Good novels about young people

Adults must not read Young Adult novels. Adults must instead read good novels about young people. There are more good novels about young people than there are good Young Adult novels. Here is a list of good novels about young people:

Ballard, J.G. Empire of the Sun
Blatty, William Peter. The Exorcist
Brodkey, Harold. First Love and other Sorrows
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre
Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Cather, Willa. My Antonia
Conrad, Joseph. The Shadow-Line
Crowley, John. Little, Big
Crowley, John. Love and Sleep
De Vries, Peter. The Blood of the Lamb
DeLillo, Don. End Zone
Dexter, Pete. Train
Dickens, Charles. David Copperfield
Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop
Dreiser, Theodore. An American Tragedy
Egan, Jennifer. The Invisible Circus
Egolf, Tristan. Lord of the Barnyard
Eugenides, Jeffrey. The Virgin Suicides
Faulkner, William. Light in August
Forster, E.M. The Longest Journey
Forster, E.M. A Room with a View
Greene, Graham. Brighton Rock
Greene, Graham. The Captain and the Enemy
Hamsun, Knut. Hunger
Harrison, Jim. Farmer
Hazzard, Shirley. The Great Fire
Hughes, Richard. A High Wind in Jamaica
James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Kipling, Rudyard. Kim
Knowles, John. A Separate Peace
Lawrence, D.H. Sons and Lovers
Lindsay, Joan. Picnic at Hanging Rock
Llosa, Mario Vargas. The Time of the Hero
Macdonald, Ross. The Far Side of the Dollar
MacLaverty, Bernard. Cal
Mann, Thomas. Buddenbrooks
Maugham, W. Somerset. Of Human Bondage
McCarthy, Cormac. Blood Meridian
McCullers, Carson. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
McMurtry, Larry. Horseman, Pass By
Millhauser, Steven. Edwin Mullhouse
Mitchell, David. Black Swan Green
Murdoch, Iris. The Time of the Angels
Murdoch, Iris. Nuns and Soldiers
Murdoch, Iris. The Good Apprentice
Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita
Narayan, R.K. Swami and Friends
Narayan, R.K. The Bachelor of Arts
O’Connor, Flannery. The Violent Bear It Away
Parker, Robert B. Early Autumn
Percy, Walker. The Last Gentleman
Portis, Charles. True Grit
Powell, Anthony. A Question of Upbringing
Proust, Marcel. Swann’s Way
Proust, Marcel. Within a Budding Grove
Reid, Forrest. Tom Barber trilogy
Santiago, Danny. Famous All Over Town
Singer, Isaac Bashevis. The Manor
Snow, C.P. Strangers and Brothers
Spark, Muriel. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Spencer, Scott. Endless Love
Stern, Richard. Other Men’s Daughters
Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island
Stevenson, Robert Louis. Kidnapped
Tartt, Donna. The Secret History
Tevis, Walter. The Queen’s Gambit
Theroux, Paul. The Mosquito Coast
Twain, Mark. Tom Sawyer
Twain, Mark. Huckleberry Finn
Waters, Sarah. Fingersmith
Waugh, Evelyn. Brideshead Revisited
West, Nathanael. A Cool Million
Wodehouse, P.G. Mike
Yu Hua. Brothers

Great California Novels

1899  McTeague  Frank Norris
1939  The Day of the Locust  Nathanael West
1951  The Way Some People Die  Ross Macdonald
1953  The Long Goodbye  Raymond Chandler
1962  Big Sur  Jack Kerouac
1966  The Crying of Lot 49  Thomas Pynchon
1968  Myra Breckinridge  Gore Vidal
1969  Fat City  Leonard Gardner
1970  Play It As It Lays  Joan Didion
1974  Dog Soldiers  Robert Stone
1978  Lying Low  Diane Johnson
1983  Famous All Over Town  Danny Santiago
1987  The Black Dahlia  James Ellroy
2009  Nobody Move  Denis Johnson

On reading two novels at once

I don’t recommend reading two novels at once, but it can be done if the novels are drastically different from one another, separated by what normally separates books; tone, style, setting and characters. The two novels I’m reading at the moment both feature young men on the make who commit murder, and that’s the only thing they have in common.

I’m a third done with Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma, and I’m reading a chapter a day in the morning. The Richard Howard translation is flawless, and it’s a novel I could complete over a long weekend if I wanted to–it reads easy and smartly and moves fast as a book with 200,000 words can move.

In the evening I’m reading Dreiser’s 300,000 word novel An American Tragedy, an American novel, written in a not-smooth style of the 1920s. The novel concerns the fate of young Clyde Griffiths, a child of wayward preachers who looks to get past penury and make a place for himself in the glamorous set, a set he sees up close in hotel and club rooms where he is a bellboy, an outsider. Tragedy’s prose is clunky but it’s not badly written, and I’m getting through it quickly.

