Thursday, May 16, 2013

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I expected to find a lot to mock in Buzzfeed's "65 Books You Need to Read in Your 20s," (NOT a slideshow, single page even) but it's actually a really good mix of interesting and well regarded books that doesn't skew too literary or too pop. There are 50 books written or co-written by men and 27 written or co-written by women. (It adds up to more than 65 because one "book" listed actually featured two books by the same author, or three in the case of the Pullman and Davies trilogies, and some books were co-authored.) There are 12 people of color represented and countries from around the world. Not only are gay and lesbian writers represented, books ABOUT gays and lesbians are on the list, too. The list is also a healthy mix of novels, memoirs, non-fictions, and even poetry. And one graphic novel!

You could quibble with the fact that there's nothing published earlier than 1900 on it, but, you know what? There's a lot of lists that are going to cover the canonical works pre-1900.

They also did a good job of choosing titles specifically geared to the "in your 20s" part of the title.

Thoughts on individual titles and an all-important Doodle poll, below the fold:

  • The Emperor's Children - Claire Messud.  Just because something is "the best 9/11 novel does that make it a good novel? (I wasn't particularly impressed by this work.) I haven't read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close but if it's better than the movie based on it, I'm assuming it's great. I really, really liked the movie.
  • The Secret History - Donna Tartt. It's best to read this book when you're the same age as the main characters. I read it in my late 20s and only 30% hated the characters. I'm sure if I read it now, a decade later, it'd be closer to 75% loathing.
  • The Moviegoer - Walker Percy. I'm delighted at Percy's inclusion. Critics and some syllabi recognize him, but he's often relegated to the "Southern fiction" section, when I think he should be discussed on the level of Faulkner and Fitzgerald. 
  • Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace. I loved their reasoning for putting this on the list.
  • Bossypants - Tina Fey. If women in their 20s read this and grow up to be like Tina Fey, the world will be a better place indeed.
  • How's Your Drink? - Eric Felten. This is going on my bookshelf immediately, regardless of the fact that my 20s are long behind me.
  • The Elements of Style - Strunk & White. I will never quibble with this book being recommended. And I like that they featured the "Illustrated" version.
  • He's Just Not that Into You - Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo. They say it best, "Because sometimes clichés are true, and it’s important to figure out when."
  • Generation X - Douglas Coupland. If you're actually in your 20s, this will be a hilarious time capsule. 
And for reasons I haven't completely figured out yet, I'm delighted there isn't any Chuck Klosterman or Chuck Palahniuk.

What books would you strike from this list? Which would you add?

Which ones have you read? (Take the poll, if you dare.) Which ones do you plan to put on your "to be read" list?


  1. Adam B.10:01 AM

    So basically, I don't read enough. Duly noted. (Also: all twenty-somethings need to read The Power Broker to understand how things actually get done in America.)

  2. 13? Is that pitiful or just about right for a woman in her 40s?

    Infinite Jest always seemed like too much work, but I love DFW's essays. I think I"ve made everyone I know read his pieces on the cruise, the Illinois State Fair and the ethics of cooking lobster.

    Also, I've had A Home at the End of the World on my bookshelf since it came out in paperback. Maybe I'll actually start reading it now.

  3. christy in nyc10:21 AM

    Oh man, there are so many books on here I've always wanted to read, and seeing them on a list with so many other books I already love makes me want to read them even more!

    Full disclosure on my Doodle answers: I didn't finish On the Road, I've only read book one of HDM, and I have How to Cook Everything VEGETARIAN and have read the sections of each vegetable I bring home when I bring it home--I've never read it cover to cover. (I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't really cook meat for myself).

    Wild: worst ugly-cry in my history of reading. Loved it. Also this is the only one on the list I read AFTER turning 30.

    Goon Squad: LOVE

    Elements of Style Illustrated: one of my FAVORITE books ever. I wish the red hardcover were still in print.

