/ Good books for a 17yr old
A 17 yr old has asked me to compile a list of books for them to read. with a view to expanding emotional literacy. They are not particularly academic, and current reading is Stephen King stuff. So I'm looking for contemporary classic/cult books with a good storyline that also digs into human relationships. Easy!
As a rough idea, I have come up with Catch 22, Fear and Loathing, the Kite Flyer. Unbearable Lightness of Being is too 'heady', Great Gatsby too old (in style), those sorts of parameters.
I'm looking forward to this list! Hopefully, it will throw up some good stuff for me to read as well.
First five seconds of thinking
The Reality Dysfunction
I am Legend
Touching the Void
None literary classics but all rip-roaring good reads. Also weirdly all but one have been made into films.
I'm a big fan of Stephen King BTW, a giant of modern literature (cue flaming).
George Orwell - 1984
Heinrich Harrar - Seven Years in Tibet
JG Ballard - Cocaine Nights
William Gibson - Neuromancer
Brideshead Revisited. Good for emotional literacy and one of the best books I've ever read. Probably quite intense experience for a 17 year old...but you're meant to be intense at that age.
That being said, at that age the likes of:
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
A Clockwork Orange
might hit the spot, while being suitably 'edgy' for a teenager.
For ripping yarns in a 'doorstopper' format which he might be used to from Stephen King, the James Clavell books might work: King Rat, Shogun, Tai Pan etc.
p.s. If he hasn't read IT by King, he surely must!
First few that come to mind are;
Lord of the Flies
That should keep them going a for a bit!
I'll echo "The Beach" above. Very good read.
Also "Hell's Angels" by Hunter S. Thompson.
I would recommend against Catch 22, that book is hard going if you prefer easier reading. How about Jonathon Franzen-The corrections A hilarious outlook on modern dysfunctional relationships and very well suited to younger readers.
the Alchemist, Fear and Loathing, and 7 Years in Tibet are all great shouts. If they like Stephen King might be worth suggesting some fantasy novels rather than all of the 'coming of age books' that have been suggested. Can't go wrong with: 'The Wheel of Time' series by Robert Jordan, Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb and personal favourite 'The Name of the Wind' by Patrick Rothfuss. Enjoy
This is a great list building up - many thanks all. I suspect I've probably got about 30 now, so a good menu to choose from. I didn't even consider George Orwell!
Robert Heinlein’s “Double Star”
Ian Banks’ “The Crow Road”
High Rise by J.G Ballard
A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick
reading Orwell's 'Down and out in London and Paris' for the first time at present and it's a great read...fits with human emotion OP and good for widening world view...
For expanding emotional literacy I would suggest Quo Vadis? by Henryk Sinkiewicz
Historical fiction, a forbidden love story in the face of adversity set against the backdrop of the Roman persecution of the first Christians. It has everything .... love, wit, cunning, torture, death, genocide, martydom, pathos and hope. All written in beautiful prose (if you get right translation)
Plenty of horror at the end if that's their thing. Wonderful book.
How about some books written by women? These lists are always very blokey. Something like Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood might be a good start.
A must are -
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.
The Motorcycle Diaries.
The Communist Manifesto.
All books by Vladimir Lenin.
Then after a while Capital.
If just one then definitely the first on the list.
The Joy Of Sex
How about the Kevin and Sadie books by Joan Lingard?
They start as children and grow up through the series which is all about the difficulties faced by them being friends and later in a relationship across the sectarian divide.
This does not sound like a list for a not very academic 17 year old who needs a step up from Stephen King...
A Confederacy of Dunces
Depending on the 17 year old, all sorts might work, and all sorts might not, so every suggestion is a punt.
Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch and High Fidelity are touching, easy reads that could well resonate.
How about Anne Tyler? Two dozen or more novels by now, all set in or around Baltimore. All that I have read have been funny and sharply observed.
Have they read Asterix or Tintin? No really, the translations of these, particularly the early Asterix books are brilliant, full of plays on language and references.
The Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome? If not read yet, no time to lose.
For something more serious, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, or John Reed's Ten Days That Shook the World, for example.
For something much older, one of the ruder stories from the Boccaccio, or one of the chapters from Benvenuto Cellini's autobiography where he is getting run out of town.
One of the Feynman books of his tall tales?
A PG Woodhouse or two?
I'm going to recommend Primo Levi, like I always do.
Or how about Sophie's world?
I think he'd enjoy 'The Thirty Nine Steps' by John Buchan.
For understanding people responding to change and developing their own identities I think you would struggle to beat Forever War and Forever Free by Joe Halderman
For understanding that people are broadly similar wherever they come from (particularly if he has read much of the classic WW2 stuff like The Great Escape etc) No Pinic on Mount Kenya by Felice Benuzzi changed my views.
