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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

AB4T First Encounters: Grocery Store Novels

In our continuing series on the first adult books we read as teens, reviewer Jamie Watson talks about the limited access she had to adult novels:

When did I start reading adult books? I’ve thought about this question before, because I’ve used it as in icebreaker in workshops before. Especially in the “OMG the GOSSIP GIRL SERIES IS THE END OF CIVILIZATION!” panic of 10 years ago or so. Almost everyone my age read Flowers in the Attic as teenagers. In fact, so many people did that when I talk about it, people often assume it was a teen book. 

My reading tended towards the most popular, best selling stuff, which in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s was Mary Higgins Clark, Danielle Steel, John Saul, and my still beloved Judith Krantz.  But why? Was I just not a very adventurous reader yet? Also I read nothing but mass market fiction. Why? Was it price, or something else? I think, what it came down to, to use a more contemporary term, was “discovery.” I honestly can’t remember buying books anywhere  but 

  1. The Scholastic Book Fair
  2. The grocery store.
  3. Hart’s, the late ‘70s “Target” of the Midwest.

Ok, maybe Rite-Aid. But you see where I’m going with this. In my small Ohio town, there WERE NO BOOKSTORES until we got a mall in 1980. Then we got a Waldenbooks. (Or maybe a B. Dalton. I can’t remember!) So, I read what was available in the grocery store – which is pretty much what’s available in the grocery store today. We had a newsstand, where we would buy Archie Comics digests, but no bookstore.

I know I used the library, but I don’t think I thought of it as a place for pleasure reading until I was older.  The only book I can remember checking out was Tom Tryon’s The Other because I saw the creepy movie on tv and wanted to read the book.

It certainly begs the question of what kind of a reader I would be as a teenager today, with everything I could imagine at my fingertips.  Would I have managed to get my hands on 50 Shades of Grey?

Anyway, back to the books.

Danielle Steel’s The Promise. Oh, how maudlin. A young couple are in a car crash. The male is comatose, and the female has appearance-altering plastic surgery. The woman’s mother creates an outlandish plot to keep them apart, but of course, they find each other later and tears ensue. This was followed by the equally maudlin Season of Passion about a football player and his lover. I haven’t read a Danielle Steel book since I got out of high school, and I, like those Flowers in the Attic readers, think of Steel as a writer of YA books!

John Saul wrote REALLY gruesome horror novels. The first, Suffer the Children featured the mean, evil child murderer masturbating with the corpse of a cat! Still traumatizing to this day. The second, which I liked a lot better, was Punish the Sinners, about girls in a Catholic school committing suicide.

And Judith Krantz. She didn’t write many, but they arguably set the tone of 80’s pop culture – and beyond.  Dynasty, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, all the way up to Sex and the City, owe a debt to Ms. Krantz, I believe.

Oh and in the summers, I also dug around in my Mom’s closet, where I discovered Marjorie Morningstar and Valley of the Dolls.  Knowing my love of Judith Krantz, it probably won’t surprise you that I loved them both.

About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is the Young Adult Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA. He reviews for a variety of library journals and blogs and recently contributed a chapter to The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation (YALSA, 2012). Contact him via Twitter @droogmark


  1. Similar situation here–no bookstores, unless you count a drugstore that also sold Christian books. I ended up digging through my mom’s books that she must have purchased in college. End result: Walk Across America, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Thorn Birds, etc. I still have her copy of Nicholas and Alexandria, which kicked off my obsession for “all things Russian.”

  2. Kaite Stover says

    You listed all of the books I read when I was a teen! John Saul and Judith Krantz and Flowers in the Attic! I remember all of those. John Saul is still one of the best horror writers out there. I haven’t run into anything creepier than Suffer the Children of When the Wind Blows. Not even Stephen King scared me the way Saul did.

    And I’m a die-hard Judith Krantz fan. Her contemporary rags riches glitz ‘n bitches books were the epitome of late 70s early 80s culture.
    Who could forget the Scholastic Book Fair? There were days when I thought it didn’t come often enough to my school.
    Thanks for the trip down reading-memory lane.