Friday Fun Thread: Teenage Kicks

by Ted on June 17, 2005

John Cole has tagged me with his own book meme:

What fiction did you read as a teen/young adult that you have re-read as an adult (or would like to)? What pieces of fiction meant something to you? Put up your list, and pass it on to 2-3 people.

The Once and Future King, by T. H. White

A collection of four novels retelling the legend of King Arthur. I love, love, love this book. One section, in which the children of Queen Morgause decide to surprise her with a unicorn, still haunts me. When I think of “psychological realism”, this gorgeously written book is the first thing that comes to mind; he has done an amazing job of thinking through the characters.

By way of endorsement, my lovely fiancee is brilliantly well-read, but doesn’t have a fantasy-loving bone in her body. Elves, orcs and magic make her break out in hives; she’s never seen any of the Lord of the Rings movies. She loves this book. So will you.

Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Alan Stamaty

This is a bit of a cheat, since it’s really a children’s book, but it’s one that I read over and over again as a kid. The story is very simple- a donut-loving boy runs away from home to the big city to pursue his love of donuts, but learns, “Who needs donuts when you’ve got love?” The joy is in the illustrations: virtually every page is covered with a tiny, minutely detailed cityscape, jam-packed with little surrealist cartoon characters. There must be more than a hundred little jokes on some of the pages. (The one I always quote is the sign that says, “NO LOITERING! Anyone caught loitering will be subject to the predicate ‘IS LOITERING!'”)

When it was re-issued, I bought two copies and gave one to my niece. I might have to buy another one in case I have kids, because I don’t want their grubby hands on mine.

Watchmen, by Alan Moore

It’s a world where costumed crimefighters are a forgotten fad; it’s a thoughtful reimagining of the Cold War; it’s a breathtaking conspiracy/suspense story; it’s a meditation on getting older and watching the world pass you by; it’s a floor wax; it’s a dessert topping. Watchmen more or less killed my interest in comic books, because nothing else I’ve ever seen has been nearly as good.

Back issues of Twillight Zone magazine

I don’t know how many people ever saw this old horror fiction magazine, but I always crack open my box of back issues when I’m visiting my parents. Almost every issue had a half-dozen or more horror stories, a complete script for an old Twillight Zone episode, movie reviews by New Yorker cartoonist Gahan Wilson, and odds and ends. There were some real gems in there. Eventually, they went out of business. I got Omni for the rest of my subscription, which was like having the Lone Gunmen from the X-Files come yell in your ear once a month. Big disappointment.

I pass this on to Jay Caruso, Julia from Sissyphus Shrugged, and Doctor Frank, whose own upcoming young adult novel will doubtlessly be showing up on this sort of list in twenty years.



Eszter 06.17.05 at 5:27 pm

Neat idea.

This is probably almost too obvious, but The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupéry. I didn’t get nearly as much from it as a kid as I did later.

Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita was required reading in high school. It was a bit tough at that age. I remember taking notes on almost every page. It was a bit more manageable when I reread it later.

I read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist as a semi-adult (just out of college, doing most of the reading while commuting on the NYC subway) and really enjoyed it. It was just the right time for me to read that book since I wasn’t in the most optimistic mood trying to make ends meet in New York on $10K/year (hurray for grad student stipends) under very unfortunate living conditions. This book helped lift my spirits a bit. I read it in French (that’s the version a friend gave me) and really enjoyed that aspect as well (perhaps because I was nostalgic of having just spent the summer in Geneva with some good friends). Reading the book later was also nice. I’ve given it to several friends as a gift.

Can we pass this on if we’re just commenting?:-) I pass it on to Liliputian Lilith, Dan Drezner, Jordan Ellenberg who’s made his own contribution to the genre and Lloyd Kahn who’s made a career of publishing some very cool books.


gmoke 06.17.05 at 6:41 pm

Lao Tzu’s _Tao Te Ching_

Been reading it and rereading it since my teens in various translations and even working through the Chinese with a dictionary at my side a couple of times.

Read it again after about a decade a few years ago and was amazed at how much I’d internalized.


radek 06.17.05 at 6:49 pm

‘The Litte Prince’ is definetly up there. ‘Master and Margarita’ is good too though I fail to see how it could have appeal to a 12, 15, or even a 17 year old. The humor and excitement is there but it’s anything but juvenile. Maybe you’re back-projectin’ or something.

