A week later and my bookcase is starting to take its new shape. The back rows are filled with old, second-hand tomes on the “Social Contract” and “Marxism After Marx”. The back row is two rows high; its upper layer filling out the entire height of the shelf with horizontal stacks of Japanese verse and old copies of the writings of the Beat Generation. I like this mixture of Bashō and Ginsberg, and its literary mélange is visible because the first row of each shelf is only one row high. That’s where I keep the novels I have finished and the ones I have yet to read. Despite unmaking my bookcase and building it anew, I still haven’t hunted down The Edge Chronicles. What I have been able to do though is locate every other book from my childhood, and so the timeline of my reading has been revealed. After giving an overview of The Books Of My Childhood last week, following it up on Tuesday with a post on my reading of the books of other peoples’ childhoods, I am today writing about the books of my teenage years.
As I stated in last week’s post, the emergence of reading as a hobby culminated in me devoting all my time to reading the books of the Expanded Universe of the Star Wars franchise, whose stories I came to love more than the movies themselves. My reading choices shifted during a parent-teacher conference, when my English teacher- a giant of a man who often slung his tie over his shoulder- said that whilst I was showing promise, I really ought to be shifting away from Star Wars books and onto the classics. Time to grow up. And just like that, one era of reading ended and another began. If I was going to be a writer I had to learn from the best in the business. I feel like this is a critical period in my reading history, because I was no longer reading just for pleasure. Now I was examining everything carefully, and it’s probably a big part of why I have been a slow reader since. I completely missed out on teen fiction, because I spent my teenage years trying so hard to be an adult. If it sounds like there’s a tone of regret in my voice, it’s because there is. Whilst a lot of the books listed here were very enjoyable, I do wish I could go back in time and make the transition less sudden, and say to my younger self “There’ll be plenty of time for Le Morte D’Arthur; just relax and be a teenager because that’s what you are”. I look now with envy upon the bookcases of my roommates; both Anne-Marie and her fiancée Aaron are voracious readers, and much better at it than I. My sense of having missed out is a large part of the reason why I was so keen to read The Giver, and why classics of the Young Adult genre such as The Maze Runner are included in my list of books to read.
Author: Miguel de Cervantes
First Published: 1615
Opening Sentence: “In a village of La Mancha the name of which I have no desire to recall, there lived not so long ago one of those gentlemen who always have a lance in the rack, an ancient buckler, a skinny nag, and a greyhound for the chase.”
One-Line Summary: A Spanish hidalgo reads so many medieval romances he loses his mind and thinks he’s a knight.
Trivia: El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha as it was originally titled, is the best-selling single-volume book of ALL TIME. I picked it out from my dad’s collection of hardback classics at the age of 14 and figured this was the place to start my little renaissance. It wasn’t too hard to read, not compared to other classics, and some passages were actually quite funny.
Author: Kevin J. Anderson & Brian Herbert
First Published: October 2nd 2001
Opening Sentence: “Under the light of two moons in a dusty sky, the Fremen raiders flitted across the desert rocks.”
One-Line Summary: In the far, far, FAR future, a Ned Stark-type plans a risky military campaign to free a planet of tinkers and machinists from their Splicer overlords.
Trivia: There used to be a bookstore in Bristol, England that was literally the size of a department store. Borders, it was called. My uncle took me there one time and pointed out that he had read the Dune novels. I was curious about the giant sandworms on the front covers, but at the time I was still in my Star Wars phase. I went back there a year later having remembered his words, and sought out the books with these majestic behemoths on front. Of course, I didn’t realize until after I finished House Corrino that it was part 3 of a prequel trilogy to the original novels.
The Earthsea Quartet
Author: Ursula Le Guin
First Published: 1968, 1971, 1972, 1990
Opening Sentence: “The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.”
One-Line Summary: A young mage with anger-management issues accidentally releases a shadow creature that stalks him throughout an archipelago with a high population-density of dragons and warlocks.
Trivia: I adore this book, and it stands as perhaps the entry on this list that I am most keen to re-read. I loved the first novella, thought the second was ok, enjoyed the third, and gave up on the fourth after a classmate in English looked over my shoulder and remarked “Your book is so boring”.
