Oh, to be fourteen again. Invariably any favorite book at that age impacts us well into adulthood. With appearances by perennial classics from Louisa May Alcott and J.R.R. Tolkien, and more than a couple of Stephen King’s best titles, these are the books we read without parental consent, for English assignments or in the lazy days of summer break. Is your favorite not here? Tell us what it was in the comments!
The Drifters by James Michener
“Not a book for kids,” was I think how my mother worded the embargo on reading The Drifters. But the cover art of sexy college kids and chapter titles like “Monica,” “Britta,” and “Pamplona,” proved too difficult to resist, so I smuggled the paperback off the bookshelf and read it on the sly. Michener’s 1971 bestseller tells of six college-age internationals who meet in Spain, then travel to Portugal, Mozambique, and finally Morocco. My fourteenth summer seemed especially long and boring—and Michener’s characters impossibly exotic. They worked for Eugene McCarthy, waitressed in Spanish bars, took LSD, slept on the beach, and said things like: “People who live in grass houses shouldn’t get stoned.” Their sybaritic and unstructured world, enabled by a privilege that at the time was taken for granted, fueled my unrealistic ideas about what it meant to come of age, while the novel’s larger political and social concerns were
simply daunting. I skipped over those, all the better to get back to Britta, wading into the Mediterranean with a Gauloise in one hand, a perfect embodiment of my inexperienced view of the future.