The rest of stuff from my kid days I re-read would probably not be recognizable to most people though. But I think I should mention Edward Lear (The Jumblies!) and um, … Karol May (anyone here have an idea of who I’m talking about?). And I gotta say, Rikki Tikki Tavi has always been one of my favorites.


nagarjuna 06.17.05 at 7:37 pm

Bridge to Terabithia (sp?) was hearbreaking when I was smaller.

Wrinkle in Time et al.

Sideways stories from wayside school.


Jeremy Osner 06.17.05 at 7:39 pm

At risk of being confused with Slartibartfast of Obsidian Wings, I’d like to suggest The Phantom Tollbooth. It is one of the very finest fables I know.

And in a different vein, all the Moominfamily books by Tove Jannsen. (Well almost all of them — a couple are not really worth while but you will not have to invest a lot to figure out which ones you can skip.) Delightful, and (particularly for the last two) there’s a fair bit of stuff in there I did not catch as a child.


rm 06.17.05 at 8:41 pm

Ted, you whippersnapper, are you young enough to include Watchmen as a teen/YA reading experience?

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. I have read the bloggers linking, each to each.

Jeremy, thanks for reminding me of The Phantom Tollbooth, a favorite of childhood I’d completely forgotten about. I’ll have to get it for the kids.

Reading The Lord of the Rings in my thirties, I was astounded at how much I *just didn’t get* when I was thirteen (such as that Tom Bombadil wasn’t just some kooky guy, but a nature god). Yet it shaped my thirteen-year-old brain profoundly, even with low comprehension.

Speaking of low comprehension: in high school I read (on my own; such a geek) Melville’s _The Confidence Man_ in its entirety without understanding a word. I reread it with fascination. Naturally, I was unwilling to get the main joke as a teenager, which is that people are shits and that the river in the story ain’t the Mississippi, but De Nial. Or is that the point?? I’m not 100% certain. And, I am mostly sure there was ONE con man in many disguises, but not entirely sure; maybe there were two. I dunno.

What do you all think of the value during childhood of reading texts over one’s head, and getting what one can out of it?


Jeremy Osner 06.17.05 at 9:25 pm

What do you all think of the value during childhood of reading texts over one’s head, and getting what one can out of it?

An eminently worthwhile activity, and not only during childhood. My first and second times through many Faulkner books (among others) consisted just of saying the words out loud in my head, listening to their resonance and meter and getting no meaning therefrom.


Jeremy Osner 06.17.05 at 9:26 pm

ps. Thanks back to you, for your line about “the bloggers linking each to each.” That is going to stay in my head for a while.


Russell Arben Fox 06.17.05 at 10:13 pm

A few months back, I managed to convice our oldest daughter–turning nine in August–to read The Phantom Tollbooth; she liked it, but wasn’t bowled over. I was disappointed; was she too young get all the inside jokes? I suppose so. I don’t remember how old I was when I first read it, fifth grade perhaps? A little older than she is now. I hope she’ll give it another crack later on, because I re-read it often, over a period of years, and always loved it.


Jeremy Osner 06.17.05 at 10:26 pm

I read Tollbooth to Sylvia, who is 4 and 3/4 (she will have you know), for bedtime stories over the course of February and early March. She loved the characters though did not get a lot of the story. This week she indicated she would like to reread it; we read the first few chapters and she was very much on top of it, talking about what will be happening later in relation to what is going on now.

Here is a diary of our first read through.


Davis X. Machina 06.17.05 at 10:40 pm

I will never understand why The Once and Future King doesn’t have a rep comparable with Ulysses.

Of course, Disney didn’t make a ghastly animated version of the Telemachus section of Ulysses.

My old paperback of OAFK is held together with a rubber band.


ProfWombat 06.17.05 at 11:04 pm

‘The Once and Future King’ is also one of the best fantasies about what the English think being English is about, one of the best explorations of man’s relationship with nature and with time, and should be added to the water supply.

Reading books you don’t understand: I first read ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ at twelve; found the second half boring. Reread it at fifteen and didn’t find the second half (with all the sexy parts) boring at all. Reread it as a snarky college soph. and thought it was so much Whorfian linguistic bullshit. Oh, well.

