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September 16, 2004

Separate But Not At Peace

According to the Writer‘s Almanac:
[Today is] the birthday of American novelist John Knowles, born in Fairmont, West Virginia (1926). He is best known for his novel A Separate Peace (1959), based in part on Knowles’ experiences at Phillips Exeter Academy. It the story of two friends, Gene and Phineas, one an intellectual and the other an athlete, and their summer together at an expensive American prep school during the early years of World War II. A Separate Peace is one of the most widely read postwar American novels. It is frequently compared critically to J. D. Salinger‘s The Catcher in the Rye (1951). It was in its sixty-fourth Bantam paperback run in March 1986, with more than seven million copies in print. In 1960, Knowles won the first William Faulkner Foundation Award for this notable first novel.
Great. I read A Separate Peace in junior high school. I bet you did, too. And now I want to know why. Why did we read that? What was the point? What makes this a good little novel? I haven’t the foggiest idea. In fact, I‘d completely forgotten about until I saw a snippet of the movie version the other night on tv. What I saw was pretty bad. And it didn’t really bring back the novel. My memory is so terrible. So do you remember the novel? And do you have any idea why every American schoolkid (or lots of them, anyway) has to read it? Do kids still read this today? p.s.: If things seem random around ai recently, that may be because they are. I don‘t know which way is up these days, but it seems some part of me is fighting doggedly not to allow the rest of me to happily fall back into student mode. Please bear with me while my multiple personalities engage in mortal combat. To the victor will go the spoils. p.p.s.: The Writer’s Almanac online version is like a blog, but it‘s not a blog. The index page shows you the current day, and entries are archived by week, but there’s no way to link to just one day‘s entry. It should just be a blog. An audioblog, even. Yeah, it should. You can sign up to get it in your inbox every morning, and that’s nice, but, well, why not do it via RSS?

Posted September 16, 2004 03:49 PM | ai books

Today is also Jewish New Year.

"A Separate Peace" is required reading because it reinforces the notion that New England prep school actually has a point and is worth remembering, so that all us public school kids can feel retarded.

Posted by: Phil at September 16, 2004 05:59 PM

We actually read it in high school. And my most vivid memory of it was when the guy almost kills himself and another one cracks up and doesn't come back to school. And on my edition, if you looked closely at the cover it showed the guy who almost kills himself (well, that's actually debatable - some of the guys in the book thought the main character caused the fall) about to fall off the tree branch, but it's way in the background. That was actually a test question one year. But I also ended up getting a degree in literature (read: reading), so I guess I'm trained to remember random stuff I read.

Posted by: E. McPan at September 16, 2004 09:23 PM

I've been in public school most of my life and I never read Catcher in the Rye or A Separate Peace.

I did read a lot of horrible Thomas Hardy novels, though. Everyone always dies at the end. I hate that bastard.

Posted by: Dave at September 17, 2004 07:32 AM

Like Dave I've never read either book, but Phillips Exeter did ring a bell. I watch way too much West Wing.

Posted by: kmsqrd at September 17, 2004 10:58 AM

haha .. i recall reading it as well ... and yes, the book was annoying in retrospect, mainly because it seems so formulaic (although that could just be the follow ons) ... i don't know why, but i've seen in mentioned in several places.

Posted by: jose at September 17, 2004 01:00 PM

we read both A Seperate Peace and Catcher in the Rye, but no Thomas Hardy. and that's a good point - why did we read those books? who knows. what about Lord of the Flies, why did we read that?

(also, I grew up in Fairmont, WV. Just like Knowles.)

Posted by: monica at September 19, 2004 08:57 PM

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