Metatalktail Hour: The Books of Adolescence September 28, 2019 5:34 PM   Subscribe

Good Saturday evening, MetaFilter! This week, apropos of this thread, I'm curious to hear about what book meant the most to you as an adolescent, and why (even if these days it might be a problematic fave).

As always this is a conversation starter, not limiter, so tell us everything that's up with you! And send me ideas for future metatalktails!
posted by Eyebrows McGee to MetaFilter-Related at 5:34 PM (114 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

I was obsessed with Catch-22 as a 14 year old. I read it the summer between 8th and 9th grades, so just when I was starting high school. I’m not exactly sure why I found it so fascinating. I certainly hadn’t read anything like it before, and I think the bitter humor and bleak point of view appealed to me as a troubled adolescent. And it didn’t hurt that it’s fucking hilarious. I must have read it a dozen times over the course of high school. I always think of it as the book that marked the beginning of my becoming an adult.

I re-read it in 2011, on the 50th anniversary of its publication. I still loved it. Of course, it has a retrograde view of women, but I expected that.
posted by holborne at 5:53 PM on September 28 [7 favorites]


Life is Elsewhere by Milan Kundera is the most embarrassingly spot on book I read as a pretentious teen.
posted by Dumsnill at 5:57 PM on September 28 [4 favorites]


The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (First and Second). I know if I read it now, I'd hate it, first because of the rape that opens the story, and then many other things. But as a depressed teenager, it was a message about discovering one's power that really spoke to me.

My friends and I are in the middle of facilitating our the third "gender and society" discussion group series, and even though it's just with people that we know personally, it's going really well. Our goal is to hold facilitated conversations about toxic masculinity, emotional labor, relationships, power, etc. We're having great conversations, and I'm encouraged that we can open it up to "the public" eventually.
posted by Gorgik at 5:58 PM on September 28 [8 favorites]


I appreciate the framing of this question. My adolescent favorite, The Bridge Across Forever, as discussed previously, by Richard Bach, is definitely a bit problematic! Yet...it still completely shaped my worldview in some ways that abide. I was just thinking about something from it like a day ago: "To bring anything into your life, imagine that it's already there." It's actually kind of amazing how well that works.

Last year at Thanksgiving, the three of us in my immediate family spoke Spanish around the dinner table, by candlelight during a power outage, and ate what we had already cooked, until the lights came back on. It felt kind of magical, like we were making an offering to the spirits or gods or universe. Now, almost a year later, it's within the realm of possibility that I might be having Thanksgiving dinner in Spanish again, for entirely different reasons, in an entirely different place.

Did we imagine this future into being? Or did we simply give the spirits and gods a compelling vision of the future and ask for their blessing? Either way, I'm grateful for how it's all turning out.
posted by limeonaire at 6:04 PM on September 28 [12 favorites]


I discovered fantasy writing when I was a teenager (neither of my parents read fantasy or SF and my mother is still weirded out by it which is...a thing...)

I found Marion Zimmer Bradley first, and then read Mercedes Lackey. Lackey is pretty trash, but hey at least she didn't commit actual horrific abuse so I guess she wins my adolescence. (TW: child molestation.)

(I still have an incredibly clear memory of reading that thread for the first time. I don't read Bradley anymore, and I miss Darkover, but I just fucking cannot.)

I don't read much fantasy anymore, but it got me into reading SF, and probably more important, gave me gay and lesbian characters to read about. I mean, it might have been nice if I'd recognized a little sooner why I obsessively read, over and over, women who were definitely friends yeah FRIENDS who did not hug enough in my personal closeted opinion, but there you go.
posted by kalimac at 6:06 PM on September 28 [8 favorites]


My #1 was Anne of Green Gables (and it still is), it was like a guidebook to my awkward years. But I also fell in love with Kurt Vonnegut as an adolescent. He was funny, he was cynical, he was enraged about things worth being enraged about with a directness that I hadn't gotten from my literature curriculum, he was my first prose introduction to the kind of broken, non-linear, form-bending modernism that I knew from e.e. cummings and T. S. Eliot. It was electrifying, and for me it still is. I doubt if I read Vonnegut for the first time now, as an adult, it would hit me half as hard, but he was my introduction to modernist prose literature, and to the potency of raging against things that need to be raged against, and I always enjoy revisiting Vonnegut.

(I think this surprises people about me because my literary tastes generally run to the feminist and to the classical forms, but there it is: I <3 Vonnegut! But you can't tell people that too early in your acquaintance with them or they take it wrong.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 6:10 PM on September 28 [10 favorites]


Vonnegut, yeah! The sheer amount of effort I had to expend to get his other works after having read Slaugtherhouse! My local library only had that and (the wonderful) Galapagos.
posted by Dumsnill at 6:20 PM on September 28 [3 favorites]


My top author as a bookish teenager was Margaret Atwood- and I think that generally holds up! It remains pretty on-brand for me. I didn’t really understand super-well how friendships and women or honestly people in general were supposed to work and I was the process of figuring out that the extremely Mormon environment I was raised in would not provide a great template for how to be the kind of adult woman I wanted to be. The women in those books *fascinated* me. I loved Cat’s Eye and The Robber Bride in particular and owe my high school English teacher Mrs. Frank a huge debt for suggesting/loaning them amongst many, many other books.

The Pern books- I would have at a certain point in my life absolutely have named any girl child I had Menolly- well, they hold up less well but hey, everybody likes a silly thing sometimes.
posted by charmedimsure at 6:37 PM on September 28 [11 favorites]


Through grammar school, I loved any and every story about parentless girls my own age. Boarding schools? Great! Orphanages? Even better! Orphan girls who end up at boarding schools? THE BEST. I often lost interest when the point of the story was for the girl to either reunite with her family or be adopted, but I couldn't resist falling into a lifetime of love with Anne's own Matthew and Marilla. I don't think anyone could.

In personal news, I started taking a weekly watercolor class through the local art museum, and it's been wonderful. I've been spending most of my spoons on basic life support lately, so it's been absolutely blissful to sit quietly with lots of brushes and lots of colors in my little corner of the classroom, surrendering to the bright hues of the washes taking their form on clean rough paper, tapping the brush cheerfully into the rinse cup.

Isak Dinesen said the cure for everything is saltwater -- sweat, tears, or the sea. But I think she forgot about watercolor: Fresh clear water, tubes of pigment, swirling rinse water, a spritz bottle, and a healthy dose of serendipity.
posted by mochapickle at 6:40 PM on September 28 [15 favorites]


For me, there wasn't so much a single book that meant the most to me, it was more a series of authors and exploration of the whole artistic temperament thing that I got into and which still drives my interest today. If memory serves, the signal book interests of my high school years would be something like:

Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund in 9th grade
Hardy's Return of the Native in 10th grade
A collection of film reviews by John Simon in 11th grade
Lem's The Cyberiad in 12th grade

I didn't pursue Hesse again later so my memory of his work is mostly of some of the main themes of intellectual/artistic/moral development and society. Hardy I did keep reading for some years and that era of writing remained a favorite as I'd go on to the Brontes, Eliot and so on. The tension between the outsider and society obviously resonated with me then, and still does now in a different, less angsty way.

John Simon's criticism was probably even more important to my development as much because it was problematic on some clear levels as it was well written and carefully considered on others. The combination was a double challenge to improve my thinking as much to have arguments against the criticisms as anything else. The Cyberiad is a great translation and both hilarious and thought provoking in equal measures. I'd continue to read Lem later and many other great books later, but criticism/aesthetics, studying how we think about art, became my main life interest and continues to this day.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:00 PM on September 28 [3 favorites]


Jane Yolen's Pit Dragon trilogy blew my freakin' mind.
posted by Mizu at 7:11 PM on September 28 [3 favorites]


My love for nonfiction was sparked by reading Jim Bishop’s The Day Lincoln Was Shot and The Day Kennedy Was Shot when I was in middle school. These were the first nonfiction books I read that seemed more like novels because of the narrative writing style, and I started devouring nonfiction, especially American history and Presidential biographies, as a result. Decades later, my reading is still probably 75% nonfiction.
posted by bookmammal at 7:13 PM on September 28 [3 favorites]


At that age I was tearing through books at an almost deranged rate (teenage insomnia creates a lot of time to kill), My absolute favourites were The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books, and any Vonnegut I could get my hands on.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:24 PM on September 28 [6 favorites]


Dune by Frank Herbert
posted by Fizz at 7:28 PM on September 28 [5 favorites]


Oh man, so many fun stories that were also terrible lessons about masculinity. Dune, Shogun, Asimov, and on and on. I won’t hide those books from my sons when they get old enough but they’re also going to be reading some Margaret Atwood, Sherry Tepper, Marge Piercy…
posted by not_the_water at 7:40 PM on September 28 [5 favorites]


I went and had a whole essay about forgiving Jean M. Auel's books, and then I chattered a lot on here about Good Omens, which I believe came into my life around the same time, and was important to me in a much more cerebral way. I could talk about Pratchett's work for ages, but who here couldn't?

What I can't understand in myself is how much I loved A Clockwork Orange and The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. I went through brief intense phases of devotion to both of them, particularly the movie soundtrack of the former. I was always a feminist, and I hated Heinlein, so why was I interested in these violent rapist heroes? All I can think is that I needed to feel powerful, and identifying with men who would kill me made me feel better than identifying with a teenage girl, who is always in danger.

I liked Still Life with Woodpecker a whole lot, and then one day in my early twenties I was reading another Tom Robbins book and I snapped and thought: wait a second, this guy's gross! He's been gross!

I also got extremely into George Herriman's Krazy Kat because I considered it the best love story I'd ever seen, which says something about the quality of love stories I had been exposed to. Even so, I would still put it right up there.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:44 PM on September 28 [5 favorites]


Any Philip K. Dick I could find in used book stores. Most of his 50s and 60s stuff was out of print in the late seventies and it often took an effort to track them down.
posted by octothorpe at 7:47 PM on September 28 [2 favorites]


Maybe elementary school is earlier than adolescence, but I loved (and still love) ALL the Little House series. There were the OG Laura Ingalls Wilder ones, and then all the brand extensions of Caroline Ingalls, Rose Wilder, Caroline's mom, I think, even?

(I also chose to do my 5th grade biography report on Robert E. Lee, and did my 3rd grade Travel Agency project on Wyoming, not China; wonder what my teachers thought? I related to Wyoming because it's last alphabetically, just like me (thanks, zjxq-in-pinyin))

I still assert that you can tell how hard a winter will be by looking at how thick muskrats build their homes.
posted by batter_my_heart at 7:52 PM on September 28 [6 favorites]


The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Protagonist is an amputee big iron computer guy in Luna who is literally the biggest fish in his small computer support pond and yet self reliant to the point of owning cows and bees (yet still sticking it to the man by stealing power and water). Best friend is a self aware computer. Scrappy rebels fighting the oppressive system completely justified by food riots in ten years, cannibalism in twenty. Ya, I wanted to be Manuel so bad as a teenager. Now of course the horrible writing of female characters and general problems with hard core libertarianism make it a hard critical read but for me it is a very comfortable, comforting read.
posted by Mitheral at 8:00 PM on September 28 [11 favorites]


The most beloved books to me as an adolescent were the Weetzie Bat series by Francesca Lia Block. They had everything my horribly lonely, odd, creative teenage heart could desire: bestbest friendships, gothypunky fashion, people wearing homemade wings, heartache and heartbreak, emotional and physical journeys, confusion and hope and joy. I loved them and love them still - they opened up the idea of the whole vast world to little me.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 8:48 PM on September 28 [13 favorites]


I was never a big reader, but I read every Sherlock Holmes story when I was maybe 12-14. I was also a HUGE fan of the ITV series with Jeremy Brett, and he really shaped how I read the character in the books. I loved all the mysteries, but more than that I think I loved that this volatile, sometimes-brooding, sometimes-manic character could suss things out so handily with brilliant thinking. I was a moody kid with mental health issues that only got worse as I became a teenager, and I was bullied for being one of the smart kids. I saw a lot of myself in Holmes, as I'm sure many kids do, and there was something very comforting about seeing how an atypical personality could be successful. I was also a pretty effeminate kid, assumed to be gay by bullies and well-meaning adults. Again, Holmes, especially as played by Brett, showed me how someone could live without conforming to people's expectations for how men should be. Those stories hinted at a world beyond the suburbs, where things didn't have to suck so much.

I think Holmes is also probably a big part of why I'm now so interested in artifacts from the Victorian era. Even when I was young, I loved trying to place things in a historical context and trying to imagine what the streets would have sounded like, what the clothes would have felt like, and so on. If I think about that, it's not a huge surprise that I'd later study historical archaeology.

Nowadays I see the character somewhat differently, but that doesn't detract from what he meant to me as an adolescent.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 9:15 PM on September 28 [8 favorites]


My absolute favorite growing up - maybe around 10-14 - was Kipling‘s The Jungle Book. Talk about problematic fave. Not surprisingly, I failed to see the pretty overt racism, and I didn‘t know anything about colonialism to put the book in context.

What I did see, even as a kid, was the contrast of an organic society of the jungle juxtaposed with the civilized, alienated village life (progress is a theme that I still find interesting). And overall, striking and stunningly well written analyses of power in a social/societal context - not that I agree with Kipling‘s politics, but he did write from a deeply political perspective, which can‘t be said about many books accessible to kids!

I wouldn‘t say the book can be redeemed, and I wouldn‘t necessarily introduce it to my kids at a young age, but the topics that I found interesting at ten - progress, alienation, power-, I still find interesting 30 years later.
posted by The Toad at 9:20 PM on September 28 [6 favorites]


I read a lot of books as a teenager. I remember particularly liking Silas Marner, A Tale of Two Cities, 1984, As I Lay Dying, Anne Tyler and Nevil Shute novels, the Bounty Triology, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. But here's what I fell in love with most deeply and lastingly:

Poems. In AP English my senior year we used Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry, which was wonderful and enlightening and introduced me to some poems I still love: You, Andrew Marvell; Gull Skeleton; Those Winter Sundays; The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I still remember the delight of coming across Fern Hill for the first time.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. I read this the summer between high school and college and it blew me away. I was fascinated by the accounts of people who had gotten sight after being blind. But the bit that's stuck with me the most was about the spaces between branches in a tree, the spaces between the big limbs branching and narrowing into more and more smaller and smaller spaces between branches and twigs, around each bud or rough flake of bark. I think of that often when I look at trees. I haven't read it in years, though, so I wonder how well my memory of that passage matches what Dillard actually wrote.

Jane Eyre. It would have been good for me to read this when I was 15 or so, but I didn't read until I was in college, probably about 19. It meant a lot to me to read a famous, passionate love story about people who weren't physically attractive. Unlike the heroines of pretty much every other romantic book or movie I had encountered, Jane wasn't pretty. It wasn't just that she didn't know she was pretty, or that other people weren't able to see it because she hadn't taken care to do her hair right or put on a pretty dress. She just wasn't good looking at all, and neither was Rochester, and it didn't matter a bit.
posted by Redstart at 9:28 PM on September 28 [9 favorites]


I loved Gatsby and so started reading a lot of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who is a lovely writer with a horrible view of women. Then I also got into John Updike via Witches of Eastwick, who has an even worse view of women. Both shaped me a lot, but I spent entirely too much time wishing I could be whatever the 20s/60s version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl would be, and I really wish I hadn't.
posted by lazuli at 9:40 PM on September 28 [2 favorites]


The Great Brain and the rest of the series were hugely influential and remain so. My 3 kids have read them and enjoyed them too. I highly recommend them to anyone, but they are problematic as they reflect some racism and prejudices of the times in which they are written about. That is the late 1800s early 20th century.

I also loved the book Ball Four as a 13 year old. Lots of inside baseball (literally) and cursing which this teenage boy thought terrific.

Interestingly, The Great Brain and Ball Four are pretty much on the opposite ends of the moral spectrum.
posted by AugustWest at 9:46 PM on September 28 [2 favorites]


So many, omigod. One would have to be Tam Lin by Pamela Dean; it doesn't work for everyone, but in my early teens its leisurely portrait of daily life in college among people who read too much, with magical overtones, was completely my jam.
The other book I still think of as really formative is Anne McCaffrey's Dragonquest. I know all the reasons Pern is problematic now and agree with at least some of them, but I still think this book of all does some things amazingly well: the gradual buildup of tension from multiple angles, over days and miles, until it explodes; the way, while there are definitely good and bad sides, the good side has its own moral greyness; and of course lots of lovely hurt/comfort for small fannish me.
posted by huimangm at 10:14 PM on September 28 [3 favorites]


I read Catch-22 at a similar age to holborne; the things that stuck with me were that war is terrible (also see Kurt Vonnegut), and subversion and rebellion are, roughly speaking, the opposite of crazy in a demonstrably insane world.

I read a lot of classic science fiction at that formative early-teens age. One thing that sticks in my head as a key influential moment was the notion of the Fair Witness in Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land - for instance:
Jubal: "Anne! That house on the hilltop - can you see what color they've painted it?"
Anne (a Fair Witness): "It's white on this side."
On this side - that was an epiphany. That concept of rigorous attention to precisely what has been observed vs. my assumptions about what I think I've seen, and an awareness of the limits of my observational abilities, has continued to have a very large influence on me throughout the rest of my life (listening to early George Carlin also extended that into the words and language we use, but that's a different topic).

The messiah or savior is a frequent trope in sci-fi/fantasy, and - at least in the books I read as a teen, including Stranger in a Strange Land, Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (yeah, the rape thing was...oof), and the Dune trilogy - what struck me was that so-called messiah-hood was immensely problematic, fraught with ambiguity and unintended consequences, and not at all the unblemished universal Good that I'd been told it was. I think those books were a big factor in my growing rejection of my middle-class Christian upbringing, or maybe they simply fed an attitude I'd already begun to develop in my early teens. Then in my late teens Richard Bach's book Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah was the final nail in the (cross? coffin? I can't decide which is more appropriate) that severed any remaining feeble connection to Christianity I'd been clinging to. In retrospect I wouldn't claim that Illusions is the best introduction to Eastern philosophy, but then again there's probably worse ones too. In any case it opened my mental world further, which I think was a positive thing.

On a side note, I happened to read Herman Hesse's Siddhartha for a high school English class while obsessively playing a particular couple of records over and over...I can't say that either the albums or the book were any sort of major influence on me, but even now, 40 years later, I can't listen to those albums without vividly recalling my mental/emotional state at the time. It's quite an odd experience, and one I'm not often ready to endure given my largely cheerless teen years. Which is too bad, because I still think they're pretty good albums.

Then in my very early 20's I encountered the fertile universes of Douglas Adams' Hitch-Hiker's Guide and Terry Pratchett's Discworld, eventually determined that farce and whimsy were far more useful responses to an unaccountable irrational universe than any of the finest religions, philosophies, or politics known to humankind, and have never looked back.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:21 PM on September 28 [8 favorites]


Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. It held me for so long, I read and re-read it. Still does -- I listen to it now, an amazing read on Audible. I loved/love how Huck knew he was no good for helping his black friend but let his heart win out, or, rather, his good heart would not let him turn his back on his friend, regardless all of his socialization said what he was doing was wrong, was bad. And what a story! Slowly meandering down the Mississippi river on a raft, nights, lying on their backs, smoking, slip over the side for a swim when you wanted to cool down, looking at the moon and the stars, talking about whatever it is you talk about with a friend as the hours tick by -- I'd love to do it today.