Auden’s ‘The Unknown Citizen’ was just right when I was 14, and led me utterly uncomprehendingly into the rest of him. Love him still.


Thomas Palm 06.18.05 at 1:16 am

‘Watership Down’ by Richard Adams is a good book to reread. As a kid it is just an adventure story about a group of cute rabbits, but as you grow older you find hidden layers.


joel turnipseed 06.18.05 at 3:05 am

Colin MacInnes’ Absolute Beginners (and, really, the whole London Trilogy) & Alan Sillitoe’s Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner come to mind…


Jo Wolff 06.18.05 at 3:30 am

I advise readers not to go back, and be content with their memories. I read most of Orwell’s fiction in library periods at school when I was twelve, and thought them works of genius. I started re-reading some of it about 20 years later and found it incredibly stilted and (dare I say it) badly written. ‘Coming Up For Air’ was a particular disappointment.


radek 06.18.05 at 3:59 am

Moomintrolls! Yes!


abb1 06.18.05 at 5:09 am



Jeremy Osner 06.18.05 at 5:10 am

Sorry; my above post #10 misled. The diary of reading Tollbooth with Sylvia is here. And Thomas, thanks form mentioning Watership Down — I have not thought about that in a long, long time but I can definitely see it being a good reread.


yabonn 06.18.05 at 5:58 am

I’m still re-reading Zelazny’s “Creatures of light and Darkness”. Each time as funny, surprising, fascinating even.

One of the best sci-fi book evah, imo.


yabonn 06.18.05 at 8:37 am

Now i can’t resist : link to the “agnostic’s prayer”, one of the book good bits.


Stephen Kriz 06.18.05 at 8:41 am

Hmmm??…Childhood books that are now guilty pleasures to read as an adult?

– Lord of the Rings
– The Three Investigators series by Alfred Hitchcock
– The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
– Arthur C. Clarke books, notably Childhoods End
– The New Testament, most particularly Paul’s letters to the Romans and Corinthians.

Just a few random personal favorites…


Eszter 06.18.05 at 9:02 am

‘Master and Margarita’ is good too though I fail to see how it could have appeal to a 12, 15, or even a 17 year old. The humor and excitement is there but it’s anything but juvenile. Maybe you’re back-projectin’ or something.

Radek – You can certainly take issue with Hungarian high schools assigning such readings as part of the basic lit curriculum. I do. But that is the kind of work we read and were tested on and yes, some of it I did manage to appreciate even at that age.


J. Ellenberg 06.18.05 at 9:11 am

(Sent here by Eszter…)

Lizard Music, by Daniel Pinkwater; this book introduced to me, at age 10 or so, the idea that the world was much weirder than it superficially appeared to be, and that you never knew where and how that weirdness, if you were lucky, might extrude. I would have to say it formed my sensibility as a writer. And it remains a great read now.

When I was younger, my very favorite book was The Four Corners of the Earth, a children’s biography of Francisco Pizarro; I have no memory of what I liked so much about it but I read it forty or fifty times.


'As you know' Bob 06.18.05 at 10:18 am

I’m startled to discover that there’s someone else on the planet who has read Stamaty’s “Who needs Donuts?”.

I can’t be on my list. because I came to it as an adult, but I’ve also stocked up on copies to hand out. An unknown masterpiece.


Joel Hanes 06.18.05 at 10:51 am

_Treasure_Island_, Robert Louis Stevenson

_The_War_of_the_Worlds_, H. G. Wells

_We_Die_Alone_, David Howarth

_Out_of_the_Silent_Planet_, C. S. Lewis


anon 06.18.05 at 12:24 pm

If you read bedtime stories to your children, you will revisit all the favorites from your childhood. I loved Elizabeth Nesbit (5 Children and It, Phoenix and the Carpet, Story of the Amulet, Enchanted Castle) and still enjoyed them as an adult. Also the “Little House on the Prairie” series.


Roy Hinkley 06.18.05 at 12:50 pm

Stephen Kriz: I read as many of those 3 Investigator books as I could get my hands on 20 years ago, but I wouldn’t dream about picking them up now.

