Over at the Guardian’s Books blog, Philip Hall is remembering the books that meant a great deal to teenagers of his generation. He’s thinking of books that weren’t just popular, but were intellectual touchstones for smart young people — books like Catch-22 and Siddhartha and Slaughterhouse-Five. (I don't know how old Philip Hall is, but most of those books were on the unofficial lists of my intellectual friends, so we’re probably in the same generation.) It’s interesting, by the way, how many of them are American novels. And he’s wondering what those books are for the current generation of young people.
His commenters aren't giving him much help (so far, anyway). I’m inclined to say that they can't give him much help because there aren't any books that function that way for today’s adolescents in the U.S. and U.K. It’s not that young people aren't reading — though the evidence on that point is inconsistent — and in any case we’re talking about the smarter, more thoughtful, more questioning ones. Rather, I suspect that even very bright young people aren't using books to orient themselves ethically and politically to the world. At least not in ways that I can see. But if they’re not using books for orientation, what are they using?