Have you ever wondered what your favorite book says about you? No? Just me then. But a lot is made of the fact that our taste in music, films, literature reflects our “true” selves. A typical example is the person who loves Marvel comics, enjoys Star Wars, and reads Asimov. Nerds, right? Hardly. It’s a shame that we constantly judge others on their taste and think that we make a quick psych assessment, but it made me think about those books that have a certain image attached to it and whether that’s even true of the “typical” reader of that book. Still with me? Let me explain…
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Now, the story of a young woman who, in the midst of an internship at a New York magazine is institutionalized, may easily fit into the category of anti-social, coming of age. It has inspired a generation of people (not just women) to think about the coolness of ennui, but The Bell Jar is more than that. Because the book will forever be shadowed in the suicide of its author, the themes of identity and what is considered socially acceptable will take a back seat to the real-life ending of Sylvia Plath. The book is a fantastic coming-of-age piece and one of the real first books to deal with the conflict of human emotion from the post-1950s female perspective.
Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger
A companion piece to The Bell Jar in many ways. The protagonist, Holden Caulfield, a wiry old miser trapped in the body of a teenager, heads to New York and experiences a whole series of unfortunate events and realizes how immature he is in the big, wide world. Famously a favorite of Mark Chapman i.e. John Lennon’s killer, it’s had a bad rep for being a book associated with people who are not “normal.” The truth is, Frankenstein’s monster has more in common with you and I than Holden Caulfield. Coincidentally, Frankenstein made it onto this reading list in the category of dark fantasy. But while Caulfield is a bit of a monster, really he is a misguided child in a world of adults, and this is something that we all go through. It is a book we can read while going through our troubled teens and as an adult to look back on how coltish we actually were!
On The Road by Jack Kerouac
The travel almanac that really isn’t about travel. Places fly by in sentences, but raindrops are described in great detail. This is really not a book for hippie idealists, but it is a book on how to write. The poetry-in-motion this book delivers was the first of its kind for the Beat Generation, popularized by Kerouac as well as other writers like William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, and that really is its beating heart. Kerouac famously wrote it in a frenetic two-week period after years of traveling, and the beat style paved the way for gonzo writers such as Hunter S. Thompson.