Books Every Boy Should Read

I distinctly remember being in elementary school and only reading a select few books. There’s always the few books schools would assign, the ones that tested your reading comprehension, but none of those were as interesting as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles books my mom would buy me. I don’t remember much else from those years other than that I knew everything Tolkein like the back of my hand, and I don’t remember even understanding them, but definitely chugging through the Lord Of the Rings.

That point being that the time when a boy leaves elementary school and goes on to enter middle school is an odd transition period, in many ways more awkward than the transition to high school. Middle school is distinct in that the kids never even raised the question of finding themselves before, and suddenly they are thrust into the entire matter. It is their first taste of drama, their first glimpse into adulthood and freedom and all the misery that comes with it. By no means are they adults by this age, but simply they have the aspires to be adults by this age and that’s what counts the most. Some would argue that children seem to be growing up faster, and, whether true or not, presses this issue of adulthood even further.

There is a definite reason why parents should want their children to choose idols that aren’t themselves: and that’s simply because young teens don’t really like their parents. Everyone remembers that phase in adolescence when they felt like their parents were the most cruel oppressors in the world, forcing them to turn to someone else. The most parents can do is to help guide their children to the right role models while their children silently reject them.

The following are a few books I wished I would have received when I was younger, just so I could have skipped the whole angsty self-fulfillment stage of my life that is so prevalent in young boys.

  • Call of the Wild: Jack London’s naturalist story of survival seems like an obvious choice. At first boys are enthralled at the idea of reading about wolves fighting to the death, but then it’s inevitable they discover something more in the story. While London’s story is a short one, it is a story that reveals simple truths about life, as exemplified through the rough reaches of nature and what London calls the “Law of Club and Fang.” But even though this story may be a little harsh for some people, it is one that is not only exciting but wise.
  • Meditations: Marcus Aurelius, one of the most admired ancient Roman Emperors, spent much of his life on the front lines of war. With much of the Empire ravaged by disease (taking the life of Marcus’s brother in the process) the Germanic tribes began to push in attempts to claim land from Rome. Aurelius also suffered from a stomach ulcer. Despite all this, Marcus Aurelius would write reflections to himself in his tent at night to keep his virtue. Although never meant to be published, his Meditations discuss what it means to be a man, a citizen, a happy person, and a stoic being. Though the stoic philosophy of Aurelius might be hard to grasp for some young men, it will quickly be absorbed into the most useful information a young man could ever receive.
  • Catcher In the Rye: It seems like most people either love or hate this book, with good reason too. The main character Holden is whiny, obnoxious, arrogant, and pretentious. This is what makes him so relatable. Holden’s trek through life represents that seminal coming of age story that we’ve come to love. The very fact that a young man can relate to him causes them to rethink themselves. Not only does it represent the young man, it represents the young man’s first taste of freedom, something that many around that age begin to experience for the first time.

Looking back on it I wished I hadn’t read so many Tom Clancy books in middle school, I’m not sure what effects that had on my young psyche. But I wish I had taken an interest in the topics mentioned above much sooner. The first thing people will argue is that the works I listed are too mature for young boys, and I would absolutely agree with them. But the works mentioned above are works that make the boys mature enough to grasp them, that’s part of their charm.

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35 thoughts on “Books Every Boy Should Read

  1. Questions of canon are always worth considering. I do have to wonder about the universalization of such experiences as reported by London, the Emperor, and Salinger, though–as well as what that universalization excludes. For there are surely other experiences that they do *not* treat, but that are pervasive no less.

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    • I hope this didn’t offend you in any way, since I’m a guy I targeted the article towards boys because that’s what I know better. I’ll be the first to admit I can be ignorant about younger girls, so I wasn’t as confident to what they would read.

