Four Formerly Essential Books

I met the woman who would later become my wife when I was seventeen. Anyone remember what they were like when they were seventeen? When we started dating just over half a year later I had a strange request: “read these four books.” Teenagers, right? I felt like these four books had helped make me who I was at that time.

As you all know I have a habit of engaging in public embarrassment so here’s my list of books. Teenage earnestness is almost always amusing. I’m not sure I would still list these as essential books — people change — but I wouldn’t go back and change this list if I were to make it again.

  • Have Spacesuit Will Travel by Robert Heinlein
  • I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
  • Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger

There may have been a fifth book, Douglas Coupland’s Generation X, helping to offset the juvenile science-fiction — I really can’t recall, though. But my wife, she read them all. Even the Heinlein. That same summer we went on a road-trip to some of her essential places. People have to do stuff like that.

Anyway, essential books, we all have them. We buy them for others at Christmas, make sure they’re listed in our Blogger profiles — I know someone who wanted his tattooed in a stack on his left bicep — they make an impression.

8 responses to “Four Formerly Essential Books”

  1. About age 17 I was reading ‘Doc Savage’, Bantam was republishing the pulp magazine stories as a series of paperbacks.

    T. Lobsang Rampa’s Tibetan monastery books, ‘The Saffron Robe, The Third Eye come to mind.

    In addition to Have Spacesuit Will Travel, perhaps The Door Into Summer. Great Heinlein. At least until Stranger in a Strange Land. From then on the became ‘strange’, not sf. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was great.

    I remember reading one of the 007 books. Bond wasn’t a book to make much of an impression.

  2. My suggestion to a lady would have been The Waste Land, which may seem less embarrassing, but I think actually more so, considering the elements of its content that I did not fully comprehend at the time (cf. sterility).

  3. It’s interesting to realize the difference between books that we *think* of as essential, and those that formed us subconsciously. Like, in my case, the Bible. I wouldn’t necessarily include it in a list of books to give to my girlfriend. But it’s shaped me.

  4. I was all over Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation from 16 years on.

  5. Hey Elliot,
    The Bible was the book I gave Ian.

  6. Brad, that’s the series I grew up reading. I’ll have to re-read some Doc Savage one of these days. Either that or get an office in the Empire State Building with a Gyro-copter pad.

    Ted, The Waste Land is one of those poems that gets a lot of love and attention from teenage earnestness, isn’t it? But like you say about Ulysses, even if all you get is the gloss, what gloss!

    S.O.S., I was all over Dylan when I was a teenager, so that’s kind of second-hand Beat. In fact, it’s often like photo-copied beat (+ photo-copied T.S. Elliot, cf. Desolation Row)

    Elliot and Kelli: See it’s not so bad to fling a Bible at your Belle or Beau. 🙂

  7. Well. Grapes of Wrath is still a pretty good book.

  8. Wait, so the rest didn’t hold up? 😉

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