There’s something about books that makes them scarier than movies or music. It’s because those other forms of media can be blown off as trash to a certain extent, due in part to the corporate apparatuses that exist behind them. Trying to rebel with rock music? You’re just paying some suit’s mortgage. But books are still considered high art, both engrossing and intellectual, appearing to our better selves. A book doesn’t just inspire dangerous feelings, it inspires dangerous thoughts, and those are where true darkness lies. Nothing’s worse than a Nazi who went to Harvard.
The thing is, teenagers realize this, which makes these pieces of forbidden fruit all the sweeter. I liked the worrisome literature I read as kid, but sometimes I liked being seen on the subway reading those books, or quoting them in English class, even more than I liked the books themselves. That’s because I was a troublesome teenager who enjoyed throwing incendiary ideas at people and challenging their understandings of who I am. If you’re interested in this blog, you might feel the same way.
So if you’re a teenager who wants to scandalize those around you, here are five books that will worry your average parent.* Thankfully, a couple of them are really good, too!
Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov – Ah, Lolita, the timeless love story about a middle-aged man who finds himself smitten with his twelve-year-old stepdaughter. While a beautiful piece of writing, Nabakov’s most famous novel is also an explanation of the sometimes-unseemly workings of the heart, and, for many, a lengthy explanation as to why it’s okay to be attracted to someone much older and younger than you. As such, parents who see their teenagers reading it will worry that they’ve become awakened to the normalcy of sexual fetishes; specifically, the parents of young girls will worry that their daughters are about to bring home their forty-something-year-old professors ones of these days.
The Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor LaVey – For years, LaVey’s Satanic Bible has terrified religious parents who think that their kids are becoming servants of darkness while simultaneously disappointing kids looking for real Satanism and finding only a book on how to be a rude hippie. At the end of the day, the slim volume is nothing more than a philosophical treatise that deeply demeans the church, but that didn’t stop Ol’ Anton from giving it a jet-black cover with a red Sigil of Baphomet on it. Though not quite as terrifying as its predecessor, The Satanic Rituals also does nicely, illustrating to the world that you’re not just interested in the Devil, you’re also interested in actively worshipping him.
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – In many ways, Marx and Engel’s famous pamphlet about how societal sharing is societal caring is far more upsetting to parents than the other books on this list. This is because it’s political, and therefore mentally- rather than emotionally-charged, and also because American society has taught us that Communism is a parasitic philosophy that manages to worm its way into even the most hardened and well-educated hearts. Sadly, many versions of the text have very academic covers that would need serious scrutiny to be recognized across a cafeteria, so make sure you get the one pictured here to let the people around you know to come to your poetry recital or else.
Justine by the Marquis de Sade – Few people know how much of de Sade’s writings were about cultural philosophy, or how few of the perversions described therein he actually perpetrated. But who cares? This is about blowing minds (and clergymen, according to this book), and no name is more synonymous with perversion than the Marquis’s. Not only is Justine widely acknowledged as one of the earliest 50 Shades books, it’s also filled with all the vicious sex-crazed antics that everyone claims it is. Not only can you upset your family and teachers with this book, you can also sweat wide-eyed to it and hope no one else on the bus can see what you’re reading. Happy frotting!
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis – The most modern entry on our list is a rare case of a book being aided by its film adaptation. Plenty of people who have never read American Psycho have watched a raincoat-clad Christian Bale brutally hack Jared Leto to pieces, so they know the story is filled with serious violence. But as we’ve mentioned earlier, it is automatically assumed that books, being for “smart people”, are more psychologically powerful and darkly serious than movies, and contain all the material that ended up on the cutting room floor to avoid an NC-17 rating. Thus, people assume that the murder and horror of the film must be portrayed in the book in a more poetic and inspirational way, driving the reader to become deeply obsessed with it. Plus, it never hurts for people to see you reading something with ‘PSYCHO’ on the cover.
*You’ll notice an obvious omission from this list, which is Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler. I’ve decided not to include it for a number of reasons. First, I’ve never read it and therefore don’t think I can speak to its merits or flaws. Second, obviously, fuck that dude. But third, Mein Kampf is such an OBVIOUS cry for help and warning sign that it seems to negate its dramatic power from the get-go. Any parent who sees their kid reading Mein Kampf should either actually be worried, or should know that their kid is acting out. This, of course, assumes there are good parents we’re talking about here.