    I would add The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien and The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I have one or two other "everyone must read" books but they're not as necessarily "in your 20s" as these two.

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  5. I read all the time...and I've read 11 of the books on this list. Meh.

  6. To any young woman with a literary bent or a dream of Paris, I'd highly recommend Elaine Dundy's The Dud Avocado:

  7. Solid list, though I'd swap out Winesburg OH or The Awakening for Main Street, drop On The Road and Tim Robbins and stick in some Harlan Ellison. Perhaps Spider Kiss or Strange Wine.

  8. Meghan10:43 AM

    I just realized that I have, in fact, ready My Misspent Youth but can't edit the poll. That takes me to 13. I'm kind of surprised that A Confederacy of Dunces isn't on there. Even though I hated it and didn't finish it, it seemed like everyone else I knew in my 20s loved it.

  9. FWIW, I really liked Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (book), but my vote for "Best 9/11 Novel" would go to Joseph O'Neill's "Netherland" or Ian McEwan's "Saturday."

  10. I hated hated hated "My Misspent Youth." I hated it so much that I wrote Ms. Daum an email arguing with one of her essays to he editor, and her editor forwarded it on to her with the note "Oh dear." How do I know this? Because the editor erred, and accidentally sent that note to me instead. I would assign this book to students in a course on logic or legal reasoning, requiring them to point out all the ways in which she engages in the very same behavior for which she fiercely criticizes others.

  11. I read The Secret History last year for the first time (in my late 30s) and I absolutely hated, hated, hated this book. I hated all the characters, I found them insufferable and unbelievable as real people, and I just barely managed to finish just to find out the answer to the central mystery. I'll probably never read anything else by Donna Tartt again.

    I don't know what the best 9/11 novel is, but I'd put The Submission on the list for consideration.

  12. Genevieve11:35 AM

    I tried to read The Secret History in my 20s and had the same reaction.

  13. Genevieve11:45 AM

    I read all the time but I've only read 9 of them. There are a bunch here where I've read another by the same author (mistakenly didn't check off White Teeth because I was mixing it up with The Autograph Man, which I couldn't get into, but I read and liked White Teeth and On Beauty). More that I have on my list to read but haven't gotten to yet, and a bunch that I wasn't interested in reading.

  14. I can understand your relief there, Adam. Palahniuk is a great writer but his characters are a TERRIBLE influence. Put a bunch of impressionable 20somethings in there and you've got dudes choking themselves in restaurants, raiding dumpsters for lipo fat, and setting mansions on fire all over the country.

    For my part, I'm super-glad there's no Rand on there either.

  15. Adam B.12:26 PM

    Amy, not me.

  16. I'm another that reads a LOT and I've still only read 8 on this list. Wild and Goon Squad were recent reads and I loved them, I read Generation X back when it was released and loved it then (same with Microserfs) - if I didn't have so many NEW books to read I would re-read them to see how they hold up.

  17. Paul, agree with you on He's Just Not That Into You. But your 20s is usually when (hopefully) you start to figure out that nursing crushes past their recommended expiration date is a bad thing. And that's what I'd take away from the book.

    Also, I've just found it true in my own life - If I'm making excuses for why a guy has stopped calling/emailing/texting/spending time with me, well, sometimes I need to cut the BS and realize "He's just not that into me." People make time, or at least try to, or at least apologize profusely for note being able to, for people they really want to be in a relationship with.

  18. By the way, I'll update tomorrow morning with the most and least read books, per the poll.

  19. Jenn.1:48 PM

    I feel better (read a lot, but only read 9). One was already on my kindle but I couldn't drag myself through it (Goon Squad,), and another is in my kindle but not yet started (Kavalier & Clay). Three may soon be going on my kindle after this list.

  20. Now I'm scared to take the poll. I haven't read any of the books mentioned so far, but I did find 20something insufferable even in my twenties (Don't get me started on Reality Bites or Ghost World). I read books! I swear! Just, um, not the ones everyone else reads.

