Venn Librarian

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Rites of passage

Posted by lpearle on 28 May 2013

It’s prom season (with all that attendant prama) and students are starting to rehearse for various ceremonies (be they called graduation or “moving up” or some other name).  Two weeks ago, I attended the wedding of my oldest nephew, one day after hitting one of those “I’m an adult” milestones.  I’ve also been getting a lot of requests for summer reading ideas – another rite of passage, that gap in schooling or long vacation that people take, and some people even want to read during their time off (gasp!).

In real life, I knew I’d reached one of those passage moments when puberty hit… when my parent’s friends said I could/should call them by their first name (something that today’s children take for granted)… when I moved out of my parent’s house for good, not just for the school year… when I got my first paycheck… bought my first car… bought my house… had the first “age appropriate” medical tests/procedures… moved up a generation (first became an aunt, and then after the last of my grandparents died)… Of course, my passages may differ from yours (some would include graduating from college/graduate school, marriage or divorce – others might include paying off their mortgage or student loan debt).

It’s gotten me thinking about what rites of passage are depicted in the books I’m recommending.   I remember Back When, Margaret and Deenie showed me what might be considered a move from young’un to teen.  After marrying Joe, Betsy needed to learn to cook a “company dish”.  Anne and Gilbert retire their (albeit one-sided) feud.  Sam survives in the Catskills.  Now the passage to adulthood in many of the books has something to do with school ending and being given a job/operation and assigned a partner, and sometimes there’s a contest to be won; all too often there’s some oppressive regime to overthrow or rebellion to lead – definitely a throwback to the types of passages and rituals discussed by Joseph Campbell and Mircea Eliade.  Or they start on their path when some latent power awakens.  The question is, do these characters now feel adult?  That’s never discussed.  There’s a subgenre of kids/teens reinventing themselves as they move from division to division or school to school, as well as books about Bar/Mat Mitzvahs and quinceañeras, but again, they’re more about the social aspects of those rites and passages than about feeling like an adult.

That’s not to say that every book I read as a teen covered those areas, but today it seems as though they’re more concerned with the social aspects and less about showing what it means to move from childhood to adulthood.  I wonder if that’s because the world in which we live has made that transition less important and more fluid, and it’s social issues (like fitting in) that concern us?


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