I’ve just read an interesting piece on the Guardian book blog page, asking: ‘Which Book Marked Your Transition from Child to Adult?’
It includes books that its readers have nominated as the key novels that helped them in their transition from children’s to adult literature. The five most-cited appear to be:
– Animal Farm, by George Orwell
– The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
– The works of JRR Tolkien
– The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger
– Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
All of these are classic texts, and come as no surprise. I wonder, though, what the list will look like in ten or twenty years’ time, when today’s pre-teens and teens discuss their choice? I feel that people my sort of age did not have such a choice of young adult books – we had to move straight from the cosier world of younger fiction written by the likes of Enid Blyton, for example, into adult literature (I remember reading Agatha Christie, in particular). Nowadays, there is a burgeoning young adult market catering for teen angst, a desire for dystopia, and romance amongst opposites and the undead. It is so popular that, in an ironic twist of fate, the crossover between young adult and adult literature is operating in reverse, with adults picking up books aimed at teens.
While I cannot quite remember ‘the’ book that marked my changeover, I think it might have been Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, which I read when I was around 14 or 15. I saw it in the school library and it looked so compelling, unlike anything I had ever read before. In case you’re not familiar with the plot, Saleem Sinai is born at the exact moment when India gains its independence from the British. He possesses telepathic powers, on the positive side, and an enormous, dripping nose on the other, which is extremely sensitive to smell. As the book progresses, Saleem discovers that all children born between 12am and 1am on that historic day have superpowers and he makes it his mission to gather them all together to discuss their abilities and the state India finds itself in.
What stood out for me was how different it was to anything I had read to date – in characterization, in structure, and in language. As part of the magic realism genre, it played with the traditional plot trajectory and meandered through images, dreams and visions, muddling reality with fantasy. After reading this, I moved on to some of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s works, including Chronicle of a Death Foretold and One Hundred Years of Solitude. Interestingly, I tried reading the works of Jorge Luis Borges while at university but couldn’t get to grips with his type of magic realism and have generally stayed clear of the genre ever since. I wonder whether my fascination with it was enabled by being an adolescent and wanting to see the world in a more chaotic way.
What I’d love to know now is what books will mark the transition from childhood innocence to a more knowing existence for our current children and teens? What books will they be talking about in the future?
What do you think?