The first Wizard of Earthsea book by Ursula Le Guin is a wonderful book about dealing with things when you are ready. It is also one of the finest "coming of age" style books I have read, along with The Magician by Raymond E Feist and The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix.
If he is into SF, perhaps The Time Machine by HG Wells as an allegory for class? My favourite time travel book would however have to Company of the Dead which is pretty much a "What if" for the Titanic never crashing and is a bit of a mad cap adventure across an alternative USA
The Honour Harrington books by David Weber are wonderful military SF competence porn but actually for me represent a lot of the behaviours which people should expect from their bosses at work (which they may not necessarily fully appreciate until something goes sideways in their personal life)
The Humans by Matt Haig looks at relationships from the perspective of an alien who has assumed the identity of a mathematics lecturer (I nearly cried laughing listening to this)
The Ketty Jay books by Chris Wooding are all rip roaring adventures which deal a lot with character development, very similar to Firefly but with a little bit of magic and armoured airships rather than spaceships
Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky is another good book which is loosely about defining your own identity after escaping a horrible situation, there is also a wonderful series of graphic novels which run a lot further with this concept called Elephantmen
The Reality Dysfunction was my first foray into big epic SF type things and I did really enjoy it, however I don't think it's a good one to recommend from a relationships perspective as it has that unfortuante trait of a lot of SF books of pervily written sex scenes (this is however the only reason I would unrecommend it as there are some really fun bits and the horror aspects are quite chilling)
Perhaps The Stormlight Archive books by Brandon Sanderson, they change in character over the series but certainly the first book spends a lot of time dealing with relationships
I also feel that The Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch needs a special mention, the relationships are broadly fairly simple in it but I loved it as a 17 year old lad, The Alex Verus books or the Dresden Files books are also pretty similar but take a less "science based" view of magic
With an open mind he could possibly also look into some Graphic Novels, Maus deals a lot with the Spiegelman family's dynamics when they flee Germany during the rise of Hitler
If he likes books with an ending keep him away from anything written by Neal Stephenson, the man is incapable of ending a book in a satisfactory fashion...
A different slant, how about Ben Elton's books - if read in published order, they become increasingly more interesting and thought provoking. Difficult to say if they'd hit the spot without knowing more about the particular 17 year old
A that grabbed me at around that age were
The Secret History (seems to fit your criteria well), Perfume, Whit (also The Wasp Factory, but I'd hesitate to recommend that!).
Whatever it is, make sure there's some graphic sex in it, and maybe a few killings.
253 by Geoff Ryman. Totally different to most suggestions but very accessible and makes you think about interlinked relationships.
The Woman and the Ape or Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg.
Lady Chatterley's lover would have blown my 17-year- old mind but it's classic literature. Certainly challenges preconceptions and opens the door.
Rebecca by Daphne Dumaurier? Not sure as I read this when older, but enjoyed it. Classical-ish style but a bit of mystery.
I read a ton of sci fi at that age amongst other stuff. Stephen king too, so a good start!
Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series, both very much of it’s time (70s & 80s), and way ahead of it’s time. Certainly opened my mind as a teenager.
> For expanding emotional literacy I would suggest Quo Vadis? by Henryk Sinkiewicz
> Historical fiction, a forbidden love story in the face of adversity set against the backdrop of the Roman persecution of the first Christians. It has everything .... love, wit, cunning, torture, death, genocide, martydom, pathos and hope. All written in beautiful prose (if you get right translation)
> Plenty of horror at the end if that's their thing. Wonderful book.
Oooh. Never heard of this one despite a degree in the Classics. Pricey on Amazon but! Still ordered a copy, thanks.
Thoughts triggered by the above responses..
Forever War, yes good call.
If we are going to recommend Margaret Atwood surely it has to be the Handmaid's Tale (if the poor kid has not had it beaten into them during English lessons).
Wasp Factory - yes!
Maus - great.
Secret History - another good shout, though feels a bit old for a 17 year old?
James Clavell, Lady Chatterly's Lover, - leave it out!
I am C..C..C..Claudius - Robert Graves
Empire of the the Sun is another good J.G.Ballard, and full of emotional complexity.
Loved Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, in fact it’s one of my favourite books ever, but not sure I’d have enjoyed it at 17.
Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins maybe - immortality, beets and sex - what’s not to like?
Pride and Prejudice.
Or, if they don't go for that
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
I think Secret History is perfect for a 17 year old - the narrator is coming into the environment with that level of emotional literacy and finding themself our of their depth among a much more ruthless, appealing but horribly self indulgent crowd.
Fair enough! I love the book but there is something very nostalgic about it for me - something to do with seeing the events of youth from the perspective of adulthood, as the narrator does (and realising what was really going on) that makes me think you might have to have this perspective yourself to get the most out of it. On the other hand it could open a youngster's mind to the possibility of going to a University on the East Coast of the US, studying Classics, and engaging in bacchanalia and murder, so could be perfect ; ) We need more Classicists after all!
