And it had to be real… not like reality TV ‘real’… but real, as in authentic. Yes, it had to be dark and it had to be real.
Which meant it had to be true. More true than the truths teachers and parents were trying to teach. More true than any camera could capture. More true than was good for the young to know.
But what was ‘it’?
‘It’ was big ideas. Ideas we angrily supposed our elders were too complacent to address or teach.
So we turned to books.
Books from Northern Europe, where long dark winters encouraged long dark thoughts. We sought such literature, for it had an edge to it, a bite, and it had the power to transform us into creatures of the night.
Yes, we were to become intellectuals.
We found novels like:
Knut Hamsun’s Hunger – whose protagonist puts art before the necessities of life and works stubbornly to earn his bread by the pen alone, starving in the process.
Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, which pointed out that a bourgeois or suburban existence was, in fact, a living death.
Maxim Gorky’s My Childhood, a horror story so real that we went to bed suddenly thankful for our suburban birth.
Of course, there were casualties; a few went wild for the Marquis de Sade, whose Philosophy of the Boudoir and 120 Days of Sodom left some readers with unsightly facial tics and bizarre sexual practices. Some fell for Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and took to goose-stepping about the place because they didn’t read the antidote to Rand, Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt. And then there were those dullards who preferred Sartre’s Nausea to Camus’ The Outsider!
But on the main this diet of dark reading made us happy, happier than our friends who sought solace in Stephen King or Virginia Andrews. We were happier because our reading made us feel important, active, relevant and because we were being challenged and intellectually stimulated.
Fanciful creatures of the night are immortal, but sadly, the real creatures of the night, teen intellectuals, live but briefly, for just as they begin to burn most brightly they are cut down by toxic adult responsibilities – responsibilities, however, for which they are well prepared.
Ten More Novels To Sink Your Teeth Into
- Lawrence Durrell – The Alexandria Quartet
- Ford Madox Ford – The Good Soldier
- John Fowles – The Magus
- Andre Gide – The Immoralist
- Thomas Hardy – Jude the Obscure
- James Joyce – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
- Thomas Mann – Death in Venice
- Henry Miller – Tropic of Cancer
- George Orwell – Down and Out in Paris and London
- J.D. Salinger – The Catcher in the Rye
- Stendhal – The Red and the Black
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection.