Is there a book you wish you had read - but didn't - when you were a teen-ager? Why do you wish you had read that book?

Books: Rearranging youth

May 26, 2002

Terry Teachout

I think I wish I'd read Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood when I was a teen-ager instead of 20 years later. The trouble is that I'm not sure how well I would have grasped it back then, but at least I'd have had two extra decades in which to savor O'Connor's hard-edged wit -- and to deepen still further my understanding of her ambiguous yet ultimately intelligible Christian symbolism.

Terry Teachout is the author of The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken, forthcoming in November from HarperCollins.

William K. Marimow

Although The Prince of Tides was not published until 1986, 19 years after I turned 20, it is a book I wish that I had read and understood as an adolescent. In addition to being a riveting, rollicking, poignant tale of the Wingo family of South Carolina, Pat Conroy's novel teaches us the very valuable and timeless lesson that a person cannot lead two lives. Trying to do so, Conroy shows us, does great harm not only to the one attempting to juggle two lives but everyone whose lives converge with his.

William K. Marimow, The Sun's editor, was a reporter, editor and assistant to the publisher at The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he won two Pulitzer Prizes for investigative reporting.

Norah Vincent

I wish I had read Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary as a teen-ager, because then I would have mastered irony at an early age -- an indispensable tool for modern intellectual life, especially when you're a mystic at heart.

Norah Vincent is co-author of The Instant Intellectual: The Quick and Easy Guide to Sounding Smart and Cultured (Hyperion, 1998). Her work has appeared in the New Republic, The New York Times, Lingua Franca and many other publications. She writes a regular column for the Los Angeles Times.

Peter Temes

I wish I had read Aristotle's Ethics when I was young. Aristotle proposed there that the virtuous man has the four characteristics of love of justice, courage, temperance and prudence. As someone who spent his early adulthood all too fixated on justice and courage, more opportunity to reflect on temperance and prudence might have saved me no end of trouble.

Peter Temes is president of the Great Books Foundation and author of the forthcoming book Against School Reform (Ivan R. Dee).

Mike Pride

Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain's memoir of World War I. This book gives a clear-eyed view of romantic young hopes dashed by the realities of the world. Had I read it as a teen-ager, it would have tempered my Audie Murphy-fed belief in American invincibility.

Mike Pride is in his 25th year at the Concord Monitor, where he has been editor since 1983. He is a former Nieman Fellow, a member of the Pultizer Prize board and co-author with Mark Travis of My Brave Boys: To War with Colonel Cross and the Fighting Fifth. This summer, he is going with his wife and one of their sons on a fourth tour of World War I Western Front battlefields.

Clarinda Harriss

Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun. I'm sorry I didn't know about it until I was pushing 30; a teen-ager (one of my students) insisted I read it. The novel has been around since WWI, though it reads as if it were written many wars later. What a superb, profound and profoundly unsettling book! Dark as it is, it also contains at least one functional family and the ultimate against-all-odds 'survivor.' I regret I spent close to 30 years without its compelling images in my head, but they're there to stay now.

Clarinda Harriss, chair of the Towson University English Department, has published three collections of poetry and contributed two scholarly works on poetry. Her work appears in many magazines. She edits and directs BrickHouse Books Inc., Maryland's oldest continuously publishing small press.

Victoria Sirota

I wish I had read Nikos Kazantzakis' The Last Temptation of Christ in my late teens. Dealing with Jesus' incarnation in a way that is provocative and courageous, it helps thinking souls grapple with Christ's dual nature, his humanity and his divinity. In my late 30s, this book helped bring me back to a living faith.

The Rev. Victoria R. Sirota, national chaplain of the American Guild of Organists, is currently Vicar of Church of the Holy Nativity (Episcopal) in Baltimore. She recently received the 2002 Ecumenical Service Award from the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council and The Newington-Cropsey Foundation Fourth Annual Award for Excellence in the Arts.

Paul McHugh

Huckleberry Finn, hands down. As a thoughtless teen, I was looking for another Tom Sawyer adventure and thus missed this chance to grasp how Americans, because of their willingness to combine principles learned from experience and from revelation, wake to reality and commit to change.

Dr. Paul McHugh, a patriotic psychiatrist, is distinguished service professor of psychiatry, and former psychiatrist-in-chief, of Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. He is a member of the Presidential Council on Bioethics. With Dr. Phillip R. Slavney, he wrote The Perspectives of Psychiatry, a standard text.

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