If there’s one word that sums up everything that’s gone wrong since the War, it’s Workshop.
—Kingsley Amis, Jake’s Thing (1978)

The required reading list of an American high school student usually includes, along with works by Remarque, Knowles, and Salinger, a famously awful “anonymous” offering called Go Ask Alice. The book, billed as the real diary of an average Sixties teen, chronicles a terrifying descent into drugs and depravity. Picture Marcia Brady helping William S. Burroughs tie her off in a public lavatory and you’ve got the idea.

The thing is, it isn’t a real diary. Neither, unfortunately, are Jay’s Journal (descent into Satanism), It Happened to Nancy (descent into AIDS), or Annie’s Baby (descent into teen pregnancy). All of these penny-dreadful pseudographies were written by...

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