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      • Thank you for not speaking for women . It gets really tiresome to have men telling us what we need and there doesn’t seem to be very many men who look at what’s wrong with their own upbringing and their own culture . One of the things that really upsets me is that adult men seem to have a fear of teenagers and they have abdicated all of their role as mentors . That adult men are afraid of teenage boys makes me as a woman even more afraid of them actually because what do men know about teenage boys that makes them afraid of them? However being an adult woman I personally feel like there’s nothing more frightening than a 13-year-old girl having been one LOL. I actually have a post about an organization that works to make sure that there is diversity in books especially for young adults including gay and people with different color skins then white pink. A writer friend of mine Ceredwyn Alexander turned me onto this group
        “We need diverse books” with a large data base of diverse books, including characters were disabled . It’s all about promoting books that represent the real world and the many different voices in it . They also help writers who write diverse books. I also spent a lot of time in comic book land , especially between ages nine and 12 . I was into the defenders because none of them fit in anywhere and they weren’t even a team and also the X-Men and this was around the dark Phoenix and kitty pride entrance era . I’ve heard that a lot of people really could relate to the X-Men especially , and I’ve heard that for a lot of gay teenagers they could really relate because of the changes happening at puberty and being hated by society and that nightcrawler help some kids who were very visibly disabled . I credit reading comic books in elementary school with why I did not kill myself literally . I would pretend that the school was Emma Frost Academy and I was undercover so no matter how bad it was I knew that there was Professor Xavier somewhere making sure I’ll be okay . As I’ve grown up I’m amazed at how many people develop familiar scenarios . I think it’s really telling when a comic book about mutants who are hated just because they’re different got so many young people through our education system . I haven’t read any Harry Potter books but I wonder if that’s the appeal there to .

        http://weneeddiversebooks.org/

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      • I agree. My point was that the books you selected were kind of stereotypical to what boys would like. Maybe I am just too picky and I tend to point out small details. I know that you said you don’t know about what girls would like, but how do you know boys would like them either? It just seems stereotypical to me. I didn’t mean to offend you, so I hope you don’t get angry. I have read one of those books and I loved it, and I believe both males and females would love it equally. Why do we need to label books as male or female?

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  2. Good piece. I think that the line, quote: “Holden’s trek through life represents that Seminole coming of age story that we’ve come to love.” should probably read: “seminal coming of age,” not Seminole – an American Indian tribe.

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  3. I have a son and when he reaches this difficult age, I shall prescribe these to him. I will ‘discreetly’ leave them in his room, maybe even fake a note handwritten by the girl he has a crush on so he’ll actually read it. Thank you.

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  4. Being a recluse even at the young age of elementary school, I spent many hours at the library. This was Houston, early sixties, air conditioning was confoned to small window units that prompted parents to constantly be yelling, “Turn the AC off. Electricity is too expensive to waste!” So in the cool of the library, away from people, I littered the aisles with books I pulled out. Sports biographies was huge then, Baseball was still the quintessential American game. Koufax. Drysdale. Gibson. Flood. Mays. Marichal. You culd almost believe they played cause they loved the game, staying with teams forever. My other joy was reading Tom Swift books. I was a geek even back then. And being a serial, the books never ran out. It was science as saviour. No downside. Science conquered anything and always for the good.

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  5. A very interesting short list. Ironically, my father wouldn’t let me read Catcher in the Rye as a teenager – such is the power of the word. I guess he was worried I could turn in the wrong direction, but I don’t know whether that tells me more about his psyche than he guessed of mine…

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  6. Call of the Wild and Catcher in the Rye came along in high school for me. I am not sure how well I would have understood them at an earlier age. I have not read Meditations. I would add A Separate Peace. Although I did not read it until college, and I do not think it was assigned, it says a lot about young friendships and I wish I had found it sooner.

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  7. Call of the Wild I was first exposed to in it’s movie form and it mesmerized me. It was already on the list of books I would like my son (almost 10) to read. Though young, he is already dealing with so many of the issues and transformations you discussed here. Sounds like Cather in the Rye’s Holden might be an eye opener for him, though, as he has developed a certain strain of hubris that I find concerning.

    Thank you for sharing your list. It has brought some very interesting questions to mind.

    Also, thank you for stopping by my blog. I hope you enjoyed the piece.

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  8. I’m 2 for 3 😉 Call of the Wild made a strong impression on me as a child, and I remember well the way that The Catcher in the Rye evoked dislike and contempt (at least in my case) for Holden Caufield. Nice post!

    Lily

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  9. I remember reading the Tolkien books, I think they helped me develop visualization skills for my imagination. The books I enjoyed most and I’m not sure they still make them are the ones with alternate endings. “Turn to page 180 if you want Jack to knock Rose off the door. Turn to 126, if you think Rose should try and move over to make room for Jack.” You can read the same book 3 or 4 times and it was always an interesting read. You had the choice all throughout the book to decide what page to turn to and you would experience the adventure with the characters..