Hank Stamper throws some dynamite

Good bit from Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion where Hank Stamper tries to bomb a boat. That Kesey never uses the word “dynamite” is the aspect I like best:

Henry appeared to be tiring. One of the men, the taller one, who I decided must be Hank—what other Caucasian ever moved with that slack-limbed indolence?—left the others and loped into the boatshed and reappeared, bent in an odd position as he shielded something with his cupped hands. He stood at the edge of the dock in this position for a moment, then straightened up to throw whatever he held in the direction of the boat. (Oh lordy, what’s happening?) And then there was nothing but silence as the whole cast—the figures on the dock, the petrified brown lump in the boat, even the pack of dogs—stood perfectly still and quiet for perhaps two and three-quarters seconds before a thundering blast right next to the boat jammed a white column of water forty feet into the hot, smoky air, ka-whooomp! like an Old Faithful erupting in the middle of the river.

Kerouac’s Big Sur

Picked up a copy of Big Sur at Moe’s last week for an unknown reason–I hope the purchase was made for an unknown reason and not a known reason like nostalgia. Okay it was likely nostalgia. Shoot me.

Strange to remember that Kerouac–for all his On The Page flaws–is a natural writer, natural in the natural sense, that his prose flows easy and moves a story along as a story requires. Compared to contemporary bestsellers his writing style is envious; compared to Lee Child he is James Joyce Jr.

Laughed again at this bit from Chapter 6 featuring Alf the mule:

So I angle back down to the home canyon and down the path past the cabin and out to the sea where the mule is on the sea shore, nibbling under that one thousand foot bridge or sometimes just standing staring at me with big brown Garden of Eden eyes — The mule being a pet of one of the families who have a cabin in the canyon and it, as I say Alf by name, just wanders from one end of the canyon where the corral fence stops him, to the wild seashore where the sea stops him but a strange Gauguinesque mule when you first see him, leaving his black dung on the perfect white sand, an immortal and primordial mule owning a whole valley — I even finally later find out where Alf sleeps which is like a sacred grove of trees in that dreaming meadow of heather — So I feed Alf the last of my apples which he receives with big faroff teeth inside his soft hairy muzzle, never biting, just muffing up my apple from my outstretched palm, and chomping away sadly, turning to scratch his behind against a tree with a big erotic motion that gets worse and worse till finally he’s standing there with erectile dong that would scare the Whore of Babylon let alone me.

Talent spotting

Was it 100? That is the number I think of when I think of the number of notable books selected by the New York Times for 2014. 100 notable books from 2014 is of course nonsense–one only has to look back to 1914 and count the notable books from that august year. I will guess that there are 5, maybe 6 good/great books from 1914. Probably less. It is always less.

In a lifetime of reading I still cannot comprehend how unreadable books get published. Bad books outnumber good books 100 to 1. But given that there are 5 great novels from 1914, maybe that ratio is 10,000 to 1–this is heavy math and I am no mathematician.

I know good books when I read them. I am guilty of praising books I like that do not hold up 10 years after I have read them. But so much garbage…

I read one great 2014 novel in 2014, The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis. Now I am reading another very good novel from 2014, Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish. Lish’s book is terrific, and he seems to be a very funny person away from novel-writing, for he says glorious bullshit like “I didn’t really know that books win awards.”

So my notable 2014 books list now stands at 2, 98 behind the Times. One of us is full of it.

Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory

Michel Houellebecq is a great contemporary novelist. Funny, bold, snotty, arrogant, and most of all good, he is a Frenchman who has no American equivalent because he is risk-inclined, the opposite of most all practicing American novelists, who are risk-averse. Houellebecq has five novels published in the English language, four of which I enjoyed. That’s a good average; his sixth novel Submission arrives in the fall.

Whatever is a funny novel about the repetitive boredom of young adulthood and employment. The Elementary Particles is one of the best novels about the 1960s and its effects on children of that era. Platform is a hilarious send-up of travel and sex, easily the funniest and scariest Houellebecq novel. The Possibility of an Island is the one Houllebecq I didn’t enjoy–it was too cute in its structure and toward the book’s middle I became bored, something that never happened to me when reading Houellebecq.

I had small expectations for The Map and the Territory (2010) and was surprised how much I enjoyed its main character Jed Martin, an artist who benefits more from timing and luck than outright talent. Houllebecq is very good on art and the artist’s motivation; there are insights within insights, and nothing of the lofty bullshit one often associates with the creative process. The Map and the Territory is a parody of many things, but namely it is a story of art and art’s meaning in the world.  Houllebecq makes a lengthy appearance in his own novel, and the highlight for me was the relationship between Jed and his businessman father. The prose of the novel is Houellebecq’s best, lively and given to unpredictability. Didn’t care for the novel’s third act–a Maigret-pastiche whodunit–but the first two are enough.