The Generation X Bookshelf: Sweet 16 Must-Haves

Jeff Gordinier's X Saves the WorldGeneration Xers may be perceived in certain circles as tech-savvy slackers who know more about Centipedes than bookworms, but don’t get fooled again: this whip-smart group of now-fortysomethings—who are wedged between the hippies and the hipsters—knows a thing or two about books. Remember: most of their teenage weekends were spent in a library, doing time in detention and brushing up on their literary know-how. Here are 16 totally awesome books that every Gen Xer, like, for sure, needs.

The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band, by Mötley Crüe
The crassest of chronicles about the planet’s wildest band of bad boys, The Dirt tells you everything you never knew you wanted to know about Mötley Crüe. Provocative tales abound of hot women, hard drugs, automatic weapons, rampant arrests, soaring fame, lifelong grudges, and all-around epic-ness. Full of never-before-published photos and jaw-dropping truths, The Dirt will be the bedtime story Gen Xers reach for again and again.

American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis
A compelling, disturbing, and oft-banned novel, American Psycho describes the lavish and horrific life of  highly educated pretty boy Patrick Bateman, who commandeers Wall Street by day and murders innocents by night. Both a chilling social commentary that’s rife with satire as well as an important literary milestone, American Psycho reveals the darkest sides of both humanity and society in the face of material excess.

Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir, by Cyndi Lauper and Jancee Dunn
An essential addition to any Gen X bookshelf, Cyndi Lauper’s memoir tells the story of a life lived fearlessly and in true color. From her Queens kid and IHOP waitress, to Grammy winner and AIDS activist, Cyndi’s story is anything but ordinary, proving once and for all  “she’s so unusual.”

Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now—Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything, by David Sirota
David Sirota’s historical page-turner dissects the pop culture of the Atari Age and shows how a soaring economy, The Karate Kid, and “Just Do It” (among other phenomena) brought America to where it is today—socially, economically, and politically. A wild ride through the Decade of Greed, Back to Our Future forces us to face the Pac-Man ghosts of our past.

The Virgin Suicides: A Novel, by Jeffrey Eugenides
Eugenides’ riveting first novel takes place in 1970s Michigan and deftly captures the hidden morbidity of adolescent suburban life through the story of five sisters’ suicides. Lyrical, cynical, and magical, The Virgin Suicides seems written expressly for the Generation that was never afraid to face the darker side of life.

Speed Solving the Cube: Easy-to-Follow, Step-by-Step Instructions for Many Popular 3-D Puzzles, by Dan Harris
In 2003, the Rubik’s Cube World Championships were reinstated, prompting many Gen Xers to reemerge from the cubing closet and join a new wave of avenging nerds. Full of techniques from basic to advanced, Speed Solving the Cube is the ultimate 3-D puzzler’s manual. Never again will you stoop to removing those stickers!

Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, by Douglas Coupland
This groundbreaking novel, which popularized the Generation X label and gave twentysomethings a voice, tells the story of three disenchanted souls who’ve left meaningless jobs to fantasize about a postapocalyptic society on an asteroid where it is forever 1974. Spot on with Gen X’s trademark irony, apathy, and want for meaning, Coupland brilliantly defines a generation within, and gives voice to those frustrated refugees of the Boomer wasteland.

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, by Eric Schlosser
A detailed history of nuclear weaponry in the United States, Command and Control reads more like an action-thriller than a nonfiction account. Full of near-miss anecdotes and nightmarish events, this highly readable book on nukes will entertain and terrify those who grew up under the big chill of the Cold War.

Richard Corman: Madonna NYC 83, by Richard Corman
A picture book like no other, this collection of Madonna shots by portrait photographer Richard Corman is a testament to not only the incomparable Madge, but also the early years of eighties pop and fashion, as influenced by punk and new wave, as well as a now-lost New York City. A collector’s delight, this visual extravaganza of rare photographs pays homage to the birth of both a decade and a diva.

VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave, by Nina Blackwood, Alan Hunter, Martha Quinn, Mark Goodman, and Gavin Edwards
Nothing defined the 80s better than MTV. And nothing defined MTV like its original VJs: Alan Hunter, Martha Quinn, Mark Goodman, Nina Blackwood, and the late J.J. Jackson. This books serves as an oral history of MTV’s best and earliest years, complete with legendary party stories, secret romances, and how Music Television was nothing short of a second moon landing.

Coreyography: A Memoir, by Corey Feldman
Heartfelt, harrowing, and wholly honest, Feldman’s autobiography expounds on his Hollywood childhood, sparing no details on drug use and sexual abuse or on life after the spotlight. Praised for its straightforward and engrossing style, this memoir is a must-read for all who came of age in the Goonies-and-Gremlins era.

X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking, by Jeff Gordinier
A passionate defense of his generation, this manifesto praises the realism of so-called slackers and argues that Xer’s disillusionment will ultimately save America from its delusion.

Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind, by Gavin Edwards
A piercing look at the unconventional childhood and tragic death of River Phoenix, Last Night at the Viper Room investigates both the excess of the 1980s and the edge of the 1990s, revealing how these two disparate decades shaped not just a generation but an emblematic young man who was poised to shine as its new leading man.

Moonwalk, by Michael Jackson
Moonwalk is the bestselling autobiography of the King of Pop, in which Michael Jackson dishes (tentatively, as you might expect) about his regimented childhood, physical abuse at the hands of his father, plastic surgery, and romantic life. Not completely upfront, but completely M.J., Moonwalk gives voice to a legend lost.

When It Happens to You: A Novel in Stories, by Molly Ringwald
This debut story collection from Brat Pack queen Molly Ringwald is an achingly beautiful anthology that shines with true literary talent. Stories about love, loss, infertility, adultery, and familial fallout are presented here with poetic candor.

Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerney
An excess-soaked read that tackles all-things eighties—New York, cocaine, hedonism, yuppies, even a mannequin obsession—Bright Lights, Big City stands out as one of the decade’s finest novels (and movies). A cautionary tale that reeks of whiskey, romance, and well-timed humor, McInerney’s classic reminds Gen Xers of the very bad good old days.

Bonus read: this February, you can look forward to the release of John Hughes: A Life in Film: The Genius Behind The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Home Alone. No Gen Xer’s list would be complete without a nod to the man who defined teen cool (and epic geekdom) for moviegoers everywhere.

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