October 23rd, 2010 / 7:29 pm

What are the books you need to read between ages 17-22; if not then, never read them at all.


  1. michael

      catcher in the rye, on the road, heartbreaking work of staggering genius, the unbearable lightness of being, everything is illuminated, updike in general, bukowski in general. it’s good too if you can get lunch poems under your belt before you turn into a cold-hearted snob, but as long as you get early exposure, o’hara is forever rereadable.

  2. P. H. Madore

      I think (maybe) that if a novel affects you in a very radically different way after age 22, you’ve either lost touch with your roots, found them, or grown so wise that you lost all feeling. I have no idea what I just said.

  3. AmyWhipple

      Plath. If you read her during that time frame, you can maybe have nostalgic love once you’re post-22. But I don’t think you can pick up The Bell Jar for the first time at 28 and not just want to punch her in the face.

  4. Chet

      been down so long it looks like up to me

  5. Jon Cone

      Steppenwolf, Richard Yates, Howl, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Jesus’ Son, On The Road, The Journal of Albion Moonlight, The Prophet, Lord of the Rings, The Naked Lunch. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way Of Knowledge …

  6. Trey

      I can’t do Steppenwolf or Howl and I’m still in this age group.

  7. Daniel Bailey

      hunter s. thompson

  8. Daniel Bailey

      a clockwork orange,

  9. Todd Colby

      The Book of Disquiet, The Street of Crocodiles, Three Lives, The Metamorphosis, Nightwood, On the Road, Catcher in the Rye,

      That’s a good start.

  10. rawbbie

      Can we like be friends or something, because you nailed this list. I would add The Road, though it’s pretty readable post 22, I would have loved it in my late adolescence.

  11. michael

      i totally missed the window for this one. the first time i read it, i didn’t even know what the hell ‘uncut horse’ was and why it went into that nice lady’s hoo-ha.

  12. michael

      i tried at 16, 18, and 20, and i couldn’t get through it. maybe it’s a book for odd-number-aged people

  13. michael

      the book of disquiet is perfect for this list.

  14. michael

      i am pretty shocked that this post hasn’t yet devolved into yet another protracted (i almost wrote prolapsed) tao lin flame war. it probably will, now that i’ve made this comment. tao lin arguments are the rumpelstiltskin of arguments.

  15. Jonny Ross

      Anything by Henry Miller, Chuck Palahniuk and Chuck Klosterman.

      Also any rock bios, such as The Dirt, etc.

  16. AmyWhipple

      I don’t like to say there is such a thing as girl books or boy books, but I think part of the appeal of The Bell Jar (I can’t really speak about her poetry) is having someone else understand what it’s like to be a nineteen-year-old girl. Just as I’m sure I’m probably missing something deep and meaningful in Catcher by not having once been a teenage male.

  17. mimi

      Casteneda – nice

  18. alexisorgera

      Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, 1984, Brave New World, The Color Purple, The Handmaid’s Tale…

  19. Poopypants McGee

      Anything by Billy Joel.

  20. joe

      letters to wendys

  21. Daniel Bailey

      you shall know our velocity, anything by jonathan safran foer

  22. alan

      Agree with most of the above, but “Catcher in the Rye” is the lazy choice here.

  23. Lukewarmresolve

      The earlier you read Jesus’ Son the better. I read it at 28 or 29 and thought ‘oh god, this really would have fucked my shit up if I had read it earlier.’ I think Jesus’ Son is blatantly apparent in a lot of the work talked about here and with a lot of college/recently post college folks.

  24. Daniel Bailey

      hunter s. thompson

  25. Daniel Bailey

      a clockwork orange,

  26. darby

      vonnegut. tom robbins.

  27. zusya


  28. Adam

      I’m gonna go ahead and say Borstal Boy. It’s the first thing that popped into my head and I’m high, so it’s gotta be the right answer.

  29. Adam

      Wait, how about all the Beats? Post puberty really whets the appetite for drugs, like your body knows it’ll never have it that good again.

  30. belovedsnail

      This list. I’d also probably add Hesse. But maybe Steppenwolf should be read even younger? Also, as noted below– Bell Jar.

  31. Andrew

      epic of gilgamesh, greek tragedies, winesburg ohio, on the road, howl, godot, the stranger, blood meridian, the elementary particles, unbearable lightness of being, rosencrantz and guildenstern are dead, something plato, shakespeare, dostoevsky, nietzsche, wilde, hemingway, viriginia wolf, faulkner, nella larsen, richard wright, flannery oconnor, frank ohara, kafka, murakami, delillo, raymond carver, john cheever

  32. Andrew

      sartre, flaubert, augustine, in dubious battle

  33. Andrew


  34. Gilesruffer


  35. Andrew Ervin

      Anything by EL Doctorow. Has anyone else gone back to those recently and wish they hadn’t?

  36. mark leidner

      pound’s cantos

  37. Thiefofeyes

      Some of the sci-fi heavies: Neuromancer, Philip K Dick etc.

      Also: Thomas Pynchon, Aldous Huxley

  38. Waller

      Richard Yates and Jesus’ Son are both great after 22. In fact, I think I would’ve found Yates too quiet (which is to say boring) at 17-22. I would’ve liked Jesus’ Son because of the humor and the drugs, but probably would’ve missed a lot of the deep shizzle going on in that there text.

  39. P. H. Madore

      Yeah, because Pessoa never really made it past that virginal stage.

  40. P. H. Madore

      You can’t read rock bios after 22?

  41. Invoice

      I’m 32, Canadian and when I was at the ages 17-22 I was reading Canadian novels like Obasan by Joy Nozomi Kogawa, Mordechai Richler – The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and its like. These are what my high school thought imperative to discover. Not until I was in University that I began to discover Milton, Robert Browning, Beowulf. Some of the writing was stifling and I realized the lists were never perfect so I realized I had to go out on my own. If I had it my way this is what those ages groups should read, Top Ten:
      Allen Ginsberg – Collected Poems
      Charles Bukowski – Women
      Donald Barthelme – The Dead Father
      Lawrence Durrell – Justine
      John Fante – Ask the Dust
      Richard Wright – Black Boy
      Unknown – Beowulf
      Miguel De Cervantes – Don Quixote
      Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
      B.P. Nichol – The True Eventual Story of Billy the Kid

  42. Daniel Bailey

      this list has basically turned into a list of every book ever / a place where people brag about books that they read before 22, according to my gf.

      seems like we shouldn’t read anything after 22.

  43. Michael Filippone

      I’ve heard that The Fountainhead is exactly this kind of book. I got it when I was 16 and now I’m 22. Should I finally give it a go before it’s too late?

  44. Trey

      darby said vonnegut, I think.

  45. damon

      Everything Here is the Best Thing Every, Ever, Richard Yates* (*the novel), The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney, Scorch Atlas, Light Boxes, Eat When You Feel Sad, and Hamlet.

  46. Trey

      I see what you did there.

  47. nouspique

      Surfacing, by Margaret Atwood. Wait – anything by Margaret Atwood. Then again, that holds true for ages 23-89 too.

  48. efferny jomes

      quick skim of the above comments and nobody’s said Vonnegut yet?

  49. Sean


  50. C. Mittens

      This list is ridiculous. I’m guessing it’s a joke, but Virginia Wolf (sic)? Kafka? Faulkner?

  51. Michael Filippone

      I’ve heard that The Fountainhead is exactly this kind of book. I got it when I was 16 and now I’m 22. Should I finally give it a go before it’s too late?

  52. Trey

      darby said vonnegut, I think.

  53. sp

      RA Salvatore. Drizzt Do’Urden just isn’t as interesting when suddenly confronted with the prospect of bills.

  54. Jeffrey

      I believe Mr. Con is referring to the novel “Richard Yates” by Tao Lin, not the writer Richard Yates, who wrote “Easter Parade” and “Revolutionary Road,” among other things. This is something that sometimes gets confused because of Tao’s Lin choice to name his most recent novel after one of the more famous writers of the 20th Century. He did this to infer the emotional weight the writer Richard Yates often wrote with and at the same time to make a (sly?) gesture that Lin’s own novel is also “autobiographical fiction,” like what Yates himself said he wrote (though one could argue that the book Richard Yates is straight non-fiction, with names changed to famous movie stars). Please don’t feel bad if you didn’t catch it, everyone thinks it’s ridiculous that Lin named his novel after Yates too. It’s just some people have to pretend otherwise, for personal reasons.

