Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Times They Are a-Changing

washingtonpost.com:  In 1969, when Alice Echols went to college, everybody she knew was reading "Soul on Ice," Eldridge Cleaver's new collection of essays. For Echols, who now teaches a course on the '60s at the University of Southern California, that psychedelic time was filled with "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," "The Golden Notebook," the poetry of Sylvia Plath and the erotic diaries of Ana├»s Nin.

Forty years later, on today's college campuses, you're more likely to hear a werewolf howl than Allen Ginsberg, and Nin's transgressive sexuality has been replaced by the fervent chastity of Bella Swan, the teenage heroine of Stephenie Meyer's modern gothic "Twilight" series. It's as though somebody stole Abbie Hoffman's book -- and a whole generation of radical lit along with it.

Last year Meyer sold more books than any other author -- 22 million -- and those copies weren't all bought by middle-schoolers. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the best-selling titles on college campuses are mostly about hunky vampires or Barack Obama. Recently, Meyer and the president held six of the 10 top spots. In January, the most subversive book on the college bestseller list was "Our Dumb World," a collection of gags from the Onion. The top title that month was "The Tales of Beedle the Bard" by J.K. Rowling. College kids' favorite nonfiction book was Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers," about what makes successful individuals. And the only title that stakes a claim as a real novel for adults was Khaled Hosseini's "A Thousand Splendid Suns," the choice of a million splendid book clubs.

Here we have a generation of young adults away from home for the first time, free to enjoy the most experimental period of their lives, yet they're choosing books like 13-year-old girls -- or their parents. The only specter haunting the groves of American academe seems to be suburban contentment.

6 comments:

mike doran said...

I'll tell you when I knew that times had changed: it was early in 1992, the day that Eldridge Cleaver appeared on TO TELL THE TRUTH with two impostors and stumped the celebrity panel. Well, three out of four - Orson Bean recognized Cleaver from his New York days ("I'd know that kisser anywhere") and disqualified himself. The other panelists - Kitty Carlisle, Robin Leach, and (I think - I might be wrong) Cindy Adams - all picked wrong. I believe I still have this one on tape...

Bill Crider said...

Must be a classic, all right.

Gerard said...

Here we have a generation of young adults away from home for the first time, free to enjoy the most experimental period of their lives, yet they're choosing books like 13-year-old girls

Give me a freaking break.

Fred Blosser said...

The campus bestseller lists of the time also included such groaners as LOVE STORY, JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL, and THE GREENING OF AMERICA, so things probably haven't gone downhill all that much.

Gerard said...

Exactly my point. People enjoy reading crappy books as well as good books.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I recall a lot of people reading The Prophet. I never did.