Vonnegut’s writing is pretty accessible to a young reader. I remember thinking how profound and beautiful “Cat’s Cradle” was when I was 19. Even just a few years later it didn’t mean as much (but was still an enjoyable read).

I wish I could have back the time I gave to Piers Anthony. I wasonly 14 when I realized how crappy and formulaic his books are. I should have been reading Bradbury.


PZ Myers 06.18.05 at 2:09 pm

Great, I’m immune to this meme, since I’m not an adult yet.


SusanC 06.18.05 at 2:44 pm

Ursula Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan works very well both as a children’s book and for adults. (It’s the middle book of a trilogy, so if you’re going to read it start with A Wizard of Earthsea).

Reading it as an adult:

The cover illustrator has gone to a lot of trouble to avoid showing the non-white characters.

The relationship between Tenar and Ged looks rather less innocent then it did when I was 12.


SusanC 06.18.05 at 2:52 pm

When I was in primary school (about 8 years old), I read Herman Melville’Moby Dick. I was probably too young to read it, but the historical stuff about whaling was way cool.

The one book I really remember totally defeating me as a child is the Algol 68 report. (Probably just as well Ada95 wasn’t around back then…)


SusanC 06.18.05 at 3:39 pm

I read several chidren’s books set in Scandinavia (e.g. Gunnel Linde’s A Pony in the Luggage) and to this day I have difficulty believing that Sweden actually exists, and isn’t a fictional place like Narnia.


Billings 06.18.05 at 5:52 pm

When I was a kid I read the Critique of Pure Reason but was two young to get his second theory.


NickS 06.18.05 at 6:10 pm

The Phantom Tolbooth is wonderful.

I’ve just been re-reading a variety of Daniel Manus Pinkwater books. The Snarkout Boys and the Avacado of Death is one of my very favorite books from childhood and it holds up well. The opening school section of Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars is also great and both have been reprinted as part of Five Novels.


Gary Farber 06.18.05 at 8:28 pm

“I don’t know how many people ever saw this old horror fiction magazine….”

Well, Tappan King did offer me the job of Managing Editor, circa 1986, but the actual horror mag was the digest-sized Night Cry; TZ had a considerably larger ambit which wasn’t even chiefly, or even very much at all, horror. I took an editorial position at Avon books that allowed me to work on endless amounts of sf, mysteries, history, science, nonfiction, and innumerable books, instead, partially for the range and partially because I didn’t expect TZ and co. to last another year.

Omni had a silly premise, but fed an admirable amount of money into the sf community, and, besides, they had ultra cool parties that actually invited us geeks to mix with, like, the Pets and cool kids, amidst the floating carbon dioxide, drinks, drugs, and whatnot. Who knows where Ellen Datlow would be today otherwise? Only the psychic in the next article could tell.


Gary Farber 06.18.05 at 8:31 pm

“One of the best sci-fi book evah, imo.”

Geez, hearing that would have pissed Roger off. But that was then and this is now and Forry has won.


rm 06.18.05 at 11:16 pm

I read several chidren’s books set in Scandinavia (e.g. Gunnel Linde’s A Pony in the Luggage) . . .

susanc, you put me in mind of foreign children’s books (I’m writing from the U.S.).

Children’s books one revisits to read as a parent are a bit different from childhood reads one picks up for personal pleasure; so in my previous examples I forgot all about these foreign books which were important in my childhood, and which I re-read for bedtime stories:
Selma Lagerlo:f (that’s an umlaut), The Adventures of Nils Goose-Boy (Swedish boy is shrunk, rides goose around all of Sweden, returns)Norman Lindsay, The Magic Pudding (koala turns swagman, takes up with charming rascals in possession of magic never-finished sentient pie, fights off cretinous antagonists who want to steal the pie)Dorothy Wall, The Adventures of Blinky Bill (cute, naughty koala boy has adventures; strong conservationist moral)

Like your example, Nils Goose-Boy makes Sweden a magical place. I only want to know, do you say it “nills” or “niles”?!?

