thestate.com published this (but it seems to have disappeared since I first wrote a draft of this post several days ago — sorry) and attributed it to AARP, although I can’t find anything about it at that site. Anyway, it’s supposedly books that “defined a generation,” yadda-yadda:
- The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (1951). OK. A model for alienation, which would be big in the 60s. But didn’t it first affect people who were older than boomers?
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960). OK. Again, but… I see this as a timeless American classic, and don’t particularly associate it with boomers. Wouldn’t you agree, Scout?
- Catch-22, by Joseph Heller (1961). ABSOLUTELY. It doesn’t get more definitive than this.
- The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan (1963). I wouldn’t know. If you’re one of the boomers who became a feminist, maybe so.
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley, (1964). Yeah, I think so. It made a big impression on me, I can testify. Although we were assigned to read it in school, which takes off some of the luster. Odd thing, showing the way we thought in those days and at that age: I read this during the 1970-71 school year. And to me, what I was reading was history, tales of the way things were long ago. But some of the later events in the book occurred in the ’60s, I believe. Malcolm X had not died until 1965. But you youngsters should go back and look at pictures of the way people dressed, and the way cars looked, and listen to the music of the time, in 1965. Then do the same for 1971. You’ll see a much, much wider difference than between now and 2008. Or even, say, 1995. The times in which we live are far less dynamic. So much happened that six years was a long time then.
- Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann (1966). NO. I can’t say why, but I think of this as a book that the older generation read at the time, not boomers. I don’t ever remember any of my friends talking about it, but it was out there, and I just thought of it as an old people thing.
- The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe (1969). YES!!! Because, you know, Wolfe would use extra exclamation points. If you had to pick only one boomer book, this might be it. Even though it’s not from a boomer perspective, it puts the era under a microscope and pulls you in doing so.
- The Godfather, by Mario Puzo (1969). Yeah, I think so. I read this the same summer as Catch-22 (that would be 1970). My only doubt is that while it’s a cultural icon of the era — or actually, the movie is — it’s not really about anything that has to do with the time that boomers grew up. Neither was Catch-22, but that helped define a certain ’60s sensibility. Puzo didn’t do that. He was more about posing timeless questions about what happens when we revert from a society of laws to one of men.
- Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach (1970). NO. Did not read it, did not consider reading it for a second, because everything I ever heard about it made me want to run the other way.
- Love Story, by Erich Segal (1970). Oh, God, NO. Went on a double-date in Hawaii to see the Steve Miller Band (in the “Your Saving Grace” phase, before they got all commercial), and it got rained out. So we said, “Let’s go to a movie.” The girls wanted to see the film version of this, so we went. It was as bad as I had imagined, and the emotional manipulation at the end just made me angry. After it was over, the other guy and I had to stand around in the lobby for 20 minutes while the girls cried in the bathroom. And my date was a really cool girl, too, but she succumbed. So I’ve got nothing good to say about this. And no, didn’t read the book. (This and the seagull book occupy their own unsavory category in my mind.)
There are some in the honorable mentions that should have made the list, such as Fahrenheit 451, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, and maybe Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but I’m not sure about the last one, because I didn’t read it. I figured the book couldn’t improve on the title, so why bother? Books that should be on the list:
- Stranger in a Strange Land — This would be right up there with Catch-22 and Acid Test. Maybe more so. A real cult book for a generation — although, as a literary work, not as good as the other two.
- On the Road — Yeah, it’s about guys who were much older than boomers, and is rooted in their cultural references, but this had a big collective impact on us. We saw it as a wellspring of our times. After all, it shared a main character with Acid Test — Neal Cassidy.
- Something by Kurt Vonnegut. I’m not a huge fan of his, but although he wasn’t of the generation (he and my father-in-law both served in the 106th Infantry Division, and were both captured at the Battle of the Bulge), he was definitely an important author for boomers. Maybe Cat’s Cradle, I’m thinking.
- Fahrenheit 451 — Between this and 1984 and other things we read, we tended to eye the future with a certain amount of suspicion. I’d toss Brave New World into that category as well, except that it came out in 1932. I remember a huge debate we had in my English class over whether one would want to live in the world Huxley envisioned. I was shocked by those who said “yes,” and saw nothing wrong with a society given over totally to hedonistic materialism. I argued the other side so strenuously that some people in the class tried to recruit me for the National Forensic League. They wanted me on their debating team. I declined the honor.
- Dune — Maybe. Sci-Fi fans would probably rate it higher than Stranger In a Strange Land, but the Heinlein novel makes the list because it was such a free-love, hippy-dippy cult thing, whereas Dune was not. But it was very popular among Boomers, who were painfully betrayed by David Lynch in 1984.
That’s enough for now. I’m thinking, though, that since this list is so skewed toward things we read when we were kids, maybe there should be a list of books Boomers loved as adults. Say, Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker” series. Or, to return to the Tom Wolfe well, The Right Stuff…