In case you missed the first installment, you can find it here.
There are no two ways about it–these years pretty much suck. It’s such an awkward couple of years transitioning from being a child to an adolescent. And for me at least, it was when I started to become “weird” and “different,” which you may see reflected in my book choices.
I’ve already mentioned Forever by Judy Blume–a real coming of age classic for an 8th grade girl.
There were two other books that I read at 14, that kind of changed my life:
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
I read this in the spring of my 8th grade year, sitting on the porch every evening (you’ll notice perhaps that I remember where I was when I read a lot of these books–that’s what kind of impression they left on me and the kind of importance/ritual I built around reading books that I connected with). I’ve thought about re-visiting this book as an adult, but a big part of me wants to keep it as a memory.I identified with her so much, it was the first time I felt a kinship with someone from a book. She was at that moment exactly the kind of writer I wanted to be when I crafted endless bad poetry. It was all just SO DEEP.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Right after reading The Bell Jar, I read the Catcher in the Rye (on the same spot on the porch) and fell in love all over again. Another book so wonderfully written, and it just “got” me, and all my “unique” feelings. I immediately read all of Salinger’s books and loved them all. However, this is one that I know I do not want to return to as an adult. I am sure I would be annoyed by Holden Caulfield at this stage in my life. Yes this is a classic–but the reason why is that it captures adolescence so perfectly–it’s a stage that most don’t want to return to later in life.
The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides
Both beautiful and epic books. They get the complexities of “coming of age” (which is kind of an obnoxious term, but I can’t think of a better one at the moment).
Caucasia by Danzy Senna
I read this one as an adult, but I wish I would have read it in high school–a wonderfully written book about race and identity and family. I gave this to my Little Sister when she was in 9th grade.
1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell
1984 is my favorite book of all time, and George Orwell is the author I admire most. I read 1984 when I was 24, and part of me disappointed that I had lived that long without having reading any Orwell, but in another way I was glad that I had some maturity, world experience, and knowledge to really “get” it and how amazing it is. So while I put this under High School, I think it’s probably best for 11th or 12th grade, and then every few years after that.
After I read 1984, I read all of Orwell’s writing (all of his novels, and a lot of his short stories and essays, and even biographies) and it was like I had found something I had been looking for– I wish I could be half the author and journalist that George Orwell was. In addition to 1984, Down and Out in London and Paris, and Animal Farm are other favorites. But really, read everything by the man–he’s amazing.
College and Beyond
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
This is another classic that I somehow missed until adulthood. I think I’m glad that I didn’t read books like these for a class, sadly that can take a lot of the joy out of a book. This is an amazing book and college is probably a great time to read it–it will depress you and make you angry and make you want to change the world–perfect for college.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
OK, so I might be a little bias on this one because I just finished reading it last month., but this is an amazing multi-layer novel within a novel that has made me want to jump on my next author bandwagon and start reading more Margaret Atwood (next up: The Handmaid’s Tale…another one I somehow missed)
OK, so that’s my very very very incomplete list. There are many great books that I left off that I’ll add to the (someday) ultimate list. In the meantime I’d love to hear your recommendations for the best books for every stage of life…