I’ve reversed my opinions of the two Australian books. As a kid (approx. 8, I guess) and as a very young adult, I thought Blinky Bill was way too treacly and sentimental, while The Magic Pudding was super cool for its irony, its biting wit and social satire, its nonsense verse, and its amoral universe (the villians want to steal the pie, which is only what the “heroes” have done in the first place; and the pie itself is a caustic little character). It has a similar appeal to Don Marquis, Herriman’s Krazy Kat, Rocky & Bullwinkle, The Simpsons, or Fafblog —- definitely a superior literary work to BB, and also part of the Pantheon of Coolness.

However, I’ve found that as a parent, I don’t really want my kids blasted with icy gusts of irony and amoral satiric wit; treacle is okay. Lack of irony is okay. And they like Blinky Bill much better, for now.

And Blinky is not as simple as I thought; there is wit, and the conservationist message is pretty good (be nice to animals; don’t destroy habitat; don’t hunt endangered species). The never-ending magic pudding, on the other hand, is a metaphor for endless exploitation of the land. I still like MP better as lit, but not at bedtime.


Myca 06.18.05 at 11:22 pm

Speaking of Zelazny, Lord of Light continues to be absolutely stellar as I age. My first reading was at a shitty Boy Scout camp where all the horrid little proto-jocks mocked me for even having brought a book. My last reading was 20 years later: last week.

Yep. Still good.



Jeremy Osner 06.19.05 at 5:11 am

Nils Goose-Boy makes Sweden a magical place. I only want to know, do you say it “nills” or “niles”?!?”

If it’s “Niles” I want to know whether that title served as inspiration for “Giles Goat-Boy” or vice-versa…


Jeremy Osner 06.19.05 at 5:18 am

And well, Nils Goose-Boy (full text online btw) was published in 1922 so I’m thinking yeah, Barth must’ve had it in mind. Cool!


Jeremy Osner 06.19.05 at 5:20 am

Er, I mean to say, translation published in 1922. So the original, presumably some year before that.


yabonn 06.19.05 at 5:53 am


Geez, hearing that would have pissed Roger off. But that was then and this is now and Forry has won.

C’mon, tell more. What’s with Zelazny and Creatures? And Forry? And all that?


profbacon 06.19.05 at 7:19 am

There’s a boy in the Girl’s Bathroom. Louis Sachar, Zelade

Maniac Magee Jerry Spinelli.


Dan Drezner 06.19.05 at 9:35 am

Also sent here by Eszter — my answers are here.

The Watchmen would have been on the list — had I been smart enough as a young adult to have discovered it.


PersonFromPorlock 06.19.05 at 7:37 pm

A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter, still reads pretty well for all that it was written in 1908. Except for not having Dragons it shows that the art of writing wish-fulfillment books for young women hasn’t changed very much.
Also, any of Heinlein’s juvies, which can be read by adults for the sheer pleasure of his craftsmanship.


Jeremy Osner 06.20.05 at 7:27 am

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. I have read the bloggers linking, each to each.

Oh Gawd… I can’t believe it was not until this morning, when I rolled out of bed muttering, “have read the bloggers linking, each to each”, that I realized the punchline — “(I do not think that they will link to me.)”


rm 06.20.05 at 9:42 am

Jeremy, thanks for giving me the sense of gratification that having my humor appreciated brings. It doesn’t happen often.

You have a fun blog.


Jeremy Osner 06.20.05 at 3:32 pm

Thanks, RM — Googling around, it looks like Ken of “The Illuminated Donkey” Thought of it before you or I, back in March of 2002.


redfox 06.21.05 at 9:01 am

Anon, the wonderful E Nesbit was an Edith, not an Elizabeth.


Mr Ripley 06.21.05 at 2:55 pm

Short explication of Gary Farber’s observation: Forry is/was Forrest J. Ackerman, who was listening to his kids’ hi-fi in the Fifties and thought of a nifty new abbreviation for “science fiction” that rhymed with “hi-fi.” Generations of SF writers reacted to the term more or less as Toni Morrison would respond if someone had come up to her at some point in the past twenty years and called her a “favorite Negro writer.” For a long time, SF writers insisted that such a patronizing term as “sci-fi” was just fine for Lost in Space but could hardly be applied to serious writing. Thanks in part to the Sci-Fi channel and its offshoots, keeping the patronizing term out of the mainstream discourse has become impossible. Members and scholars of the (written) science fiction culture, however, are still going to use the term SF.

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