      Also, I wholeheartedly agree with the Klosterman, rock bios, Heartbreaking Work, On the Road, and Bell Jar suggestions. Brilliant question.

  55. stephen

      damn, was really ridiculous when picasso named a drawing of a woman and her hands “war and peace.” what is he think is. was really ridiculous when james joyce named one novel after a character from another book, an epic poem no less, and then he named his next book after a pub song. why’d duchamp name a toilet “fountain.” that’s ridiculous it’s not a fountain when i was 17 i played with childish things when i got to be 22.1 years of age i put aside childish i said i have no i have friends personal reasons serious put aside serious writer to myself i said everyone thinks it’s so ridiculous that it’s ridiculous that he ridiculous everyone

  56. drewkalbach

      why is that list ridiculous? you can’t read “hard” books at a young age? modernism too much for a 17-22 year old?

  57. rebecca ruth

      I’d say The Secret History is perfect for 17-22… and then forever re-readable.

  58. drewkalbach

      honestly it seems pretty strange to say ‘this book must be read’ at all, regardless of age. to some degree if you’re really into literary studies, you do need a grounding in some of the ‘big novels.’ but otherwise who gives a shit, people will read what they read when they read it.

      so that is me agreeing with you.

  59. Jeffrey

      Is this comment an inside joke? I really can’t keep them straight so you’ll have to enlighten me Stephen. But thank you(not really, I am using sarcasm here) for your interesting history and literature lesson. I was so dense before!(again, sarcasm).

      Maybe you typed your very lucid(not really, this is sarcasm) comment from your Blackberry or from gchat. That would explain everything. And then later when someone asks, “Stephen, why could you not construct one coherent sentence?”

      You’ll just say, “Well, I was typing this on from my Zune-Pad, don’t you get it?”

      Again, though, great topic, I also second Howl, Fear and Loathing, and Catcher in the Rye.

  60. stephen

      Nonsense begets nonsense style. I typed that on my computer. I don’t like snobbery, I don’t like bullshit, and I don’t like the dismissal of young people. I’m not using sarcasm this time. You don’t know me, Jeffrey. I’m not sure what you know. I construct many things. We’re not on the same level. Interpret that inside.

  61. Trey

      it’s ridiculous because the question is asking for books that, if not read between 17-22, should never be read at all. I think faulkner holds up pretty well for them older folks.

  62. stephen

      god, why does htmlgiant always get me pissed off. fuck everything haha…

  63. Guest


      i was going to write something in this thread, but i resisted…

      there’s no way to “win”…

  64. Dawn.

      The Bell Jar, A Clockwork Orange, Perks of Being a Wallflower, Catcher in the Rye, and Girl, Interrupted.

  65. goner

      JT Leroy. He’s a better writer than most young people, but still.

  66. mimi

      @stephen –
      I thought maybe you were channeling Molly Bloom’s soliloquy or something with the devolving language. (I may be way off here, I know.) I liked it, (and it doesn’t really matter where it came from). Try not to get upset or feel too bad.

      “everyone thinks it’s ridiculous that Lin named his novel after Yates too.”
      That’s not really true, I don’t think it’s ridiculous.

  67. P. H. Madore

      Reads like a curriculum, doesn’t it?

  68. Waller

      Ah-ha! That makes more sense indeed. Thanks, my friend.

  69. P. H. Madore


  70. P. H. Madore

      It’s actually a pretty amazing novel. Howard Roark is a memorable, strong character. Absolutely read it at your first opportunity. Just try to read it as a novel. We all hate Ayn Rand, but The Fountainhead was a fucking novel’s novel. Never got around to Atlas, Shrugged, and still don’t have intentions to.

  71. Jon Cone

      Jeffrey, you’re right, I was referring to the novel RICHARD YATES by Tao Lin, not the writer of the same name.

      I’d like to stress my list isn’t in any way condemnatory. I simply believe
      there are some books more acutely encountered when one is young, though I’d never discourage anyone from reading them once one has reached a level of maturity and independence.

      One error in my list: I meant to type ‘Naked Lunch’ not ‘The Naked Lunch’.

  72. nouspique

      Crap, I shouldn’t drink and post.