Then, somehow, a copy of Letters From The Earth by Samuel Clemons -- somehow a copy of that found its way into my hands. Written at the end of his life, Twain was set to the side because Clemons felt compelled to set some things straight. Can a book save your life? Come up in the lunacy of fundamental Christianity, I'd already set religion to the side, I knew it was bullshit, but Clemons put it into words. Clemons gave me the words. I trusted him as I trusted perhaps no other, and here he is lampooning these fools that absolutely needed to be lampooned, lampooning their beliefs, their practices, their hypocrisy, their naivete, their stupidity. He gave me the words. I leaned into his strength. I knew better than to argue with my family about this bullshit; now, I'd just lean back, and consider their lunacy, smile, and do whatever the hell I wanted.

~~~~~

Honorable Mention, all of whom, like Clemons, are still emblazoned on my heart, and who I still love love love to read: Jack London. Joseph Heller. Guy de Maupassant.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:35 PM on September 28 [6 favorites]


I read and re-read Earth Abides; some really good ideas there. I probably read a book a week from 10 to 16 but that's the one that really stands out. I did have all the books about a native-American bounty hunter, Breed was the character's name and I can't find the books now at all, I really enjoyed those.

Non-fiction wise at 15-16 I was reading very deeply around war and once got a really frightening cease and desist letter from min. of defence when I tried to interloan something that wasn't even supposed to be known of!
posted by unearthed at 11:03 PM on September 28 [3 favorites]


I remember reading The Chocolate War and its sequel. That sheer ... I don't know what words to bring to it, but Robert Cormier seemed to have a firm handle on the sort of nightmare that adolescents could be towards each other, that sort of sense of living in a horrible dystopia.
posted by WCityMike at 11:08 PM on September 28 [3 favorites]


age eleven (1971), I stumbled onto the bestsellers grown-ups were reading via a friend whose dad tended to just leave stuff lying around. Little Big Man came first, then The Godfather and all manner of other mindblowing stuff -- certainly for a pre-teen who'd probably never heard the word literature before, or if he had, he had no idea what it meant.

And so on into a blur of stuff ... until I was fourteen-fifteen and Catch-22 and Lord of the Rings landed within about six months of each other ... which no doubt continues to define me in more ways than I know.
posted by philip-random at 11:29 PM on September 28 [3 favorites]


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was the first book I ever really fell in love with, and it had a huge impact on my sense of humor and love of science fiction. (And while I love my old English Lit teacher, I don't think I'll ever be able to fully forgive her for losing the original dogeared paperback copy I loaned her one summer in a failed attempt to lobby for its inclusion on our optional class reading list.)

Also, alongside The Daily Show, I derived a foundational part of my historical understanding and political outlook on two masterpieces of satirical comedy: Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the United States and The Onion's Our Dumb Century. I did a post on the former with links to his other works, and while the post on the latter is full of broken links, you can prepend https://web.archive.org/web/2015/ to the URL of any link to get a working copy (most of the time), or browse them in unsorted order here. Or buy it! You could not possibly regret it.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:21 AM on September 29 [4 favorites]


Pre-adolescence, Bridge to Terabithia was a big one.

I feel like the most influential books on my during adolescence were the multiple collections of Onion articles I owned.
posted by sugar and confetti at 4:22 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


I can remember reading HHGTTG, Agatha Christie murder mysteries, Lord of the Rings trilogy, Seventeen and Rolling Stone magazines.
posted by lemon_icing at 4:29 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


It was Lord of the Rings from 10 - 12, and then Brideshead Revisited from 13 on. At that time, I thought that writing a sequel to someone else's novel was a perfectly valid activity, a theory based on checking Graham Greene's The Return of AJ Raffles from the library, so I sat down and wrote a story about Charles and Julia getting married and living in a "modern" flat with Sebastian. I don't think I knew what a "modern" flat was, but I did know that Waugh disapproved of them, so this was presumably a tragic fate for the characters.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:11 AM on September 29 [5 favorites]


When I was around 13 or 14 I found a compendium of H. G. Wells' The Time Machine, The Sleeper Awakes, and A Story of Days to Come in a used book bin. It was more or less the first SF I'd read and perfectly aligned with my newly forming political identity. I went nuts for it. Especially the last two novellas which take place in the same universe. I must have read it twenty times and struggled to find a way to use it in every school assignment it could possibly be shoehorned into. I'm sure my teachers were annoyed.

I haven't read it in at least 20 years, but I still remember all the character names and the details in the way I don't remember the names of my friends from that time. There are some things about it (and more things about the author) that make me wince a little, but I can't help but love it. I'm tempted to re-read it, now that I know a lot more about Great Britain at the turn of the century and the context in which it was written. I'm also somewhat afraid to re-read it, as it may turn out to be less great than I remember.

When I was around 8, it was René Guillot's The King of the Cats, checked out of the elementary school library. I only read it once, and I think it included quite a few words I didn't understand, but I loved it. I named my first cat after the lead character. Last year I finally figured out which of the hundred identically named books and stories it was and ordered a copy. I've been putting off reading it, because I don't want to discover that it's bad. But, I do want to give copies to my friends' kids, which seems irresponsible without reading it first.

I also went on full-series binges of lots of other books as a young kid: Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, all the Beverly Cleary stuff I could find, Encyclopedia Brown. As a teenager I read everything by Steinbeck and Hemingway like all arrogant, male, teenage intellectuals. But, none of the individual books really stand out to me. Then, somewhere around 18 to 20 I discovered most of what remain my absolute favorite books in the world. I guess that's not too surprising, since that's more or less the age from which I recognize myself in my memories.
posted by eotvos at 5:33 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


On rereading my previous comment: to be clear, I think both Steinbeck and Hemingway have written great things. I don't mean to yuck anybody's yum. It's loudly telling other people that you've read all of their work that makes me cringe on behalf of my former self.
posted by eotvos at 5:51 AM on September 29


I read so so much as an adolescent. Books you could choose, pick up, put down, re-engage with and (most importantly) find a nearly endless supply of something-in-a-similar-vein if at the library.

So much easier than people. A book might be disappointing or otherwise unexpected but when you could just put it back on the shelf it’s ability to torment and be cruel was limited. And, oh my gosh, a book with an interesting big idea could have all its warts overlooked as I rushed through to the end and on to the next one.

One such book was Poul Anderson’s The Boat of a Million Years. It was so .... personal: all that time, all those experiences, All the hurt, all neatly buffered by hard won experience and the necessities of being immortal.

On the other end of the spectrum in a time and place where the radio shows and BBC tv productions were largely unknown my public library had hundreds of Doctor Who novelizations. I read them all. By and large these were not well written and I would come to find the DNA and Pratchett much later but I devoured the Who.

Thinking back my recollections if the companions and foes are .... interesting. But another immortal who found a way to interface with a species that could be so stupid and cruel and heartless. Yeah it’s a theme.

In the New Who there’s an amazing line “what would you do if you were very very old, very very kind and couldn’t bear to let children suffer”. I haven’t watched Spaceship UK in a while so I’ve probably butchered the line as Memory has probably softened much of the rougher edges of “my Who” but this is the perspective that meant so much to me and has carried through for decades.
posted by mce at 6:04 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


God, they’re terrible books, and Anne McCaffrey is not great, but I, uh, Impressed on the Pern books early on. Specifically, I fell in love with the chapter or two at the beginning of Dragonflight when Lessa uses her telepathic abilities to hide from Fax for years and then uses her powers to influence the dragons to influence F’lar to kill Fax in a duel.

Don’t get me wrong. The rest of the book was cool to my 11 year old eyes, but that was always the part that made me sigh and cover my eyes and wish for more.

Also, the Katharine Kerr books, which, hugely problematic, and an author who takes an absurd attitude about fanfic writers when her entire series is Dungeons and Dragons fanfic about an overpowered chaotic good human fighter, but boy, I fucking loved it. I loved the thread of people being born and reborn and trying to work out their shit over time, and how those stories were woven into the main storyline, and multiple generations of the Maelwaedds and the silver daggers and REALLY DARK STUFF like all the times people, ahem, get influenced to do terrible, life-destroying things like ahem, try to duel people they shouldn’t (I had things I WANTED, OK?)

A couple years back, I won a charity auction to appear in Kerr’s next book as a minor character, but I chickened out of following up with her about halfway through the process, so I don’t know if even showed up in the end. 🤦‍♀️
posted by joyceanmachine at 6:14 AM on September 29 [7 favorites]


Early years, I was an encyclopedia reader, and really other STEM sorts of things. The problematic today I'll leave out, suffice to say that in 5th grade --my first year in public schools -- I wrote a book report on guerrilla warfare in the Vietnam war. They were shocked.

The favorite books along these lines were: a NASA tabletop book about the moon landing (I read that so much it started to fall apart. And wrote all of the PR addresses listed in the back and they sent me big envelopes full of material every six months or so.); Starting Forth, and GEB (which led me down such a path).

Around high school a friend got me started into the sci-fi/fantasy at the library. Read so many of them but it's probably Brust's Jhereg that has stuck with me the longest. You think you have it bad waiting on GoT, Brust still hasn't finished all that has been planned for that series.

But I also liked the Xanth books because they're punny.

The oddball would be Neuromancer which my older sister brought back from university. I read a chapter and put it away. Didn't care for it. Then like a year later I was home sick and picked it up again and read the whole thing in one day. Insta-Cyberpunk. It was probably around this time that I could finally manage getting into the ancient copy of Dune that my oldest sister had left behind so long ago.

I somehow doubt there's anything literary in there.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:45 AM on September 29 [5 favorites]


In middle school, I read a lot of Stephen King, Anne Rice, and bad (and a few good)Gothic novels (you knew them because the cover art was usually a woman in a nightgown running away from a stately home). My family was literary, which is to say snobbish in taste, so I stole bodice rippers from the drug store, not because my mother would be shocked to see me reading smut, but because she would object to badly written smut.

So I read a lot historical novels just within the confines of respectability--Nana had the the whole Anya Seton ouevre ; Katherine and The Winthrop Woman were my favorites. A British friend of the family sent me the first two books in the Lymond Chronicles when I was fourteen and I was transfixed. Anything set between 1500 and 1800 was ideal, though I always enjoyed books about 19th century criminals and revolutionaries. My favorite stories were those in which reasonably sheltered women abandoned/were whisked out of their comfortable existence and became hugely successful outlaws, artists, adventurers, swashbucklers, spies and revolutionaries. There would be sex and romance along the way, but marriage was never the endgame. Like it was never princess kidnapped by outlaw falls in love with outlaw, so much as princess ends up with outlaw, outlaw teaches princess how to be outlaw, princess ends up leading outlaws, and with outlaw army overthrows the repressive regime her parents have (even if unwittingly) been propping up. Ideally, I wanted these stories to happen in a world without dragons and elves, but honestly, even the cool girls in the dragons and elves books usually just ended up married and making babies. To me, that always seemed the most depressing fate, much worse than dying on a battlefield or ending up an aging, world-weary, but still witty, advisor guiding the new leader on brilliant strategems, which was how dudes usually got to end things. When I couldn't find the women I wanted to read about in fiction, I started writing my own and reading actual history, where sometimes I could find real life analogues.

On a totally different note, I had a soft spot for Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden and A Little Princess for years, well into middle school. In the eighth grade, I read Lady Chatterley's Lover over a twelve hour babysitting shift for the neighbor's terrible children. It was a hugely hot day and the neighbors didn't have air conditioning. I remember eating Twizzlers and sitting on the couch thinking, and not for the first time, Lord, this book is really like a smutty, smutty version of The Secret Garden.
posted by thivaia at 6:59 AM on September 29 [8 favorites]


I thought of another one that should be on my list: East of Eden. I loved that the bad kid was really the good one and vice versa, because I was the bad kid in my family. (But we were a family of sensible, mild-mannered, responsible people so my badness would not have made good material for a novel.)
posted by Redstart at 7:15 AM on September 29 [2 favorites]


In the aftermath of my long, accidentally deleted post, I'll just leave this:

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh and Kay Thompson's Eloise.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 7:43 AM on September 29 [8 favorites]


As a kid who loved pencils and puns, I adored Norman Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth. Its playful conflation of logic and language was good practice for university, where I became completely captivated by Italo Calvino.
posted by oulipian at 7:44 AM on September 29 [8 favorites]


Early years, I was an encyclopedia reader, and really other STEM sorts of things.

Me too! Do those count? People who Love Books always seem to talk about fiction, so I always feel less than because 95% of what I read as a kid was nonfiction science stuff. Plus, I was a visual learner who had difficulty following long passages (I still have to reread things half a dozen times or more), so a lot of the books I gravitated to had illustrations and diagrams and charts. I remember "books with pictures" being joked about as what stupid people read, so I've always assumed that I didn't count as a reader, because my books all had pictures.

There were a couple nonfiction books that made a huge impression on me as an adolescent. I got really into Brother Cadfael as a young teenager, which sparked an interest in medicinal herbs. That, in turn, got me really interested in ethnobotany. I don't know how I heard about him, but I ended up reading and loving a couple books by a Harvard ethnobotanist who studied the use of medicinal plants among indigenous people in the Amazon. I can't remember which author it was (it wasn't Wade Davis, although I remember reading the deeply-problematic Serpent and the Rainbow). Point is, I loved the idea of trekking deep into the jungle and getting as far away as possible from everything I was familiar with. It was kind of adventure science.

Nowadays I have a much more critical view of that sort of thing (I didn't realize at the time how much these books could be othering and exploiting indigenous people). But I'd be lying if I said they didn't have a big influence on me when I was a teenager. They were among the few books I got through at that age. I was failing out of high school, but I'd stay up late to read about ethnobotany. When I decided to study anthropology 12 years later, it felt like a spur-of-the-moment decision, but in retrospect, the signs were all there.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 7:45 AM on September 29 [4 favorites]


From the 14-16 years range:

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (assigned by an all-too-temporary English teacher who was so much better than what we regularly got, and the only source of Black-authored books during my 4 years at that school): A teenage girl feeling the world and her body, exquisite, sensual, visceral writing, the interplay of the nominally, reactively protective, the stealthily controlling, the openly cruel. Janie has so much potential for living, so little likelihood of surviving generationally violent, crushing power with spirit intact, and yet. I've been simultaneously afraid and longing to reread it as an adult.

Dreamsnake by Vonda McIntyre: I'd been reading SFF obsessively since I was small but recall this as the first feminist, queer-friendly novel I got hold of, and certainly the first validation of the poly relationship structures l instinctively longed for but had never encountered outside my imaginings.
posted by to wound the autumnal city at 8:19 AM on September 29 [5 favorites]


And since the topic is what was "meaningful" at the time, not "good" (wry grin), I'm gonna add The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, which horrified me so much - destruction of the environment is man's crowning glory! etc. - I got permission to not write the scholarship essay that was the reason for obtaining it in the first place. (There's an Objectivist contest that I obviously had no guarantee of winning but I'd had good luck with writing-based scholarships at that point.) I had had no idea that anyone continued to openly celebrate such vile principles as some kind of moral good, as opposed to just pursuing the ends for gain. Many times since then have I felt lucky to be warned off Randian politics from an early age, especially as so many other weird misfit nerdlings - not as predictably white, straight, cis male as you might think - of my acquaintance have not.

Of course, they offer the contest to 14 year olds as a presumably somewhat successful recruitment tool, so one's gratefulness is limited.
posted by to wound the autumnal city at 8:46 AM on September 29 [4 favorites]


As a tween, The Lord of the Rings and (sigh) Marion Zimmer Bradley. A bit later, Margaret Atwood, Kerouac, and The Scarlet Letter. I embroidered a scarlet A on the breast of my jean jacket. I really really felt sisterhood with Hester. Not for illicit sex reasons (actually kind of the opposite) but just the whole my feelings are my own and no one else's, you get no say in them, kindly fuck off. And Dimmesdale being such a fuckboi really jived hard with my own limited experiences with supposedly sensitive artsy dudes. #yesallmen indeed.

My parents are Objectivists and those fucking books made no impression on me whatsoever. Actually, We The Living isn't bad. But otherwise, *yawn*.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:19 AM on September 29 [4 favorites]


I read Infinite Jest when I was 18, taking part in Infinite Summer. I blogged about it on my tumblr and sort of got friends with what felt like literary establishment bloggers at the time. I think probably 18 was an ideal time to read it. This was only a year or so after David Foster Wallace's suicide, I didn't know he had died until after I finished the book, and felt such a real grief. It's hard to articulate but it definitely changed the course of my life, made me braver and more ambitious to be a good person, to fight depression and not give up. (It also contributed to me being an enormously smug intellectual snob at that age, but I don't think that's too bad a thing for a young woman to be). I've read it a few times since but not for a number of years now; I wonder what I would make of it these days. It has the feel of a hallowed treasured classic for me, and I shut my ears to all the backlash against DFW, however valid it may be. I think if I were to return to it its place in my life would feel diminished or tarnished, so I'm happy for it to remain what it was to me 10 years ago.
posted by Balthamos at 10:03 AM on September 29 [4 favorites]


Ah so many books, but I’ll side with the encyclopaedia fans here. My uncle had a set of Arthur Mee’s children’s encyclopaedias and he loaned it out to his nephews and nieces and since I had many cousins, he made a rule that the encyclopaedias would travel between households. So when it was my turn, I basically commandeered them and pretty much read it any chance I got. The encyclopaedias were structured very eclectically with myths and poems and short stories and random topics. It was basically my internet. Many years later I came across a set in a cafe in Melbourne but haven’t really had a chance to properly revisit them as an adult.
posted by dhruva at 10:22 AM on September 29


a Harvard ethnobotanist who studied the use of medicinal plants among indigenous people in the Amazon. I can't remember which author it was

Mark Plotkin, perhaps?
posted by biogeo at 10:27 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


I had a few, interesting to see someone else mention Earth Abides (Mom was a community college student and thought I might enjoy it).

But really, Collier’s Encyclopedia. I’m sure it was a door to door salesman purchase, the set predates my birth and they stopped buying the year by year updates in 1972. I think it was the kind of thing an upwardly mobile working class family would buy to establish they were making it and display proudly on the shelf. Sure it was useful if you had a paper to write and you could regurgitate the history of the Spanish American war for Ms. Barrett’s fourth grade class. But you could also open any random page and discover a world of interesting things about something totally random you never knew existed.

You kids with your internet have no idea how marvelous this was.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:36 AM on September 29 [7 favorites]


My senior English teacher dropped a copy of Atwood's Cat's Eye into my hands and it was mind-boggling. It was the first novel I'd read that focused on real-looking relationships between women and between girls (and also with men, but definitely a focus of woman-woman interactions I hadn't seen in novels before) and it took itself completely seriously. It was so woman-focused but it was not chick lit. There's that line "Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life sized." I know that's a statement of the real damage children can do to each other, but somehow that book made me feel a little more 'life-sized' and real; my thoughts and hurts and wants and goals were actually worthy of all the effort and rumination I tended to do....
posted by Tandem Affinity at 10:58 AM on September 29 [7 favorites]


Oh yeah, Vonnegut for me, too. I'm here to praise him not critique him, so I'll just say that yes, there are some parts of his ouevre that turned out to be limited and I had to outgrow them.

But when I look at the books that were available to me growing up in the Mid-South, Vonnegut and his wounded, jagged humanism were about as good of a foundation for a worldview as I could have gotten.

Thanks, Kurt.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:22 AM on September 29


The most influential books of my adolescence would have to be the manga that turned me into a lifelong weeb: Neon Genesis Evangelion. I struggled terribly with bullying and depression during middle school, and often thought of comitting suicide. So to see this boy Shinji who was so much like me, and who suffered in the same way that I suffered, was the brightest spark of hope in my life. It told me that no matter how much my humanity was degraded by everyone else around me, there was at least one Japanese man who knew exactly how I felt, so I was not alone.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 11:34 AM on September 29 [3 favorites]


Mark Plotkin, perhaps?

Yes, that's him! I had both of his books.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:46 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


Ah, yes, the encyclopedia! Our kids can't believe that Mr. Redstart and I both used to read articles in the encyclopedia for fun when we were kids. We try to explain that it was like the internet but they don't get it. For them the internet is memes, YouTube gaming channels, Reddit, Pinterest and fanfiction and clearly that's not what we were finding in the encyclopedia. I guess knowledge is so easy to come by nowadays that it no longer feels valuable.
posted by Redstart at 11:48 AM on September 29 [6 favorites]


The encyclopedias were also great in the had-a-computer-at-home-but-the-internet-was-a-ways-off-yet era because it offered summaries of all kinds of information. You could browse through, or read sequentially, and sip from the firehouse in a way that is easy now but hard then.

Also in a semi-tangent; I'm travelling today and checking in for my first leg I'm pretty sure Margaret Atwood told my puppy she was pretty.
posted by mce at 12:51 PM on September 29 [3 favorites]


