It is February which means that #Bookadayuk is back on Twitter after a month long hiatus. Today’s prompt was to name ‘the book that defined my teenage years’. I chose Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ but it took me some time to select this title from the many considered. People change constantly throughout their lives as they are influenced by new experiences but the personal development between twelve and twenty can be particularly radical. As now, books were my companions and my teachers. I was beginning to question everything about my accepted way of living and my choice of reading material reflected the variety of directions explored.
I entered my teenage years an ardent fan of JRR Tolkien. My brother had bought me a copy of ‘The Hobbit’ and my father was reading ‘The Lord of the Rings’ which I picked up when he had finished. I don’t recall ever discussing the book with him but I went on to purchase and read every Tolkien book published. I loved the fact that such a complex world had been created and that I could feel such strong empathy towards those who were different to me.
In school I was required to read the classics which I found dull. I was well into my twenties before I gained any enjoyment from the likes of Jane Austin, Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell or the Bronte sisters. The books I read for pleasure at that time included the Poldark series by Winston Graham, the Sherlock Holmes stories, the early works of Jeffery Archer and a large selection of forgettable romances. I bought these latter works at charity shops and left them wherever I happened to be for others to find when I had finished. My sister mocked me, instilling an embarrassment that I should choose to read such books.
I also worked my way through my brother’s and father’s collections of Penguin modern classics. It was amongst these orange and then grey covered gems that I discovered ‘Brave New World’. Once again the author had created a complex world but this one was recognisable. The music that I was listening to was giving me permission to break away from the person that my family wished me to be. ‘Brave New World’ gave me permission to consider the behaviour of the adults around me as flawed.
I remember the disappointment I felt when I realised that my parents were not as awesome as I had previously thought. As a parent of teenagers I have watched as my own children go through this process. Experienced from the other side it is just as difficult to passively accept.
The books I was reading as a teenager opened up so many new possibilities but I had yet to discover the direction that would work for me. I was, of course, strongly influenced by the friends I was hanging out with. I was looking for acceptance, admiration and love. I was mimicking the behaviours of those who seemed to have what I wanted rather than forging my own path.
The bookish discussions that I was having tended towards the pretentious. I would never admit to reading romances yet happily discussed certain literary works despite having not enjoyed them so much. I wonder now how many of us were presenting such affectations.
I came across ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ by Richard Bach at exactly the right time. Although I had not yet worked out what I was comfortable being, this book made it feel good to aspire to more than those around expected of me. I put aside the romances and began my voyage to discover contemporary fiction that challenged the status quo.
I had reached my twenties before I read Iain Banks’ ‘Wasp Factory’, Josephine Hart’s ‘Damage’ and my first Margaret Atwoods but these works represent to me the blossoming of the seeds I sowed when I escaped the shackles I had worn as a teenager trying to be something I was not.
I still choose to be more maverick than romantic, and continue to seek out books that will challenge how I live now.