[ilds] 1957 novels

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Tue Aug 7 06:17:03 PDT 2007

On 8/7/2007 8:38 AM, Marc Piel wrote:
> Surely little has changed???
In some ways, yes; in some ways, no.

One significant change:  The very idea that a young person would use a 
_book _as a self-conscious emblem of difference or of belonging has 

That is, in a certain moment, merely to be seen reading Durrell's 
/Justine /or Kerouac's /On the Road/ or Ginsberg's /Howl /(or Camus, 
Sartre, &c. &c.) would allow others to recognize that a certain sort of 
book makes for a certain sort of person.

For example, consider how book signify in the following lyrics, written 
by one of the poets of my home state:

    I first ran into Stoney. . . it was a bar downtown;
    Was Richmond, Virginia. . . we were bumming around,
    Suitcase to suitcase. . . we started him talking,
    Finding out about the things we've shared in the miles we've been.

    He had *a gray pillowcase full of books by Durrell,*
    And he had this old concertina, all beat up and she played like hell,
    Until you got him started singing those Gospel songs,
    Well, he drank all night for nothing, he told his stories till dawn.

Just with that one gloss, we feel we know quite a bit about that 
friendly-looking stranger walking up to the bar.  A man of mystery, 
adventure, travel, and stories.  (Some on the list will know even more!)

Or consider the way books and authors stand out in the following late 
1950s Paris scene penned by Cortázar:

    Surrounded by boys in baggy sweaters and delightfully funky girls in
    the smoke of the cafés-crème of Saint-Germain-des-Prés who read
    *Durrell, Beauvoir, Duras, Douassot, Queneau, Sarraute*, here I am a
    Frenchified Argentinian (horror of horrors), already beyond the
    adolescent vogue, the cool, with an /Etous-vous fous/? of René
    Crevel anachronistically in my hands, with the whole body of
    surrealism in my memory, with the mark of Antonin Artaud in my
    pelvis, with the Ionisations of Edgard Varèse in my ears, with
    Picasso in my eyes (but I seem to be a Mondrian, at least that's
    what I've been told).

In America, at least, I think that young people no longer have that 
degree of interest or ability to use "/that Book/" as a sign of 
recognition.  Even at university, I think, the iPods &c. have replaced 
the Significant Well-Thumbed Paper-Back.  Times change. 

I exaggerate quite a bit.  I spoke last semester with a student who 
surprised me greatly when she said that Hardy and Dostoevsky were her 
private, personal readings of choice.  She was earnest; I could 
understand her sincerity because she said these books only made her all 
the more lonely around her peer-group, who do everything but read.  I 
was surprised because I rarely get the sense, even from very good 
English majors, that passionate reading is cultivated and fostered by 
youth individually or communally.  Although it perhaps happened in the 
past and no doubt happens still in small select groups in small select 
locales (Burlington, Boulder, Berkeley, Portland, Madison, Austin, 
Charlottesville, Union Square Park, &c.), I have difficulty imagining 
most young Americans getting together to drink away the night and 
discuss books in the way that I have experienced that.  No doubt they 
never really did.  Cf. Oedipa Maas in Pynchon's /Lot 49/.

Yet it could perhaps happen online in web communities that breakdown the 
distances between readers.  Thus the ILDS listserv.

Now in London &c., it may be different.  But I think that Londoners on 
the train do not pick up their paperbacks or papers in order to be 
seen.  Rather that reading is a protective screening from the general 
press.  If only the Tube had enough elbow space these days to hold a 
paperback for reading.

I will look forward to the anecdotes.


Charles L. Sligh
Department of English
Wake Forest University
slighcl at wfu.edu

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