I'm being more open these days about my virtual incapacity to read and absorb anything much longer than a blog post, but oddly the books I have managed to get through have been very long indeed - when I was young the necessary conditions (enough time by myself for my brain to settle down and for me to get bored) were more available. The book (or books) of my teenage years was The Dancers at the End of Time by Michael Moorcock (I say books, because at that time the three parts were published separately). It is the most fun, and I don't think I had as much glee with a book again until I discovered Terry Pratchett ten years later (this was 1979). Once you get over the fact that the main character has sex with his mother on page one it settles down into hilarious fantastical farce.
posted by Grangousier at 1:18 PM on September 29 [1 favorite]


I learned to read at 5, and no books in the house were off limits.

By age 14 had read a whole encyclopedia from the late 1800s, a ton of romance and mystery novels, history books, YA, classic science fiction, history, psychology textbooks from Freud and Jung to the California humanists, a lot of erotica, comic books, poetry, stupid moralizing Catholic books for kids, etc...

I had not really developed critical thinking, so they were equally influential. This really messed me up socially and emotionally.

If I had to pick I would say it was an ethnobotany book that led me to Carlos Castaneda, which led me to trying all kinds of mind altering stuff, which allowed me to kind of do a hard reset and reprogram myself more like a normal human being.

.
posted by Dr. Curare at 1:24 PM on September 29 [3 favorites]


I was a constant reader, but the book that really just blew my mind was the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
posted by sarcasticah at 1:35 PM on September 29 [2 favorites]


I was the person who carried The Portable Dorothy Parker with me at all times when I was in high school. Part of it was meant as a Statement, yes.

I read Sandman: Seasons of Mist when I was 16 and processing some real shit that I thought wasn't worth actually worrying over because everyone knows teenage girls don't have real problems. I didn't really allow myself to read much YA or teenage stuff at that point, so the melodrama of it felt so freeing. I still have a sense memory of reading volumes in the waldenbooks in the south loop, just sitting on the floor in their tiny graphic novel section and reading volume by volume.
posted by dinty_moore at 2:00 PM on September 29 [2 favorites]


The Babes in Toyland Little Golden Book. When I was three years old my father would read it to me and I would follow along. Eventually I could read it, and understand what I was reading. It lead to me reading more books and gave me my enjoyment of reading to this day.
posted by Splunge at 2:32 PM on September 29


Oops! Adolescence. Guess I don't read so good no more. :p
posted by Splunge at 2:33 PM on September 29


There have been a lot of good novels listed in this thread and some solid works of non-fiction as well, so I guess it falls to me to bring up the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook (2nd Edition), which had the biggest impact on my life from 1993 to present.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 3:46 PM on September 29 [2 favorites]


My #1 was Anne of Green Gables (and it still is)

This was one of my favorites as well, given to me by my grandmother who wanted to share her love of it. Grandma is 95 now, in a nursing home, and likely dying. Over the last few months I've been sending her large-print books so she could enjoy reading again. The "Anne" books have been a big hit. I just sent her the third book in the series and hope she is well enough to read it.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:50 PM on September 29 [4 favorites]


I recall being drawn to works that combined high litratoor with sociopolitical commentary. Certainly one of my unexpected favorite books in high school was Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men, along with other 20th century selections we read in my junior year AmLit class--Native Son, The Jungle, Of Mice and Men. I really enjoyed both my 11th grade AmLit and 12th grade BritLit classes and have long considered the teacher of the 12th grade class one of the most influential teachers of my public school education, but I am coming to realize my 11th grade teacher did a a pretty good job of sowing seeds for future growth with the material she had to work with, despite an over-fondness of reading most pre-20th century American literature through the lens of the Modern Christ Story.
posted by drlith at 5:04 PM on September 29 [1 favorite]


Which is to say, not a fan of The Red Badge of Courage or that story about the whale.
posted by drlith at 5:06 PM on September 29


Tamora Pierce's books, particularly the Protector of the Small series, has had a profound and lasting impact on me. Keladry of Mindelan is a strong female character without being a Strong Female Character. She works hard. It's not glamorous. Her body is described as being solid and muscular. She has some passing love affairs with men but they don't consume her every waking moment, and they're always subplot at best. She takes risks, is kind to children and animals, and stands up for what she believes is right. I want to be her when I grow up!

In terms of books that hit me in the big adolescent feels, A Small Rain by Madeline L'Engle is up there. An intensely lonely, precocious girl gets whisked away to boarding school where her hot teacher recognizes her talents and then they fall in lurrrrrve was exactly the ticket for 16 year old me.
posted by coppermoss at 5:54 PM on September 29 [4 favorites]


OMG yes, Dragonsong and Dragonsinger are by far the most resonant Pern books for me. Misunderstood misfit teenage Menolly runs away and learns that she's awesome. On my last reread (two years ago?) they seemed to hold up fine. Anne of Green Gables also was a wonderful fictional cuddle for a nerdy girl. These were my pre-teen faves.

My true adolescent angst era fave book is more embarrassing though. Siddhartha, Herman Hesse. ????? What the hell 16 year old me. Why did you use that quotation for your yearbook?!!!!

Nth-ing Vonnegut. Cat's Cradle of course. I wandered around wondering if I had met the people in my karass.
posted by spamandkimchi at 6:53 PM on September 29 [3 favorites]


Easy answers: Lord of the Rings, way too much Stephen King and just right amount of Azimov and, luckily, not too much Heinlen.

Thankfully when I hit the Left Behind christian series just after a mild stint with church membership it registered as the drivel it is and actually helped me exit stage left from the belief structure I was raised with.

More Obscure answers: Invitation to the Game which, spoilers, is a damn decent YA book that deals with a future where jobs are scarce and if you don't get a job out of high school then you're destined to live on a sort of ration book unemployed life for the rest of your life. Sometimes there's a virtual gaming escape system which is left a bit cryptic..... Anyway, it was a helluva introduction to the concept that society really doesn't give a shit for people who aren't lucky/skilled enough, that robots aren't going to save our society, and that, well, games can be serious business.

Other books I've mentioned before is the The Carpet Makers translated from German and it is probably the most amazing and scarily fucked up book I've ever encountered. I'll leave it at that but if you like science fiction stories that have a dash of horror with a sprinkle of messaging, well, it's worth seeking out.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:10 PM on September 29


1956 Encyclopedia Britannica. I was about 7 and knew DDT was as bad as eating paint and there was this picture of US soldiers in WWII heing sprayed with it for delousing. This whole idea that the encyclopedia was wrong rocked my little head.

There were also a bunch of Mad magazines from that era and the one that skewered The Wonderful World of Disney totally grabbed me. It was like finding the secret code behind the way the world was presented to me. Hell of a lot more interesting than watching Happy Days which wasn't funny either.

Man's Fate by Malreaux was something I read over and over as a teen with predictable results. Dad took modern French lit in the fifties so all those novels were around. My mom's psychology textbooks helped me understand her.

Be careful what you leave around. Or not. I'm not.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:18 PM on September 29 [4 favorites]


The link in spamandkimchi's comment got me thinking of wampeters (for, I must say, the first time in decades), and it occurred to me that the Metafilter site itself could be said to be a wampeter by which we have found our karass (I hope that notion doesn't stir up a pool-pah...).
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:18 PM on September 29


In middle school I was arguably too young for Clive Barker’s material, but I was IN LOVE with the “another world hiding under the surface of this one” theme that pervades the majority of his stuff.

Of course, at that age I wanted that idea to be a true thing that I could access, horrific side effects be damned.

I should go back and reread The Damnation Game again, because even though I’ve read it several times, I don’t think I ever understood it more than superficially.

Weaveworld is a goddamn mess, ugly and cruel and mean-spirited and full of some of the most bizarre and repulsive imagery I’ve read, still.
But it was also the first thing I ever read to present angels as scary, and The Scourge is still a powerful touchstone for me, for what a beautiful and terrible thing that can be.

But The Great and Secret Show, with all its effed-up sexual politics, had the scariest monster I had ever read, the Iad Uroboros, not just because of how powerful and terrible they were as an existential threat, but because somehow he had described the very monsters that had inhabited my earliest childhood nightmares. And the thing I remembered was so vague and so hard to describe, that for someone else to put into words the thing that I saw in my dreams, in a book about places accessed in dreams, made the whole thing feel real in a way I had not experienced before and have done very rarely since.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 8:23 PM on September 29 [3 favorites]


As a young adolescent, Tolkien and Watership Down and, gulp, another big Kipling fan here. Kim entranced me and so did Captains Courageous and the Jungle Books and even Puck of Pook's Hill. All the racism went right over my head, I am ashamed to admit, but I hope some of the good stuff - and there is some good stuff, curiosity and fascination with language, loyalty, honesty - stuck. And I too read Pern and loved it. In middle adolescence I found Tom Robbins and Carlos Castenada and The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test and Richard Brautigan. In Watermelon Sugar does not, by the way, hold up well. I tried recently and was sorry to find it had been visited hard by the Suck Fairy. I was fascinated by the hippies: like the Soul Asylum song "too young to be hippies, missed out on love, turned into a teen in the late 70s, in the summer of the drugs." So for a while there I was too stoned to read much, although I did in fact make my way through Be Here Now and the Whole Earth Catalog. But I fit in Vonnegut somehow and Catch 22 and the book of the Princess Bride, which I adored. I also found Doris Lessing and Fay Weldon and that got my mind working on feminism - and on a much less literary note, all the Thieves World and Liavek books (they were shared fantasy worlds with stories by different authors; I loved them.) My 11th grade English teacher got me into Faulkner and Walker Percy. I was all about Faulkner for a long time - it was the rhythm of the language that got me.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:12 PM on September 29 [3 favorites]


So a couple flight later, a chance to check and see she actually was in town this weekend and I am convinced that the charming woman who admired our puppy didn’t just look like Margaret Atwood but probably actually was her.

Given the flight delays and missed connections I kinda don’t care if it wasn’t. The story is good enough. And this is the thread to invoke Douglas Adams’ argument about truth == beauty and beauty == truth. And my puppy is far more beautiful than any bugblatter beast.

I wasn’t introduced to Douglas Adams until I was in university but I feel his loss keenly - knowing that 12 year old me would have been better for having that which I didn’t get until 21.
posted by mce at 10:28 PM on September 29 [3 favorites]


Anne Rice
Considering how far off the deep end she went in later years (and in early years honestly) and how badly behaved some of her fans get and got (one of the reasons I fled tumblr TBQH) I am legit ashamed at this one even though those damn books really scratched an itch when I was frankly too young to read them. Daniel Malloy was the best and he should have had his own book fight me Anne you couldn't even remember how to spell his last name shame on you.

AHEM.

