Here are five books that blew my mind when I was a teenager, even these days I might roll my eyes at you for reading some of them, or at least subject you to a heated (but totally astute and relevant) critique.
No Logo by Naomi Klein
I read No Logo because I read an interview with Thom Yorke in NME and he said it had changed his life. Well, it changed my life too, and reinforced all these things I’d already suspected, like that capitalism is bad. Naomi Klein gave me concrete reasons to hate corporations. Like the murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa, or the sweatshops in free trade zones. She made all this economics jargon like ‘free trade’ and ‘neo-liberalism’ simple enough that I could understand why I was against it.
More importantly she made me excited about activism. She made me think that I could change the things I didn’t like about the world, and that there were all these people out there who would change it with me.
Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut was my best friend when I was in high school. He was funny and sarcastic and always made really astute points about human nature, but without being cruel. Reading his books made me feel righteous and cultured and alienated, instead of just regular alienated. Bluebeard probably isn’t his best book, but it was the first one I ever read, after I stole it from my dad. I think I liked it coz it fitted in with all these vague political ideas I had about feminism and war and racism. Vonnegut touched on all these things in a way that wasn’t dogmatic or intimidatingly serious.
The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
OK, so who doesn’t hate Naomi Wolf? Especially after her bizarre defense of celebrity rapist Julian Assange. What the fuck was going on there?
But The Beauty Myth meant so much to me when I was seventeen, because I’d always felt so insecure about my body, but I was also feminist enough to know that I shouldn’t care what I look like, which just meant that as well as being insecure I also got to feel guilty for being insecure. Naomi Wolf changed that. Instead of feeling guilty, she taught me to feel angry that I was insecure about my body. Really she taught me to recognize the structural causes of my problems, which is probably the most important political lesson anyone’s ever taught me.
The Hite Report by Shere Hite
Shere Hite filled in the grand canyon sized gaps left in my knowledge after high school sex ed. She taught me all about my clitoris (starting with the fact that it existed), and what my sexual anatomy looked like on the inside, and how much my female bits resembled male bits which just proved how much we weren’t different. She taught me all about female orgasms (starting with the fact that they existed) and how they happen and how different women experience them.
She also massively improved my masturbation technique. I tried to share this new knowledge with my boyfriend at the time, who got really freaked out that I was ‘learning to pleasure’ myself because it meant I was a lesbian.
The Window by Dahlia Ravikovitch
Dahlia Ravikovitch made me want to write poetry more than I wanted to kill myself. So probably she saved my life. Her poems made angst so lyrical. They were full of loneliness and depression and alienation, but also of really tactile imagery, which drew on Jewish and Israeli themes. Like when she writes about dying like Rachel, with Jacob sitting beside her. Or when she writes about the IDF letting children be massacred at Sabra and Shatila, while the moon turns into a loaf of gold. I think part of the reason that her poems resonated with me so much was that she used images that none of my friends could understand. It was like we had our own secret language. The language of migrants who are alienated from every society.