 50 pages. But AP English helped me on my way: The Stranger, Grapes of Wrath, Billy Budd, Crime and Punishment, a generous selection of poetry, and an annotated bib. on Steinbeck in which I actually did read all but one or two of the books I included.
In 11th grade I did a report on (yes) a Michener book (Alaska? Can’t remember) and actually made it through about 900 pages.
Before that, though, I had a predilection for sports biographies. Ask me anything about the ’77 Yankees.
Cat’s Cradle, In Cold Blood, and Siddhartha were assigned for school. My uncle sent me a copy of Jitterbug Perfume for a birthday with a note scrawled in it…which said something along the lines of “I hope you aren’t offended by this book.” Then, the Tom-Robbins-group-obsession began, another friend having read Still Life at about the same time.
I’ve never read any Robbins. I did try Cowgirls once but only got through 10-15 pages. I suspect you’re right in that he speaks to a certain quirky, wistful, youthful mindset. I read a ton of Vonnegut (all on my own) in high school; there was a time when I liked Cat’s Cradle more than Slaughterhouse-Five, and I suspect both transcend demographics. I’ve wanted to re-read S 5 for a while now, just to see if it holds up.
Then there are those authors (I’d put Hemingway and Faulkner both here) who only make sense in college and after. 🙂
I never finished Cowgirls either. I’d recommend Another Roadside Attraction.
One recommended to me by a ton of high school friends, one of which I read 60 pages and was bored stiff: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.