So last Wednesday we had a major awful heatwave and I planted some Kohlrabi. Seriously we got up to 90 and I thought I was going to die. I basically spent my two days off watering like mad. And then, because San Francisco taketh but also giveth- It freaking poured rain Friday morning and has been cool and nice ever since. God bless fall. In fun news I accidentally grew a monster marrow. I'd been neglecting my vines and checked under a leaf and found a zucchini over a foot long. That explains why all the peripheral zukes had been all rotty- the vine had been pouring all it's energy into the monster. I still have no idea how to cook it, but some form of stuffing and baking will most likely take place. Then I tried to fix the herb bed.
I'll get back to you on that.

We just finished our fall sale at work and WOW and YIKES. John and Jane Q Public can be... wonderful but also really really really awful. Our few usual problem customers did not show up this weekend, for which I am eternally grateful. Tomorrow is Rosh Hashanah which I have off because I used my big neanderthal voice and asked for it. Go me! I will probably spend the day baking, as is my inclination. I'm thinking a good round challah for the days of awe, maybe one for work too, and an apple cake from the apples in the garden. I also have some seed garlic to plant. I like to plant something new for the new year.

L'Shana Tova! Happy New Year Y'all!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:24 PM on September 29 [7 favorites]


1984 probably made the biggest impression on me. The Encyclopedia was magic.
posted by bongo_x at 1:28 AM on September 30 [1 favorite]


By some happy accident I stumbled across a list of "must-reads" in a magazine when I was about 15, and decided to improve myself by reading through them. I was reading mostly what science fiction I could get my hands on at the time, and was probably feeling a bit self-conscious about that. So I got through titles like Catcher in the Rye and On the Road at probably the optimal age, I gather.

On the sci-fi side of it I managed to gobble up most Heinlein, which has not really aged well for the usual reasons, even though I still feel the man really tried to be open-minded. And Greg Ace and I share the love for the same Fair Witness quote from Stranger in a Strange Land.
posted by Harald74 at 1:38 AM on September 30


In my early teens The Lord of the Rings was my great favourite and I re-read it repeatedly until I eventually made myself a bit sick of it. Around that time I probably read more non-fiction than fiction: encyclopedias, dictionaries, books with detailed cutaway illustrations of aeroplanes & spacecraft; this book...

I moved on to other genre fiction, predominantly sci-fi (lots of Heinlein, Asimov & Arthur C. Clarke) any by sixteen I was a big Hitchhikers Guide fan, but I'd meanwhile begun to enjoy Stephen King, James Herbert, Len Deighton, John Le Carré, Thomas Harris' Red Dragon, the Flashman books & so on. It wasn't until I went to university that I attempted anything literary that wasn't a school assignment.
posted by misteraitch at 2:35 AM on September 30 [1 favorite]


I'd have thought I'd be able to say what my favorite book was at that time, but I can't. I read constantly -- from fifth-grade on, I always carried a paperback with me to school and read during class. Each of my parents always had a book they were reading, and I read everything they had, and they had divergent tastes. We always got magazines, too, and I read those, even if it was something I otherwise wasn't interested in. So my memory of that period in my life, as it seems to be the case with many others here, is not of a single, favorite book, but of an ocean of books of which I had scores of favorites.

I was a child of the sixties and seventies and the one thing I can say with certainty was that Heinlein was my favorite writer through all those years. Like others here, I'm ambivalent about him now, but I do think that his iconclasm was a good influence. Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness comes to mind as a favorite that opened my mind, too.

Around when I graduated high school, I really liked John Irving, who was very popular at the time. I loved Hotel New Hampshire, but for a good while I did specifically single out his earlier novel, Setting Free the Bears, as my favorite book.

Also at that time, Donaldson had just about finished his Thomas Covenant books and they were strong faves. Problematic, like so much else, but I found the collision of realism and fantasy and the corresponding conflict between idealistic optimism and very dark despair to be revelatory because it resonated strongly. Maybe that's a big part of why some of us liked those books so much? They represent an intersection of nerdy SFF in the time of the first Star Wars movies with the particular version of adolescent angst supercharged by a untreated mood disorder. (Christmas of 1986, my grandmother gave me Donaldson's new book, The Mirror of Her Dreams, and as I was opening the gift she said, "I don't know if you are familiar with this author, but he's a nice young man I play bridge with every week and I thought you might like it." That was weird.)

And, yes, encyclopedias. We didn't actually have a set until I was older, but eventually we did and, also, my other grandmother regularly gave me nice coffee-table science and nature books which I read over and over. During the only year in elementary school that my school system had a gifted program (where I blossomed and therefore later was doubly disaffected) I walked in on two other students competitively bragging about how much they read their encyclopedias. It was a formative moment: I vowed to myself I would never be that kind of smart kid. (I became the even worse version, to be honest.)

But, wow, yes: encyclopedias. And almanacs. And maps. Someone earlier mentioned the before and after internet shift -- but, the thing is, these days I regularly get sucked into literally dozen-hour-long excursions into Wikipedia when I really had just intended to look a particular thing up. People make a big deal about the unreliability of the net, but I grew up taught to be skeptical and seek multiple sources and compare, so this has been paradise for me. Still, even though back then I had to rely on just a few sources like the outdated encyclopedias we had, they were a treasure, really.

I think more than anything else, this conversation reminds me of how vast I began to realize the world was when I was a teen, and how enormously hungry I was to learn and explore. It's even more the case today, but we should take a moment to be thankful to have been fortunate and privileged enough to live in a time and place where it's been possible to see and learn so much about the world and human experience, even if we lived in some dry, unremarkable valley in the middle of the continent. Thank god for books.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:55 AM on September 30 [7 favorites]


The Secret Garden. I read it when my dad was dying of emphysema--I remember him not being able to get through reading me a chapter, early on--and I deeply identified both with Mary and with Dickon. I used to go out in my backyard in my softball pants as "britches" and eat cold bacon sandwiches and play the recorder to try and get birds and squirrels to listen. I deeply identified with his hale masculinity. I watched one BBC version of the story over and over again and had a begrudging respect for the big screen version that came out during my childhood, too, even though Dickon had curly hair, which I found to be an abomination.

Later: Animorphs. Tobias! Trapped in that hawk body! Many of these loves were trans flags in miniature, I realize now. I, too, loved Pern, but the world more than the books, though I loved Dragonsdawn particularly deeply. I've tried to reread it but didn't get very far. And Mercedes Lackey, of course. I reread the first Talia book maybe two years ago and I was impressed how aptly Lackey talks about abuse. There's a scene where the POV switches to a teacher who is looking at Talia and sees her deep need to become self-possessed and heal from physical and emotional abuse, and I burst into tears. I don't remember it striking me at a young age, particularly--I was all about the magical horses--but for all the flock Lackey gets for being corny I think she really speaks to hurt kids. And of course, Vanyel's queerness was very important to me even if he was a certain type of Tragic Queer.

Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt. Fucking Homecoming. Reread that last month, actually. It's just as strong. The first book where the people really felt like people, and I'd add my problematic fave, Swiftly Tilting Planet, to the list. Both of these were written in a more literary way than most kid's lit, and Swiftly was something of a fantasy family saga, which really impressed me. Both featured poor kids, which impressed me, too, a poor kid myself.

Behind all this, and during, my parents' books. Stephen King and Anne Rice and Richard Bachman and Flatland (?), Metaphysical Stories for Children (which made me afraid that I didn't exist), Khalil Gibran and the Tao and the Tao of Pooh and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Later: Douglas Coupland and Kurt Vonnegut. They weren't perfect, but I was so impressed that they were allowed to do those kinds of things with BOOKS. Playing with form in a way I hadn't expected.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:39 AM on September 30 [4 favorites]


Randall Jarrell's The Animal Family was a very slender yellow paperback that I read repeatedly as a young teenager, not so much as a book but as a book-length meditation or prayer. Years later, Pratchett's Lords and Ladies and then Austen's Pride and Prejudice took its place during similar terrible periods for repeated rereading, but to open The Animal Family is to step aside from the world and feel a sort of settled magic of steal over me again, a blanket woven from words and love against terror. Always, the hunter, the mermaid, the bear and the lynx and the boy.

I bought a copy a few years ago and have read it aloud several times to my children. It's not the same for them, but they have their own special books.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:57 AM on September 30 [1 favorite]


I liked our encyclopedia however we acquired our set in a very poor person sort of way: it came from the grocery store as a loyalty bonus. Spend $Foo at one time and get this week's volume (IIRC you could also choose one of the past weeks if they still had any). I'd set out at one point to read the whole thing but all the entries for dead people whom I'm sure were very important but didn't really interest twelve year old me eventually put a kibosh on that. I did send hours just randomly reading entries though; too bad my retention wasn't better.
posted by Mitheral at 5:02 AM on September 30 [3 favorites]


Oh wow. I read anything I could get my hands on. Carl Sagan's Contact had a big effect on me, even though I probably read it too young. I also read a ton of YA though, I loved Lois Duncan's paranormal novels and I still reread Ellen Emerson White's President's Daughter series. Also the Wrinkle in Time quartet - I know it's technically a quintet but I only just recently read the fifth and I didn't think it was anywhere near as clever as the other.
posted by wellred at 5:11 AM on September 30 [3 favorites]


I remember several nights of putting down The Stand, trying to go to sleep for five minutes and then turning the light back on and reading another chapter (with a pillow blocking the light under my door so my parents were none the wiser). I have no ability to enjoy visual horror on any level but have read most of King's books and they provide a mix of comfort and nostalgia.
posted by Twicketface at 6:01 AM on September 30 [3 favorites]


Mercedes Lackey

... oh, that's a name I haven't thought about for years. (Let's be honest ... decades).

My path into fantasy works started with the Redwall books in 5th or 6th grade, then Lackey in Jr. High. I'm pretty sure I picked up Redwall from a local book shop because of the cover and synopsis, and Mercedes Lackey may have been the same, or might have been a suggestion from a Jr. High friend. I remember reading a sexy scene and having my little mind blown. Then I got into The Wheel of Time, which I eventually realized was kind of hackey, but the worldbuilding kept me in. But that lead me to Brandon Sanderson, whose final three books made me love the series all over again. And his own novels are good, too.

But that brings me to excitedly state: there's finally a TV series coming out! And not related to that pilot that we discussed twice. The Daily Trolloc was obsessively posting new details daily, until early this month. Variety has some newer info, and here's the IMDb page for the series, with very preliminary information.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:10 AM on September 30 [2 favorites]


