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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Who Moved My Cosmetics Empire?

Back in the dark ages (before Al Gore invented the internet, when children spent their unsupervised afternoons doing all manner of unspeakable things), I was a voracious reader of about twelve whose tastes had outgrown children's literature despite my being (for all intents and purposes) still a child. Nowadays, I could have gone to my local bookstore and spent days (if not weeks) perusing shelves marked "Young Adult," but at the time, once we'd read Tiger Eyes, Flowers in the Attic and the dirty parts of Forever, those of us who wanted to keep reading had to navigate the world of adult literature.

Hard as it is to believe, parents back in the 1970s and early 80s really didn't care what their children were reading, so my mother didn't blink an eye as I tore through Danielle Steel's canon, a world in which beautiful women suffer life-threatening car accidents or the horrors of concentration camps only to be rescued from poverty and hideous fashion options by rich, titled men who cannot live without them. Later, I discovered Judith Krantz and learned that fat, awkward, poor girls grow up to be stunningly beautiful secretaries who catch the eye of their millionaire bosses and find themselves richer and more powerful than they'd ever dreamed possible. When I wanted a self-made heroine, there was always Barbara Taylor Bradford's A Woman of Substance (because it turns out being born into servitude can't stop you from building your own empire). And what girl who came of age during the Carter administration could possibly forget Lace, a novel that presented its readers with a question as profound and eternal as "To be or not to be?": Which one of you bitches is my mother?

By the time I was a freshman in college, I'd not only lost my taste for the writers who'd entertained me through high school, I looked back on my passion for them with the kind of shame most people reserve for drunken, late-night hookups or spur-of-the-minute Vegas weddings. But now that I'm a little older (and a little less precious), I find myself thinking of those books with fondness.

Nowadays all the books teenagers are reading are about teenagers, and I'm sure that's for the best. It's probably comforting to read about kids out there going through what you're going through. And really, why does a twelve-year-old need to know about day-into-evening wear or the demands of owning a winery or to believe, as I did well into my twenties, that your dashing boss putting his hand on your thigh is a good thing?

Still, I can't help but think back on the pleasure of being a teenager who spent all of her time escaping into adulthood. Instead of being comforted by the thought that there were other teenagers out there who were as bored and self-loathing as I was, I was promised there was world awaiting me just on the other side of eighteen, a realm as glorious as heaven, where all my suffering would be rewarded and I would be rich and beautiful beyond my wildest dreams.

It's not quite accurate. But it sure got me through the hard times.


To read the first chapter of The Darlings in Love, click here.


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