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Thursday, September 25, 2008

When books could change your life: why what we pore over at 12 may be the most important reading we ever do. Via MeFi.

There is a kind of no man's land in the literary landscape that can't be called "children's" or "young adult"--it's recognized as serious literature, if a little patronizingly, by the adult world--but which has a specific and perennial appeal to adolescents. I'm thinking here of writers such as J.D. Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut Jr., those staples of the college dorm. We reserve a special reverence for these authors that is qualitatively different from the respect, even awe, we feel for undeniably great writers like Toni Morrison or Cormac McCarthy--it's less rational or open to critical discussion. The reaction to revelations of the usual mundane human failings in recent biographies of figures beloved from childhood, such as Ray Bradbury or Charles Schulz, has been not just the surprise or sad worldly shrug we might expect but hostility and denial--a sense that we ought not to have been told such things, as if we'd been told once more that Santa Claus wasn't real or Shoeless Joe threw the series. And Joyce Maynard and Margaret Salinger's troubling memoirs about Salinger--we didn't want to know. Salinger and Vonnegut both give voice to the adolescent passion for justice, their dogmatic, almost fanatical, fairness and decency, and their blooming disgust at the epiphany that the world adults are foisting on them is neither fair nor decent.