The amazing thing about Mercedes Lackey's books were, for me, that the sex that Talia's shown having in the first series is purely consensual and really healthy. She even tries to have a sexual relationship with a good friend in the second before they decide that they work better as friends. There's birth control, and there's female pleasure, and there's queerness--for fantasy novels published in the 80s that's huge. It's such a contrast to the Pern books, which in some ways were thematically similar but whose sexual politics were entirely based on coercion.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:30 AM on September 30 [5 favorites]


As a tween, The Lord of the Rings and (sigh) Marion Zimmer Bradley.

I reread The Hobbit a few times, but petered out somewhere in the second or third book of the main Lord of the Rings trilogy. And I read lots of other genre series, like the Thomas Covenant books, without ever loving any of them all tha much. But Bradley's Mists of Avalon was (for me, at that time) something really different and new. I really liked the book then and was so, so disappointed to learn (from a post or comment here) that she was a terrible, terrible person. Any desire I had to reread that book disappeared then.

LeGuin's books were probably the most loved during my teen years; something about her voice and stories really worked for me at that time.

And while I will never reread them and these days can see the problematic pieces so clearly, I'll always have a soft spot for the Clan of the Cavebear books. Again, at the time they stood out as new and different, and opened my young eyes to things I probably shouldn't have been reading about even in such purple prose.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:42 AM on September 30 [2 favorites]


I feel like I should come back in and acknowledge that there is plenty of rape in Mercedes Lackey's work, but it's always framed as violence, often a form of military violence, even. Whereas in other scifi and fantasy series rape is framed as a part of romance. That's never the case here, and trauma is always acknowledged as exactly what it is. That's still very remarkable, even today.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:42 AM on September 30 [3 favorites]


The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is mine as well. Yeah, that's a problematic fav, but I will maintain that it's the only Heinlein book that retains any real worth... if (big if) you can read past the casual sexism. The depiction of a family unit that isn't a traditional American Nuclear Family salvages some of the rugged individualism stuff, and while most of the characters could probably be called an-caps at best it's still a better introduction to what anarchists are actually all about than you usually see depicted in fiction.

Other than that, I spent most of the "adolescence" reading Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy. I still love Jurassic Park, but I wouldn't say it was particularly meaningful other than, you know, dinosaurs are cool.

Although, if you extend adolescence to include the early college years, then I definitely would give The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy top spot. I can't remember if I first read it while I was in college or between college and high school. The Tick had already inclined my sense of humour toward the surrealist, but H2G2 turned that into an ethos.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:57 AM on September 30 [1 favorite]


(Actually, I read a lot of other sci fi in my teens as well, including a lot of Arthur C. Clarke, but TMHM is the one book from that period that still means anything to me.)
posted by tobascodagama at 9:10 AM on September 30


I read a ton of SF in my teens, but the first author that really clicked with me, and made me think that this was the way to be a person and not some sort of cartoon (cough Heinlein, Niven, Azimov, etc...), was Roger Zelazny. The Amber books I devoured of course, but the weird ones were what I preferred, like Jack of Shadows, Creatures of Light and Darkness, and probably my favourite, Lord of Light. (Not really---my actual favourite is A Night in a Lonesome October, which I still reread annually, but that came out long after I was a teen, so I don't think it counts.) He's certainly not perfect, as a writer, certainly was a product of his time when writing about gender and female characters, but he showed something to me that wasn't just an uncomplicated emotional landscape, but one where failure and weakness were part of being a person, and could be dealt with, not just ignored.

And that lead me to Stephen Brust and Emma Bull and the PJF.
posted by bonehead at 9:13 AM on September 30 [3 favorites]


A lot of familiar titles & authors in this thread.

I was an enormously voracious reader during that 10 to 17 age range. No idea where I found the time (the absence of the Internet probably helped). There was very little that I wouldn’t pick up and read, though being French Canadian I mostly read in English. While there’s likely a lot of books that were important to me I think it was the circuitous route that some books would take me intellectually that I think I valued most.

In my younger years, Farley Mowat’s Lost in the Barrens, Never Cry Wolf, A Whale for the Killing and Pierre Berton’s Klondike (both authors have their issues for the modern reader) really captured my imagination especially the stories of the Far North. Which got me thinking about the precariousness of the Arctic and ecosystems in general, colonialism and its effects on all of us.

Kerouac, and to a lesser extent the rest of Beats, have a come up a few times here and the related thread. I must admit when I was a teen and I first read On the Road, Ginsburg’s Howl, Burrough’s Naked Lunch, the three Beat heavy hitters I guess you could call them, all left me pretty cold. I did read on with the Beats though. I stumbled onto Gary Snyder, Gregory Corso and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poetry all of which can be problematic at times but they engendered a lifelong interest in poetry. Particularly Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind is still a favourite. Kerouac’s other works, perhaps less famous, became really important to me as a teenager. Dharma Bums & Desolation Angels led me to reading and discovering Buddhism and the American Transcendentalists. The more autobiographical books, the so-called Duluoz Legend, about his childhood were hugely eye opening for me. Reading about a French Catholic growing up surrounded by English speaking Protestants, always searching for home and identity, was almost too much for me. I related so much to that Kerouac. There’s an interview with Kerouac (bits of it are on Youtube if you care to look) I saw as a teenager that cemented a love of that Kerouac for me. At one point he says in the interview, his favourite French expression is “Ragoût de boulettes” (a French Canadian meatball stew we eat, usually, at special occasions) and you know I agreed with him. Those books and that interview were really critical for helping me to find my identity as a teenager when I definitely felt like an outsider and a hillbilly.

A chance encounter with Al Purdy's book of poetry The Cariboo Horses in high school, still one of my favourites, led me to the historian George Woodcock. George Woodcock's Gabriel Dumont: The Métis Chief and his Lost World led me to read about Louis Riel and the treatment of the indigenous people of Canada. Woodcock's Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements got me to engage with politics and think about how I related to others in my community in a way I hadn't thought about before.

And the book I think is most responsible for the beginnings of my tastes in film and how I approach film, perhaps embarrassingly, is the Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film. While it led me in a lot of directions I think most importantly it led me (eventually) to John Alton’s Painting With Light, Robert Bresson’s Notes on Cinematography, and Sheldon Renan’s Introduction to the American underground film. It also, for better or worse, led me to the work of Pete Tombs which made my 20s nuts.
posted by Ashwagandha at 11:27 AM on September 30 [4 favorites]


Hoo-boy.

The first actual books I can remember reading were the old Encyclopedia Brown mysteries. Somewhere around 6 or 7, I wanted meatier stuff, and my dad tried to introduce me to the Hardy Boys series of books. Me being who I am, I asked him if it was really ok for me to read them because the back-cover blurb talked about them being for "boys 10 to 14". Once he assured me that it was just fine, I devoured all of them.

I was also reading a lot of SF short fiction (translation: lots of collections of 40s and 50s short SF curated by Silverberg or Asimov), but didn't really get into long form SF&F until 1980, the year I turned 13 - in that one year, my sister and my school friends introduced me to: Niven's "Known Space" through Ringworld and its first sequel; The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant; the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; Xanth; Elric of Melniboné (and the rest of Moorcock's Eternal Champions); Aspirin's Myth Adventures; Bill, the Galactic Hero and the Stainless Steel Rat; and Laumer's Bolo Brigade and Retief of the CDT.

All of those books still hold places in my heart, even the early Xanth stuff (it was a while before I recognized the problematicness of Chameleon and the other female characters in those books).
posted by hanov3r at 11:42 AM on September 30 [3 favorites]


As far as I know, Shirley Jackson and Ursula LeGuin are still non-problematic. I also adored Agatha Christie, but I now know she was full of the racist and colonialist framing of her time.
posted by matildaben at 12:16 PM on September 30 [2 favorites]


I re-read Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express last year after watching the recent remake and yeah, there's some ugly racism in there.
posted by octothorpe at 12:36 PM on September 30


A favorite relative gave me The Golden Compass* for Christmas when I was...eight? Nine? By the time the sequels were released I was a tween, and...wow, even today all I have to do is look at the original cover art for the US edition and I can remember exactly, exactly how it felt to be that age. I'd sit in the sweltering car during my brother's track & field matches and devour them. I must have reread all of His Dark Materials four or five times while I was a teenager, and they influenced my thinking to an extent that would have no doubt horrified the people running my very Catholic high school.

A lot of Peter S. Beagle. Lolita, for some goddamn reason, and Trainspotting. Being a geeky teen was rough in a lot of ways, but I miss being able to just *love* things the way I loved my favorite books back then.
*Northern Lights, if you're a purist.

Also although I read them before adolescence, OMFG ANIMORPHS
posted by peakes at 1:06 PM on September 30 [4 favorites]


I was a very angry, very young feminist in the 90s--that was the era of Grrrl Power and 'you can grow up to be the first female President of the United States!' and acting like the fight was over--and yet all around me I could see the half done progress. My anger found an outlet in reading the works of female-identified fantasy authors (such a 90s suburbia response).

My favorites were Tamara Pierce (I loved Daine and Numair so much) and Robin McKinley (Hero and the Crown and the Blue Sword above all) and PC Hodgell (who no one knew about in the 90s besides me, it felt like). Diane Duane and Diana Wynne Jones and Patricia C Wrede and Meredith Ann Pierce were also good.

I've broadened my tastes since to include authors of wider backgrounds. In the 90s, though, those are what I was forming memories of.
posted by librarylis at 1:27 PM on September 30 [6 favorites]


Salinger’s Nine Stories was the first book that somehow clicked with me, and made me want to get further into regular reading.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:31 PM on September 30 [1 favorite]


Fell in love with reading, age 7, 'Stuart Little '

'The Hobbit' and Kafka's, 'The Trial'.
(Thanks professor Szporluk)
'The Michigan Murders' and in 5th form, 'The Amityville Horror'. an assignment by teacher for October reading and it made talking, class-wide, a real thing. Journalistic. Horror genre. Hoax. Golly that was fun.
posted by clavdivs at 4:09 PM on September 30


I'm very fortunate to have grown up in a house full of books, inhabited by readers. Books were and are a haven. We had a series called Book Trails, and I read the stories over and over. They avoided being sold in a yard sale, and I have them now, Black Beauty, which is really about animal and human welfare and friendship. The Crystal Cave (Arthurian Saga, #1) by Mary Stewart, and as many other Arthurian stories I could find. Jane Eyre, the CS Lewis Space Trilogy, East of Eden, lots of Elizabeth Goudge, not much in print, but some of it is available from archive.org. I vividly remember reading The Martian Chronicles. My cousin visited when I was in high school, and brought The Hobbit & LOTR, as well as James Taylor's early albums. One of my brothers brought home various versions of the Whole Earth Catalogs.

This is such a good question.Thinking about the books I read and loved is a treat.
posted by theora55 at 5:49 PM on September 30 [3 favorites]