Author: Robert Harris
First Published: 2007
Opening Sentence: “The moment I heard how McAra died I should have walked away.”
One-Line Summary: A ghostwriter jumps at the chance to write the memoirs of a former prime minister with enough skeletons in his closet to shame an Underwood.
Trivia: This one was recommended to me by my mother and I remember reading it quite quickly. Three years later they made it into a film starring Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Author: Frank Herbert
First Published: August 1st 1965
Opening Sentence: “In the week before their departure to Arrakis, when all the final scurrying about had reached a nearly unbearable frenzy, an old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul.”
One-Line Summary: On a desert planet with a mysterious resource upon which galactic society depends, the heir of a ruined feudal dukedom sets out avenge his father.
Trivia: So yeah, I read House Corrino, loved it, and went online to find out more about the Dune novels. I read the first three, but never finished God Emperor of Dune, despite restarting it several times. This series has the most interesting and intriguing cover art I’ve ever seen, and I love looking up all the different editions to see how varying artists have tried to realize this bizarre sci-fi epic. I loved this series so much that for my birthday one year (most likely my 14th), my mom made me a cake with sandworms made of icing on the top.
The Third Man
Author: Graham Greene
First Published: 1950
Opening Sentence: “One never knows when the blow may fall.”
One-Line Summary: An American writer arrives in post-WW2 Vienna to investigate the suspicious death of his friend.
Trivia: I read this after my mom told me how good the film was. I still haven’t seen the film, but apparently it’s one of the greatest ever made. I remember being very impressed by the book. The city of Vienna is split into quarters, each controlled by world powers- the Americans, British, French and Soviets- and personally I can’t think of a more interesting setting for a crime novel.
A Princess of Mars
Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs
First Published: Serialized February-July 1912
Opening Sentence: “I am a very old man; how old I do not know.”
One-Line Summary: An ex-Confederate prospector gets transported from Arizona to Mars, where he runs afoul of giant, six-limbed aliens with green skin.
Trivia: I’ve always loved retro-futurism, and to this day I still collect pulp sci-fi artwork. During my teens I became fascinated with antiquated visions of the future, and seeing that the Barsoom series was an inspiration for Star Wars, I began to read these swashbuckling adventures. Bringing this book to school was a mistake however, because everyone took one look at the naked, large-breasted woman on the cover and started yelling “Mike’s reading porn!”. I tried to explain that there was no such thing as clothes on Mars, and that actually these were the most innocent books ever, but my protestations fell on deaf ears.
Brave New World
Author: Aldous Huxley
First Published: 1932
Opening Sentence: “A squat grey building of only thirty-four storeys.”
One-Line Summary: In a Dystopian future where people are genetically engineered and brainwashed, a psychologist heads to a reservation of “savages” who live a natural life in order to escape.
Trivia: I was probably too young to appreciate the complexity of this novel. I remember liking the ending, which has always stuck with me. It’s another book that gets routinely censored and challenged by those religious, parental groups- which is enough reason for me to sing loudly about how great it is.
The Children of Hurin
Author: J. R. R. Tolkien
First Published: April 16th 2007
Opening Sentence: “Hador Goldenhead was a lord of the Edain and well-beloved by the Eldar.”
One-Line Summary: A cursed man sets out with a band of outlaws to defeat a wingless dragon and the army of sadistic goblins at its command.
Trivia: The artwork for this book is gorgeous, and the novel features many illustrations by Alan Lee of Tolkien’s world. My younger self was quite enthralled by the sylvan homelands of wood elves and such. I know, what a dork, right? Tolkien wrote the original version of this book in the late 1910s, and revised it several times during his life but never completed a definitive version. His son Christopher then edited it into something resembling a coherent narrative and voila, it was published in 2007.
Author: George Orwell
First Published: August 17th 1945
Opening Sentence: “Mr Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes.”
One-Line Summary: Sentient pigs with Stalinist tendencies overthrow their human masters and form an animal society on the farm in which they live.
Trivia: This was one of my absolute favorites as a teenager. I read it when I was 14 and the ending had me more than a bit freaked out. At the time there was a girl I was sweet on- probably the prettiest and most popular in the class- and I remember telling her I read it, thinking that reading from an author of Orwell’s caliber would impress her.