As a teenager, I suffered from pretty severe iconoclasticitis. Most everyone else called it by its common name: rebelliousness.
But, when I wasn’t staging some inane sit-in or walk out over a meaningless point of bureaucratic trivia, or heckling my calculus teacher (who liked to ask the class a question, and then grab the tip of his tongue with his thumb and forefinger while staring us down – who couldn’t resist), or learning that I could plug a bunsen burner into the water faucet and create a marvel of a water-cannon that just seemed to always swing in the direction of my chemistry teacher… well, you get the idea, I’m sure…. When I wasn’t being a brat, I was reading. Obsessively.
I loved Russian authors, in particular. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn. I also liked French classics. In fact, all kinds of wholesome, healthy books were tucked quietly away in my brain, hidden by my brash anarchy.
In fact, I’d read almost anything. Anything.
Unless it was assigned by a Teacher.
And, so, I went through high school, without ever reading the High School Canon of Literature. I’m sure I only kept passing English because the teachers were terrified to have me for another year. Can’t say I blame them. Can’t say that might not have been part of my strategy.
In any case, much later, in my mid-twenties, I decided enough time had passed that I had made my point (whatever it may have been) in my boycott, and went back to pick up some of those books. And they were terrific. But, here’s the thing… most of them I would’ve appreciated much, much more had I read them at age 17.
So, here’s my top five list of the books that every teenager should not read:
Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut. This is easy. Just tell them that its kind of like some sort of psychedelic haze. Just shrug and say, “Oh, you wouldn’t know anything about that – just wouldn’t understand. Before your time.”
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. A little tougher to dissuade them, but I think I have a strategy. Just tell them that its just full of all kinds of word games and puns (that’ll get them thinking about that dorky uncle they’ve got).
Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. No, definitely not at your age. The main character calls himself “the biggest sex maniac you ever saw.” Totally inappropriate.
Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Wow. This is really tough. You could try showing them the portrait of him (to the left), but who wouldn’t be intrigued by that cherubic face? Maybe best to tell them its this adventure book about revenge and stuff, but that its got lots of history in it. Maybe you’ll learn more about that in College – when you’re older.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. (OK, I’m cheating. So I did read this one, but its so cool, that you’ve got to tell them not to read it. Tell them they can’t understand the complex psychology of it or something. Tell them that its about an existential crisis. Teenagers have no idea what an existential crisis is, right?)
Remember, you’re supposed to tell them not to read these books. Got it?