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  10. I hope you still read the Tolkien books: he is a greater writer than we (English) have acknowledged until very recently. LOTR is so many-layered we read it aloud every winter! I don’t know those American books you mention except by repute, but they read Catcher recently on the radio – it sounded a bit weird, possibly intereasting … you have some really good writers esp. women!

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  11. Wonderful! You’ve got me thinking about reading lists for young people now.

    My son, who is now almost 31, refused to read most of the wonderful books you’ve mentioned (and all the other books in school), but he did read all of Tolkien over and over, which is OK. Now that he’s grown, he’s discovered that damn, those Middle School books are really good! So now he’s reading them.

    Thanks for checking in on my blog, and I hope you will share the video on Cook County Jail and the crisis in mental health services, which affects our whole country.

    Many men and women arrive in the “justice system” illiterate, having fallen through the cracks of the public school system because of lack of support systems at home and in the community. I think that learning to read is one key to keeping kids engaged and giving them positive role models and hope and goals.

    If I could add one book to your reading list, it’s “To Kill A Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee. What boy wouldn’t want to grow up to be like Atticus Finch, a white lawyer who was strong enough to risk his life and his family to save a destitute b black

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    • Sorry hit the wrong button 😆
      ….to save an innocent black man from a lynch mob? And what young girl wouldn’t want to grow up to be Atticus’ brave daughter, who was right there by his side (at age seven), calling out the members of that mob who were ready to kill her father?

      There is freedom in books.

      Strong work!

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  12. Interesting POV and choice of books. I find it fascinating that you would choose “Meditations” for teen boys, because that is quite profound. Marcus Aurelius is prominently featured in my novel “Zenobia”, so I have to agree completely. “Call of the Wild” is actually the same sort of philosophy, only much more simplistic. Oh, and thanks for liking my blog on The Donald. Cheers.

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  13. Great writing and very insightful. I read Call of the Wild in middle school and I think even for young girls it’s a great coming of age novel. I think I want to read it now that I’m older.

    Looking forward to reading more of your posts!

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  14. This is a great list — and while I tell kids in the library that there are no “boy” or “girl” books — only more to enjoy — boys tend to be a tougher market. Running middle grade/high school book clubs, I’ve discovered that girls will read most anything, while boys need a little more coaxing. 2 adventure stories I would include would be “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen & “Peak” by Roland Smith — both work for both genders, and really shone for reluctant readers `

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  15. My own recommendations are partly based on what I liked to read as a boy, partly on books that had a lasting impact on my thinking.
    1. The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings. It’s hard to overestimate the impact these books have had. Tolkien has deep insights into human nature and the driving forces behind western culture.
    2. Dune/Children of Dune/Dune Messiah. Fantastic science fiction combined with valuable insights into the nature of humanity (the ability of humans to endure pain, for example).
    3. The Hollow Man. Dan Simmons is better known for his Hyperion novels, but the Hollow Man, with its exploration of love, loss, and the nature of reality, had much more impact on me.
    4. The Lathe of Heaven. Again, Ursula Le Guin is better known for her book The Left Hand of Darkness and the Earthsea trilogy, but the Lathe of Heaven is the one that delves deepest into the nature of reality.
    I should probably write my own post on the Jumbler on this topic. Thanks!

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  16. Call of the Wild was absolutely awesome. I read it at 12, and saw myself often as Buck. Absolutely one of my childhood favorites.

    I was forced to read J.D. Salinger in high school. Partly for that reason, but mainly because I found Holden to be despicable and loathsome, I absolutely hated the book. It took me another 20 years before I was willing to pick it up again. I still have trouble staring Holden in the face, but at least I can see now why the book is so important.

    The Greek classics were never required reading when/where I was in school. They weren’t even referenced. I suppose, in the 70s/80s, it was considered too “old man” to appreciate them. I found this sad, when later on in my mid-20’s I discovered an entire world of thought I never even knew existed. My favorites happen to be Aristotle and Epicurus.

    Here are a few additional suggestions for your list of must-reads for tween boys:

    * Ray Bradbury – The Illustrated Man
    * Harper Lee – To Kill A Mockingbird
    * George Orwell – Animal Farm
    * John Steinbeck – The Red Pony

    These titles offer a nice mix of ideas and situations that encourage empathy and self-reflection, opportunities to think about your place in the world, and grounds to begin formulating your own opinions about life and society.

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