Isn’t it always just perfect when two books you are reading speak to one another? This week I’ve been reading On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (which I adored – review to come tomorrow) and Teenage: The Prehistory of Youth Culture 1875-1945. One of the things that I know I have taken for granted over my lifetime is that the concept of youth and being a teenager is something that it is a relatively new contribution of Western society. How fitting that the two books I randomly chose to read this week dealt with this concept. I love the combination of a non-fiction history book and a novel about the same topic.
In On Chesil Beach, there are several quotes that so perfectly address this state of in-between that had yet to be named. Here are a few examples:
Almost strangers, they stood, strangely together, on a new pinnacle of existence, gleeful that their new status promised to promote them out of their endless youth – Edward and Florence, free at last!
The term “teenager” had not long been invented, and it never occurred to him that the separateness he felt, which was both painful and delicious, could be shared by anyone else.
It was in theory open to them to abandon their plates, seize the wine bottle by the neck and run down to the shore and kick their shoes off and exult in their liberty. There was no one in the hotel who would have wanted to stop them. They were adults at last, on holiday, free to do as they chose. In just a few years’ time, that would be the kind of thing quite ordinary young people would do. But for now, the times held them. Even when Edward and Florence were alone, a thousand unacknowledged rules still applied. It was precisely because they were adults that they did not do childish things like walk away from a meal that others had taken pains to prepare. It was dinnertime, after all. And being childlike as not yet honorable, or in fashion.
As someone who grew up when being young is known as the best time of your life, this idea is wholly alien to me, but not entirely repellent. Now that I’m leaving being a teenager behind, I find that my friends are dreading what comes next, that each year brings us closer to something resembling responsibility and adulthood. I wish there was something in between that both exalted our youth, relished in middle age, and respected old age. In any case, I’m excited to continue reading Teenage, a book that discusses this transformation of youth from something you grew out of into something desirable.
As Savage claims in his introduction:
This book, therefore, tells the history of the quest, pursued over two different continents and over half a century, to conceptualize, define and control adolescence. Apart from the dialogue between American, Britain, France and Germany, it contains several different elements that encapsulate the tension between the fantasy and the reality of adolescence, and between the many varied attempts to exalt or to capture this fugitive and transitory state. (xviii)
Teenage is already adding books to my TBR, like the diaries of Marie Bashkirtseff. I might have to keep On Chesil Beach out from the library just a little bit longer to see if I can understand the lives of Florence and Edward even more after finishing Teenage.
Any happy book connections in your reading lately?