+1 for The Stand , and other Stephen King. And the encyclopedia. My babysitter had a set of medical encyclopedias that I would read page-by-page for houurrrssss. (To be fair, this was very early adolescence, like 9-11 or so). Kinda gross. I remember looking up "sex", and they had a very weird cut-away diagram that showed the balls going inside the vagina (like, pressed up behind the penis but very much inside the other person), which astounded me at the time, and is what I thought happened until I found out personally how laughable that is.

non-book-related: I have been so super busy and feel like I'm behind on everrryything, and have had very little time to myself to relax (even now, I'm not writing up the minutes for the church board meeting, which were due on Friday. And , I should be switching over laundry and getting ready for bed. And there are still clean dishes in the dishwasher and dirty ones in the sink. etc etc etc). But! Boyfriend and I have planned a vacation in 2 weeks, yaaay! Just a little weekend getaway, but I am looking very much forward. And. thanks to the generosity of a Mefite friend, I am going to see Orville Peck this weekend! AND and, my divorce case has moved FORWARD. Hallelujah. There is now a pre-trial conference date. woo! I can't wait to not be married.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 7:23 PM on September 30 [7 favorites]


And Clancy, yes. I read him at an age when I confused obsessive details focus with genuine insight. I remember discussing with my mates when WW3 was going to break out (not "if") and speculating whether the small refinery the next town over was worthy of a Soviet missile or not.
posted by Harald74 at 3:08 AM on October 1 [2 favorites]


Balthamos marked this as a favorite
I see what u did there

posted by peakes at 3:24 AM on October 1 [1 favorite]


Dune, 100%.
To this day, I start mumbling 'I must not fear.…' when I'm under stress.
posted by signal at 12:49 PM on October 1 [3 favorites]


Leaves of Grass
posted by Beardman at 8:22 PM on October 1 [1 favorite]


I decided to re-read some Elizabeth Goudge. The class issues are striking; I didn't have the perspective for that in my teens.
posted by theora55 at 9:08 AM on October 2 [1 favorite]


Okay, this tells the story of my adolescence:

Twelve: To Kill A Mockingbird.
Thirteen: The Complete Stories of Poe.
Fourteen: The Bible.
Fifteen: The Late, Great Planet Earth.
Sixteen: The Complete Stories of O. Henry.
Seventeen: 1984.
Eighteen: Agatha Christie books.
Nineteen: The Lord of the Rings.

So, veering between goth-ish, born again, angst, and typical teen-ness.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:43 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


I (cis/het/kink/dude) read The Hite Report, Our Bodies Ourselves, and The Joy of Sex when I was sixteen. What? I was, uh, curious. It was a useful beginning. Lifelong learner, natch.
posted by j_curiouser at 12:15 AM on October 5 [2 favorites]



Dan Frontier was a series of books I went through in the first weeks of Grade One that did not age well due to the attitudes towards First Nations.

My mother read bedtime stories to us. We went through Narnia, Lord of the Rings followed by the Hobbit, about a dozen Dickens books (which she was receiving bound in faux leather by mail at the rate of one every two weeks until she had his complete works), Nevil Shute's "Pied Piper" and any number of other books which she and my gifted adolescent sister found worth reading and listening to. When a book has already been read to you it becomes possible for you to read yourself even if you are a developing reader, so a number of those entered my personal reading list at a slightly younger than average age.

My earliest problematic literature was the genre of stories about and for British kids from my mother's generation and earlier, bringing much baggage of class and culture and an understanding of the world which was definitely inaccurate: E. Nesbit, Narnia, Noddy, Sherlock Holmes, Noel Streatfield, Burnett. I saw through a perspective of this is the way the world is and should be, that stood counter to the way it really was in the sixties and reality lost the competition, the way that a good Pentecostal child reading selective parts of the Bible ends up with no clue about people outside of her own milieu. During this stage of my life my reading vocabulary so far outstripped my spoken vocabulary that I was likely to mispronounce a word in every other sentence.

The doll books by Rumer Godden were another strong and possibly doubtful influence. At that stage in my life, encouraged by concepts like pocket doll, I bonded deeper with the inanimate individuals in my life instead of growing out of them and have never managed to move beyond the sense that dolls of whatever nature are people.

Romeo and Juliet had my sister and I enacting shmoopy love and suicide scenes - our copy was gifted by her ballet teacher to "The artist and the actress..." I don't remember which of us was which.

Huckleberry Finn was required reading in my Elementary school English Lit and I completely failed to realise that it was funny, while easily picking up on the indirect lessons. Unfortunately I got it assigned as a book to study three years running in grades four, five and six and ended up loathing it as a result.

One year I dressed up as Vestal Virgin for Hallowe'en and got so much consternation from the adults answering the doors "And what are you, dear?" that I started lying and saying I was a Bride. This was from reading the book, "The Unwilling Vestal"

My father had a collection of thinking men's paperbacks, including They All Discovered America, and that caught me due to my systemizing brain because each chapter was a new discoverer. There were additional books that got me systemizing, such as a series about world history, and one that listed the Hindu gods, as well as D'Aullaire's myth books. The books about different pantheons left me with the concept that one could and should create one's own pantheons, but our pantheons had a bewildering crossover with the Fellowship of the Ring.

Soon after that I moved on to Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan, as we had inherited some tattered first editions from an aunt who had loved them in the Jazz Age. Tarzan was exactly the type of lurid fantasy with romance and torture that totally captivated me. I don't know about the racism, but the classism was there in spades, but the biggest negative influence it had on me was the lurid prose. Oh, I loved that lurid prose, enough to plagiarize it.

When I was in Grade Five my sister graduated from High School and won a prize for Latin. The prize was intended to pay for school books and came in the form of a gift card to W H Smith and Son. She spend her price money on the first eight or so Gor novels, and those were delightful especially the one about the Tuchuks, because of his didactic anthropological style, although the masses of non-consensual sex was also highly amusing. We rewrote them as gender bent so that "I heard a boy scream" was a typical phrase.

In Grade Seven I was supposed to do a book report on a novel of my choice and chose "The Day We Were Mostly Butterflies" and mis-spelled the word "homosexuals" in it. To her credit my teacher merely corrected my spelling.

After that I dropped out of school, possibly due to my lifestyle and reading choices, and read the books that the university students brought into our commune: Baba Yar and Papillion both were formative when I was about thirteen. I stayed by the heater in the frozen house nursing dying kittens and read about real life atrocities, taking from them the best way to move a well rotted human corpse (from under the chin, as if you drag by the limbs they detach) and concepts such as the plan and the mome and how many hours it actually takes to whip a man to death. Herman Hesse was the author I read during summer migraines and I thought he could have done much better if he stated what was going on instead of implying it. His restraint struck me as simply mealy mouthed. Kafka and Nabokov were no better. They all insisted on setting up a situation and then not coming up with a resolution. I would read to find out what happened and either nothing would happen, or whatever happened would be left to your inference.

At thirteen I discovered Alistair MacLean during a summer of semi-starvation in Toronto, and I loved those too because of the torture scenes and the drama. I was told they were bad, but I enjoyed them anyway, because they got straight to their lurid points and made much of the protagonists terror and guilt in what struck me as masterful understatement.

I progressed from MacLean to the remainder of the complete works of Nevil Shute (Norway) who brought back that classism and English understatement into my life, as he did MacLean's drama but much drier and not gratuitiously.

By the time I was reading Bradley and Heinlein I was in my late to mid teens, and I started to hate Heinlein's ubiquitous wish fulfillment fantasy protagonist almost immediately because he took tons of possibilities and simply turned his main character into an Asshole. Also he deliberately chose to write certain characters as weak and deserving of their fates, but used so light a hand describing those character's motivation that he came across as too stupid to understand and deeply lacking in situation awareness. Heinlein is probably more likely to work for eight to twelve-year olds which is the age my sister read them and loved them.

Auel appeared late in my adolescence, and the only one we found readable was the first one.

Somewhere during adolescence I took to reading books of quotations and dictionaries. The dictionaries were definitely a problematic influence as I used the words I learned from reading them and became even more incomprehensible. They would have been less of a problem if I had stuck to a concise edition of Webster, or something, but I was actively seeking interesting new words and phrases, so the dictionaries that caused my adolescent vocabulary extension included "The Penguin Dictionary of Botany"(Which inspired me to write half a novel about alien invaders who were plants who passed for human.) and "1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue". Phrases like "singing the black psalm" are evocative, but simply using the word "crying" is far better communication.

I started reading Romances when I was about twenty, because I discovered my Grandmother read them, so there was no disapproval in that house towards me for reading them also, one beastly hot summer in Toronto when I was her caretaker and there were absolutely NO other books and I had read the newspaper twice already each day. (It says something about my upbringing that Gor was acceptable to my parents but Harlequin was not.) This was at the time when there were only two plots available: Nurse attracts doctor into falling in love with her, and Helpless woman is abused by extremely powerful man. I enjoyed the second sort more, but felt that they would have been much improved if, after there final scene where he tells her he is love with her and was abusing her only because he was angry that he cared, there was an additional scene where he discovered that his abuse had driven her to permanent gibbering insanity or suicide and he realised he had destroyed the object of his affections. This is where I discovered the concept of enjoying being angry. Nothing could be too cruel as punishment for the protagonists in those books, but they were all written as tragedies, because in the end he always got the girl and ruined her life and mental health. They were a simplistic form of Tess of the D'Ubervilles really but without an interesting setting...

I have taken liberties with the concept of adolescence in this reply - Clearly a lot of the reading took place before I hit puberty. But those were my formative influences in reading.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:07 AM on October 5 [7 favorites]


That oblique autobiography was both fascinating and charming, Jane the Brown. I am impressed by and envy the great diversity of your influences -- something I'm thankful for in my own childhood, but which I wish had been even more the case.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:33 PM on October 5 [2 favorites]


> "Jane Yolen's Pit Dragon trilogy blew my freakin' mind."

Mizu -- you know there's a fourth book, right?
posted by kyrademon at 11:49 AM on October 6


Mizu -- you know there's a fourth book, right?

Yes I do! It gets reeeeeaaaal weird. I guess that's what happens when there's like twenty years between books. The fourth book I bought new, of course, and it sits next to the original trilogy which I have carted around and kept through multiple book culls and a transcontinental move and which I bought as a small bean with my allowance from a musty used bookstore in the first place, so let's just say that the spine of the new one helps to identify the other three. Fun fact: it was not until I read the 4th one in '09 that I realized Austar IV, the planet the books take place on, is a send up of penal colony Australia - despite rereading the first three throughout my life. This is how arresting the dragony bits were for me, I guess, and also how oblivious I am.
posted by Mizu at 5:48 PM on October 6


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