Skip to comments.'Enriching Our Literary Heritage': Judy Blume or Madeleine L'Engle?
Posted on 12/29/2004 12:36:31 PM PST by Mr. Silverback
This November, Judy Blume was presented with a medal from the National Book Award Foundation. The same day, Madeleine LEngle received a medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Though both authors are best known for their books for teenagers, they couldnt be more different.
Blume made her name as the writer of Deenie, Forever, and other young adult novels known for their sexual themes and explicit descriptions. Typically, many of the articles written to celebrate her medal pictured Blume as a sort of big sister who provided guidance and reassurance about premarital sex, masturbation, and similar topics. Washington Post writer Jennifer Frey gushed, Blume is, at heart, a childhood friend. . . . She is the one who told us secrets, who took the mystery out of the embarrassing stuff. She made us feel normal. She made us feel understood.
Yet when her adorers in the media bring up the actual quality of Blumes writing, its usually in a rather sheepish way. Even writer Susan Jensen, who thinks Blumes books are popular enough to be considered contemporary classicsas if popularity were all it took to make a classicadmits that Blume has received criticism for stereotypical characters [and] flat writing. Another admirer, Ellen Barry, conceded, Youd be hard pressed to find a paragraph of description in any of Blumes books.
The medal Blume won from the National Book Foundation is for writers who have enriched our literary heritage. Given her monotonous prose, its hard to argue that Blume has done that. But Foundation member Jessica Hagedorn tried anyway, telling a reporter, For young people, [Blume] is as literary a writer as you can ask for. Really? As literary as Robert Louis Stevenson? As Mark Twain? C. S. Lewis? Harper Lee? E. B. White? Madeleine LEngle?
While Blume got a generation thinking about their bodily functions, Madeleine LEngle was transporting them to other galaxies and centuries with imaginative, beautifully written tales like A Wrinkle in Time. There are those who argue that Blumes kind of realism is better for kids than LEngles fantasy. I happen to think theres room for both genres, but thats not really the point. The point is that LEngles fantasies, with their exploration of love, God, family, suffering, death, and other timeless themes, reach emotional and literary heights that Blumes work cant even begin to climb.
Its hard to avoid the conclusion that Blume received her award, not for literary merit, but for something elsepromoting a worldview. By sympathetically portraying adolescent sexual relationships that are free of values (except the avoidance of pregnancy and disease), Blume did as much as anyone else to help bring the sexual revolution to the younger generation.
Ironic, isnt it? Most conservatives, according to popular stereotypes, would not know a good book if they bumped into it on the street. Yet its the National Endowment for the Humanities, part of the Bush administration, that honored one of the truly great fiction writers of our time, who wrote of God and timeless truthswhile the allegedly sophisticated literary set, the National Book Foundation, awarded an honor to an author who is mediocre at best. It makes you wonder whos really interested in literary merit and whos only interested in promoting teen sexual activity and a debased worldview.
The NEH seems to have made a good pick in L'Engle, but the NEH and the NEA shouldn't exist. Art is not a legitimate government function.
She wrote many other books that had no sexual connotations whatsoever. The first book I ever remembering picking out on my own and reading completely on my own in first grade was Freckle Juice which was one of hers.
I remember reading some of Judy Blume's books. "Blubber" is the one I remember the most clearly. I fail to see what the sexual stuff was in her books. I guess I would have to read them again to be certain.
Forever was a bit sexual. I remember reading it and being fascinated and embarrassed at the same time. It was my first venture into anything of that sort and it was kind of shocking. Hahahaha
I adore L'Engle's books to this day. They are well written and incredibly interesting. I re-read Wrinkle in Time and the rest of the books in that particular series every few years.
I read exactly one Judy Blume book, as a teenager, I believe. I don't remember there being anything sexual in it, but it was embarrassing - needlessly so. Bodily functions, yep. For example, I remember a boy urinating into a potted plant because a parent or sibling was taking too much time in the bathroom. Entertaining? Not in my book. Stupid? Yes. Yuck.
I never liked Blume's choppy teen titillators even when I WAS a teen. The above posting describes her books just as I remember them, even then. However, I devoured every L'Engle book I could get my hands on. This is not to say that I was any kind of literary snob at that (or any other) age, but quality is quality, and one doesn't need an English Lit degree in order to see the difference between the two authors.
If they made freckle juice into a movie it would be XXX! and don't even get me started on that piece of filth "tales of a fourth grade nothing!"
-just kidding, I used to read Judy Bloom when I was a kid I don't rememebr anything dirty in them. I am sure she might have written some books with sex in them, but I never read any of them.
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Hmm. I didn't remember that one at all. Thanks for mentioning it, I may have to take a look-see. Of course, all my children are boys-we may have a girl yet, lol-so it probably doesn't matter a whole heck of a lot to me. :)
"A Wrinkle in Time" was one of my favorite childhood books. I read it over and over.
Having said that, I also read many Judy Blume books and this article is really overstating the "sexual" angle, which was really only in some later books geared toward teenagers, like "Forever". The books I read as a kid included the aforementioned "Freckle Juice", plus "Iggie's House" (about a black family moving into a white neighborhood), "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" and its sequels, "Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret" (the all-time classic about a girl growing up), "Blubber" (about an overweight girl), etc..
I seem to recall in "4th Grade Nothing", a 2-year-old swallows a full grown turtle. Whole and alive. I have never been able to reconcile that point in the book.
The "peeing in a potted plant" incident actually didn't happen. This event was chronicled in "Superfudge", where Peter's little brother, Fudge, took too long in the bathroom. He got out before Peter relieved himself on the plant. However, the reader got familiarized with the medieval practice of urinating in chamber pots. Fascinating stuff.
"Blubber" troubles me even to this very day. I can't place my finger on it, but reading it reminded me of watching an auto accident.
Judy Blume is Judy Blume. Just a preteen author who has made a name for herself. Call it junk lit if you want (and I won't strongly disagree) but I have read some teen novels that focused on larceny and violence. A book for a 14 year old boy written about his wee wee isn't a big deal.
I liked both as a kid, but I think L'Engle is the much better author. Some of Blume's books (Fudge, etc) are harmless but some for older kids were a bit risque. I do remember seeking out a copy of Forever at a library that hadn't thought to ban it..and reading it out of my parents' sight.
Should this be an Xer ping? Blume was very popular in our school days, and so was L'Engle to a lesser extent.
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I remember the Christmas that many parents bought it for their children thinking it was like the others. I was one of the lucky recipients.
All the neighborhood kids would camp in my best friend's backyard and we'd read excerpts aloud in between games of "Truth or Dare."
I enjoyed both authors. L'Engle is a marvel. Blume actually instructed this Texas gal about New York culture.
Yeah, it was a good book.
She wrote exactly two books with sexuality in them. And many ,many without. The author is being disengenuous by only mentioning those two titles.
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