Although the central character in my novel, The Birdcatcher, is 52 years old, that book seems to please young readers more than old ones.
One shy teen-age reader told me that she found the book to be “not just the story of one lone man, but of a worldwide type of people who have been so well described I was astounded.”
When I received her very welcome email, I couldn’t help remembering Herman Hesse’s dismay at the popularity of his book, Steppenwolf, among young readers. He intended it to be read by middle-age people like himself, not anticipating that it would attract young readers, who he believed to be incapable of understanding it. Throughout his life he remained perplexed that it was mostly young people who liked the story.
That’s not how I feel. I’m happy when young people like my books. In spite of their inexperience, or maybe because of it, they seem to understand the issues of shyness and alienation better.
I’ve known about this for a long time. During all the years of my career as an insurance adjuster/accident investigator, I noticed that it was only younger co-workers who seemed to understand my detached, sceptical perspective. Because most of my generation – the ‘boomers’ – abandoned their romanticism in the late 1970s, they have regarded me with suspicion ever since.
Young people are still young enough to be offended by the selfishness, arrogance, insensitivity and hypocrisy of civilization. There’s no mystery in that. We’re all born with the instincts of hunter-gatherers. We’re all born with instincts for curiosity, beauty, romance and adventure, and the desire to protect the things we love.
I’m not alone with this idea. The famous biologist E.O. Wilson also believes that children are born with the perspective of hunter-gatherers, which includes love of the natural world. He recommends that parents encourage that instinct, since we need to bring back the love of nature if we’re going to protect much of the remaining wilderness. He calls the love of nature ‘biophilia‘, the love of life, and he’s convinced that Earth’s survival depends on it.
Well, I’m with him, and young people are welcome to my books.