Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Teenage Kicks

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Teenage Kicks

Article excerpt

Tony Little's guide to education, reviewed on page 69, lists books that "every bright 16-year-old should read". We asked some of our favourite writers to share their own suggestions

Michael Rosen

Candide by Voltaire (1759)

When I was 16, I felt myself drawn in two directions: inwards, to the workings of the mind (I was fascinated by the stream-of-consciousness writing of James Joyce); and outwards, towards descriptions of and explanations for inequality, tyranny and militarism. I can remember my sheer joy and excitement at being asked in my A-level French class to read Candide by Voltaire. It translates very well into English and though politicians and militarists tend not to use the exact phrase "the best of all possible worlds", the perpetual lie that they use to sustain their power is, in essence, the same. To any 16-year-old wanting to see beyond the endless flow of bullshit that sustains the cruelties and inequalities of history, I would say: give Candide a go.

Ali Smith

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)

Image Music Text by Roland Barthes (1977)

I'd favour either The Bell Jar or The Handmaid's Tale--both highly political works, though Plath's has had shorter shrift over time, as it is always associated with autobiographical stuff that really isn't relevant to a work of such high irony and analysis. You come away from both of these books with your senses and your intelligence opened wider. For non-fiction, I'd suggest Barthes's Image Music Text, a book that endows its readers with a profound connective playfulness --crucial critical equipment.

Meg Rosoff

Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido (1982)

The Tightrope Walkers by David Almond (2014)

Trapido's novel is the quirky tale of a decade-long love affair between an intelligent suburban teenager, Katherine, and her Jewish professor's bohemian family--wife, babies, louche sons and all. Think Brideshead Revisited set in the 1970s, only sexier and much funnier. It kills me that I didn't read it at university, when I really needed it.

David Almond's adult novel The Tightrope Walkers is another coming-of-age story, this one set on a housing estate near Newcastle. A rich, morally ambiguous fictional memoir, it takes place in that seemingly endless instant between childhood and adulthood and it made me weep, as much out of writerly jealousy as anything else.

Eimear McBride

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann (1912)

I first read Death in Venice at 16 and subsequently spent my entire school holiday mercilessly plagiarising it, before eventually realising that, while small-town Ireland provided plenty of scope for tales of unrequited and inappropriate longing, the essential quality of disease-ridden fetidness was--and would probably remain--absent. This misfortune aside, I would still throw Death in Venice into the lap of any passing teenager and encourage them to read it. It seems that a battle for the soul of literature may be afoot, so how better to encourage them to fight the good fight than through a perfectly judged, deeply affecting story of desire, decay, beauty and art?

Ian Rankin

The Humans by Matt Haig (2013)

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (2003)

Haig's novel looks at human beings, their strengths, frailties and foibles, through the eyes of a visiting alien. This fresh take on our planet and its human inhabitants makes the reader reappraise his or her own life. It's a book that is accessible and as humorous as it is serious. For non-fiction, I'd go to Bill Bryson. His curiosity is infectious and his style engaging, as he takes the reader on a journey from the Big Bang to Darwin. This is a science book for the non-scientist and it's filled with delights.

David Kynaston

Portrait of an Age: Victorian England by G M Young (1936)

Written some 80 years ago, this remains a bewitchingly magisterial survey. …

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