  21. victoria4:38 PM

    Read a lot, have only read 11.

    Of the ones I've read that are uncommon among the group so far, I can highly recommend Just Kids. It's excellent and a very quick read.

  22. Genevieve4:58 PM

    Loved Microserfs, so I probably should read Gen X.

  23. Maggie5:28 PM

    Shouldn't have taken the poll - I think I read 4 (and all non-fiction...) Don't read as much as I used to or as much as I should and definitely tend away from fiction. The Power Broker has been sitting on my shelf a long, long time - maybe Adam's suggestion will be the impetus I need to get started.

  24. Saray5:36 PM

    I looked at this list and thought "what the hell, all I was DOING in my 20s was reading books!" My job was really boring.

  25. victoria6:56 PM

    Having thought about it for awhile, the one thing I think I'd add would be a personal finance book that emphasizes conscious decision making. (Your Money or Your Life is probably the prototype for that category, and I think it'd be as good a choice as any.)

    The reason I say that is because in your 20s it's easy to kind of fall into decisions about how you spend your money that can come back to bite you (whether because you've spent money you don't have or because you've golden-handcuffed yourself into a lifestyle that's not a great fit for you), and given how little personal finance education your average American teenager gets I think it's a useful perspective to encounter early.

  26. I'd go with Peter Hamill's Forever, myself.

  27. Adlai9:28 PM

    Which essay?

  28. Adlai9:35 PM

    Delighted to see Slouching toward Bethlehem on here; also happy to see both Julie Klausner and Pamela Des Barres. (Highly recommend all.)

  29. I don't have the book where I am (I'm not sure I still own it, actually), and the TOC isn't helping, but I remember that my revulsion arose from her view of what love was. I want to say it had to do with her belief that what she needed most to be loved was to be utterly adored. But I read it a long time ago and could be wrong. (Also, I'm separated and about to be divorced, so maybe what I thought 10 years ago about what love was or wasn't isn't entitled to too much deference.)

  30. I've read 25, and there are quite a few other "mean to read" selections on there.

    Really, too few people have read Just Kids. A beautiful book.

  31. BarbL11410:01 AM

    Yes! I really enjoyed this book.

  32. In case you're curious, after 24 hours, no one has read:
    Call Me By Your Name
    I Love Dick
    Lunar Park
    Dear Diary
    Actual Air*
    The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch*
    Alien vs Predator*
    * = poetry

    Anyone wanna do an informal book club/readalong of any of these?

    And our most read book is:
    The Elements of Style (which will enrage poor Bill.) with 39/54.
    Interestingly, Bossypants is next, with 37/54.
    I would've thought the Hemingway, by dint of being on so many high school reading lists, would've trumped the list.

  33. I plan to read Pastoralia any week now. Seriously. Tenth of December was great!

  34. I actually got Pastoralia from the library just last week. I so liked CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, so I will be reading this next.

  35. Thanks for sharing, Amy. After taking the poll and then considering the list for a few days, I want less to quibble with some of the bizarre and unnecessary inclusions than to say that there should be a couple of books more directly about war -- and possibly about America at war -- on this list. This list is pitched to those in their 20s, which means that we've been at war for somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of the lifespans on the intended audience. But there are no books listed that attempt to convey the experience or consequence of fighting a war. Someone already commented that Tim O'Brien should be on this list, and I second that. But so, too, should one of the excellent books about our recent wars in the middle east (Jarhead, The Yellow Birds, and Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk all jump to mind, but there must be many, many more that I have not read).

    As for 9/11 books, I would vote for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close over both The Emperor's Children and The Submission, but I have not read either Netherland or Saturday.

  36. KCosmo5:32 PM

    I read The Secret History in college and it was one of my favorite books of all time at that point. I am now kind of scared to re-read it, based on the comments below.