Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Books for Teenagers

My teenage years were probably the best years I’ve had so far when it comes to reading.  I had time, I had an inquisitive mind, I was in an academic environment where I was encouraged to read outside the narrow confines of my school subjects and, most importantly, I had access to a huge range of books through my school (and later university) library, home library, the generosity of my parents and the kindness of many of my school teachers.  I read countless books, from timeless classics to total trash, from books of great learning to, well, more total trash.  There are books that have stayed with me for decades and books that I forgot as soon as I closed them.  In brief, how on earth can I comply with the demand of the Broke and the Bookish to list just ten books that every teen should read.  I mean, really?  Just ten?

I’m sure they would be happy if I listed twenty, or fifty, or even more but I don’t have the time or, frankly, the inclination.  So, ten will be your lot.  They probably wouldn’t all be in my real top ten, if it were possible for me ever to define a top ten but they are all books that I would recommend to a bright and inquisitive teen.  Mini-Falaise has a decade to go before she hits her teens but I am already contemplating what should be on our shelves for her entertainment and edification.

I've inmposed one rule on myself, as the universe of choices is so large and have restricted myself only to books I had actually read before the age of 18.  So, eyes down and off we go:

1.         The Collected Works of William Shakespeare.  Why?  Because all life can be found within these pages.  Love, hate, ambition, jealousy, sacrifice and loads more besides.  He enriched the English language and left a huge legacy to Western culture.  Look, he was English but the French are still prepared to like him!

2.         1984 by George Orwell.  Why?  Because every generation needs to be reminded of the importance of free will and freedom and the dangers of state power.

3.         The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien  Why?  Because I believe that teenagers should be encouraged to imagine and to escape and LotR is an incredibly textured and detailed imaginary world in which a teenager can immerse him or herself and escape from the trials and tribulations of growing up for a while.

4.         The Diary of Anne Frank.  Why?  Because we all need to be reminded of both the best and the worst of human nature and they are both present in this book.

5.         Animal Farm by George Orwell.  Why? Because the earlier a teen learns that power tends to corrupt and that the noble aims of revolution have a tendency to wither, the better.  And it’s also a good, coded history lesson.  I’m not embarrassed about listing Orwell twice – I believe he is that important.

6.         Dracula by Bram Stoker.  Why?  Because, if you’re going to get all gothic and vampy, you might as well read the lodestone, the Ur-vampire rather than any of its pale imitators.  I’m prepared to make an exception for Anne Rice but that’s the limit.

7.         The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux.  Why?  Because he writes like a dream and I want my imaginary teen to know that there’s a big world out there to be explored and that they should feel empowered to board that train or to step down that road to see what’s there.  If Theroux irritates you, feel free to sub in Jupiter’s Travels or anything by Thubron, Leigh-Fermor, Lewis or Newby.  But Theroux is the best.

8.         All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.  Why?  Because an entire generation of young men was cut down before they had a chance to live and it’s wrong.

9.         The Mating Season by P.G. Wodehouse.  Why?  Because being a teenager can be difficult and sometimes quite lonely so I’d like to give the gift of something that is pure happiness and joy to my young teen and Wodehouse is sublime.  There’s also a sneaky educational thing there too as Wodehouse is an exquisite stylist.  You could substitute almost anything he ever wrote other than his school stories, which are relatively lifeless.

10.       If This Is a Man by Primo Levi.  Called Survival in Auschwitz in the USA, this is such an incredibly powerful recording of the horrors of the death camps that I think everyone should read it at least once.  If you like, feel free to substitute Night by Elie Wiesel or, for a different camp system, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

I said at the beginning that ten books were too few for a list like this and I feel even more strongly about that now.  There are literally dozens of books that are leaping into the forefront of my mind.  Perhaps we should have a collective effort to create a definitive list of books for teens to get their teeth into – maybe 1,001 Books to Read Before you’re 18?


As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

Great list! I'll have to ponder this subject all day before I'm able to come up with a list of my own.

Jan von Harz said...

Terrific list many of which I have on my list and would add if I had more than ten to choose.

Anonymous said...

Lovely comments on The Diary of Anne Frank and couldn't agree more on your choice of Dracula.

KarenSi said...

You are right. Anne Frank and Dracula are a strange combination. Great books though. So many of your list I have yet to read. I am actually quite ashamed.

Song said...

I haven't heard of 7, 8 and 10. They sound interesting the though. The rest of the list is great!...

Unknown said...

I'm ashamed to admit I haven't read All Quiet on the Western Front, and I am very well past my teens. Good thing I can have instant gratification with this Kindle I have here next to me-I'll add it to Slaughterhouse Five, which I've also resolved to read this summer.

LBC said...

I think it is fine to list Orwell twice. He was one of the writers that influenced me the most as a teen.

Come visit me at The Scarlet Letter.

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm happy to see Wodehouse here! Teens really do need happy reading to balance the serious books. =)

What do you think of some Aldous Huxley to complement the double dose of Orwell? I think the former was even more prophetic with Brave New World than the latter was with Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

#7 has been on my list for awhile, I need to read it. I also second the Wodehouse recommendation. Sometimes I think we shove too much serious literature down kids throats and while some of us love that (me!), I think it scares off others. Mixing in some hilarious stuff teaches them that classics aren't dry and boring.

Legends of Dune said...

It doesn't happen often that I'd agree with most pieces on any best/worst/recommended book list, but you've done a great job here, especially including Orwell and Remarque.


Kate said...

"I’m prepared to make an exception for Anne Rice but that’s the limit."

Well put!

I'm also glad to see Wodehouse. I only started reading him a few years ago and thought, "Where have you been all my life?" A teenaged Kate would have been so delighted to have met him.

Anonymous said...

I love your idea of a 1001 to read before 18. I have 2 teen boys. They only read those things directly connected to their computer and computer games. It's a sad state of affairs. However, the more we (as parents) push them to read the more they resist. They live in a house full of books, a library right at hand, e-readers and two parents that love to read. We can only hope that they will come to their senses and play catch up some day.