I still remember certain books from my formative period vividly. When I was younger I would happily spend hours and hours tucked away in my bedroom reading incredibly thick, dense books that I’m sure I only fractionally understood. The problem is, now that I’m older I no longer have the energy to read books of that caliber. My literary life now is PG Wodehouse novels, Evelyn Waugh travelogues, and watching Brideshead Revisited once a year. I do believe that there’s a certain amount of youthful exuberance that gets us through very difficult books when we’re younger. I’m pretty sure, for instance that I once read Being and Time cover to cover and after that, in youthful impetuosity, immediately started Either/Or. There’s no way in the infinite horizon of dasein that I’d ever make it through those books now. Well, maybe I’d re-read some of the Aesthete’s advice. He seems like a pretty cool guy.
The point is, the formative stage for any human being is precious, so don’t waste it. Here’s my list of the best books to read each year of your life until you get a job and your only cultural input is listening to sports talk radio. Feel free to intensely question my choices.
6 – the ABCs. It’s, like, fundamental. Go ahead and memorize it and sing it if you want. But the important bit is to actually learn to read it.
7- The Little Prince. Read the best book ever written before you get too old to understand it.
8 – Black Stallion. It’s about time for that developmental stage where you get into a major pony obsession. Go with it.
9 – Sideways Stories from Wayside School. Honestly, I still re-read this. It stretches the imagination in delightful ways and is a masterpiece of whimsy and creativity.
10 – The Chronicles of Narnia. Before this age, it’s too scary. After this, it’s too tame.
11 – Ender’s Game. Kids are better than adults. It’s time you learned that.
12 – Little House on the Prairie. You’re about to hit the big time, your teens, and it’s time you learned how to take care of yourself.
13 – Lord of the Rings. Your imagination is primed and ready. If there’s one thing a thirteen year old can do, it’s read an incredibly long, dense trilogy full of insanely intricate details and then obsess about it through role playing and memorizing fictitious languages.
14 – Discworld. It’s a mythological detox from Tolkien. Sometimes books are just for fun and kind of pointless but they’re also really clever and you suspect the author totally squandered his talent and that’s okay.
15 – Hamlet. It’s a rite of passage. You have to get this thing read and you’ll probably hate it, but you’ll thank your English teacher for this later. It’s almost laughable how little I appreciated this at the time and how I fall more in love with it every time I re-read it. Is it possible that Shakespeare is under-rated?
16 – Catcher in the Rye. Finally, someone who understands you. Sure, the guy you relate most to in life is probably a sociopath created in the mind of a reclusive, anti-social hermit. But a little empathy is nice wherever you can find it.
17 – Catch 22. The book you should’ve read last year because it’s way funnier and darker.
18 – Blood Meridian. You’re about to graduate high school and it’s time you understand the world is a violent, biblical place, kid.
19 – Inferno. You’re going to want to store the experience of reading this away so in twenty years when you have your mid-life crisis you have it as a resource. You don’t want to wander the dark wood alone, do you?
20 – Infinite Jest. If you’re in college and have followed this reading list up to this point, you’re just becoming pretentious enough to tackle this. The funny thing is, it isn’t pretentious at all. It’s amazing and human and thoughtful and sad.
21 – On the Road. This is it. This is your moment to get in the car and drive. It doesn’t matter where you go, just be sure you give it zero thought as you slip behind the wheel. DO IT NOW
22 – Brothers Karamazov. When you’re older you won’t have the time or energy. I couldn’t imagine trying to read this now that my brain is fried by work meetings, the internet, and talking to other adults on a daily basis. This book, I seem to recall, is really good, you guys.
23 – The Aeneid. This may be the last book you ever read, so make it a good one. It’s time to find your place in the world and do great things. Spoiler alert, Aeneas never makes it. Life is open-ended and uncertain, but it is most definitely a heroic adventure. Go found your Rome.