> Wasp Factory - yes!
I found it the most over-rated and disinteresting of Banks’ novels.
'Disinteresting'? I don't think you mean that.
> 'Disinteresting'? I don't think you mean that.
No; along with Dead Air I found it so dull it was a struggle to read to the end. Most of Banks’ other books are amongst my favourites. I think the constant efforts to shoe-horn shock content into what could have been an interesting if improbable character study rather derailed it.
Maus is a good shout. Some of the other suggestions scan like people blindly recommending their favourites, rather than thinking about the OP...
Have you looked into young adult fiction at all? There's a strong scene of modern writers who explore complex issues of identity/sexuality/emotional development/relationships but pitched to be accessible and interesting to teens. Goodreads is a decent place to hunt around. Here are a few to kick off with:
The Weight of Our Sky - Hanna Alkaf
The Poet X - Elizabeth Acevedo
The Cruel Prince - Holly Black
Wolf by Wolf - Ryan Graudin
We are the Ants - Shaun David Hutchinson
I know 253. It is ambitious but the narrative is complicated
Geek Love by Katharine Dunn
> . Some of the other suggestions scan like people blindly recommending their favourites, rather than thinking about the OP..
Are you new to the Internet?!
All Quiet on the Western Front and Goodbye to all that.
Two great books looking at the same war from opposing trenches.
Agree about books by the late Ursula Le Guin; forget Harry Potter.
Also Margaret Atwood - she could write a shopping list and make it interesting
Midnight in the Garden of God and Evil - John Berendt, is also worth a read.
On The Road...Kerouac. Borstal Boy...Brendan Behan. The Shipping News...Annie Proulx. No Great Mischief.....Alistair Macleod. And The Land Lay Still....James Robertson. And for topicality A Very British Coup....Chris Mullin.
> Midnight in the Garden of God and Evil - John Berendt, is also worth a read.
Think I was in my 20s when I read that, I loved it, and probably would have done at 17 too. Great writing, compelling characters...reads like a great novel!
I wonder if any of Ian McEwan's would be suitable? Perhaps Solar. It's supposed to be comedy, but really it's just an Ian McEwan novel about the depths of human failure, with a joke about a penis near the beginning.
> A 17 yr old has asked me to compile a list of books for them to read. with a view to expanding emotional literacy.
How did we not think of Dan Rhodes, maybe Don't Tell Me The Truth About Love, or the one I haven't read, Little White Car? Also, A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon (which might deal with more adult themes, but it's good at least one very hilarious sex scene).
Secret History is a great shout. As is Perfume.
Along a similar line, how’s about Stephen Fry’s Making History: so readable with a brilliant plot (and twist).
or for more readability how’s about some of Christopher Brookmyre’s early novels: be my enemy, all fun and games till someone loses an eye, etc etc.
And maybe a Bukowski? Always loved it when I was that age but probably couldn’t read him nowadays. Factotum would be my pointer.
A YA blockbuster and a classic that I don't think have been mentioned yet:
The Hunger Games trilogy
S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders
And a true emotional jouney with a teenage protagonist and an ending I still find hard to read, despite having taught it several times: Barry Hines' Kes.
The graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave something (the illustrator)
Hope you enjoy it. The translation by W.s. Kuniczak is my favourite translation
Perfume by Patrick Suskind is an excellent suggestion - short and punchy with the sadistic narrator worth it alone.
The Master and Margarita - Satan coming to town with a gun-toting, talking cat. What's not to like?
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson - bridges the gap between science fiction and historical fiction brilliantly plus Stephenson is the rare beast as a sci fi writer with real sardonic wit.
The Dice Man by Luke Rheinhart - Thought this was edgy as f*ck when I was eighteen.
Someone mentioned The Goldfinch above - for balance, that nearly put me off reading! Basically nothing happens for 500 pages, so unless this 17-year old has ambitions in antique furniture restoration, I'd probably leave it for another day.
Master and Margarita is fairly impenetrable imo.
It fails on the 'contemporary' clause but that hasn't put off a great many other suggestions so how about Redshift by Alan Garner? Great story and should hit the emotional literacy button for someone that age.
I'll also second Ian Banks' The Crow Road.
> Master and Margarita is fairly impenetrable imo.
You reckon? I found it a really entertaining page-turner. Horses for courses I suppose.
Aye. I started reading it after going to Patriarch Pond where the start of the book is set but couldn’t get on with it. Might just have been my frame of mind at the time.
Iain m banks culture series, v for vendetta.
Perdido street station by China Mielville
Dandelion Wine and Farewell Summer by Ray Bradbury
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