Thursday, March 06, 2008

What I Read and Why

What do you read and why?

That is the question of the day. There seems to be a big and heavy discussion going on at Read Roger. I won't go into that fully here. I think a good bit is nonsensical. That is there are a lot of generalizations and judgments being fired back and forth. I think it is one of those situations where if you could sit down together and actually listen and ask for clarifications and specifics that everything would calm down. You can't read the post or the comments without getting worked up though. Trust me. But it's so easy to assume that people mean what YOU think they mean instead of what they actually do mean as individuals. But this is all neither here nor there.

I read books. I read all sorts of books. I read picture books. I read children's (early, middle, older) novels. I read poetry. I read nonfiction. Most of what I read is geared (or published with the intention of being read by) towards the 0-18 crowd. I am not 18. I haven't been 18 in a while.


When I was a teen (13-17) I didn't read YA books. True that's because the private school I attended was heavy into censorship. (Not that they'd call it that. But sex, drugs, drinking, teen pregnancy, cussing, physical and/or sexual abuse, homosexuality, etc. was all taboo. Not gonna happen. Not ever.) In my school library you had your choices of "kiddie" books like Ramona and Little House or your classics like Little Women, Jane Eyre, etc. No Judy Blume (the censored Judy Blume not the tame stuff like Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing). Nothing wild or dangerous or immoral.

I did read adult books. Eugenia Price. Margaret Mitchell. Frank Peretti. All stuff that had the approval of the adults in my life--teachers and parents.

And in high school I delighted in reading romance novels. Smutty romance novels. Part rebellion, part because it was "forbidden." But also in part because it was a phase. The romance genre was a phase I was going through. My secret words of wisdom to pass along: look for romance novels that have flowers (or houses/estates) on the cover. That way there is no "hiding" to be done. Plus, it IS embarrassing to be caught reading those silly books with half-naked men on the cover. I honestly don't see the appeal.

But I definitely reached a point where going to the adult section of the library was much preferable to heading off to the kid section.

In college--my undergraduate days--my phase had changed. I was an English major. Of course my recreational reading was to be found in the classics. (Except for the rare smutty book I'd read to escape now and then.) I read Les Miserables. I read half-a-dozen Alexandre Dumas. Classics were just right for me then. Part proof that I was maturing.

In graduate days, however, I began taking children's literature classes. (I have two master level degrees. One in English. One in library science.) I loved them. It was my first taste of the YA genre. Sure, I'd read kids books. But the YA books. The teen books. It was my first chance to explore a whole new world.

Since then I've read tons and tons and tons and tons of children's and YA books. It now makes up most of my time.

Now when I go to the library, 80% or 90% of the time I'm heading to the teen section.

End of Flashback

Have I given up adult books altogether? Yes and No.

I read certain authors, certain genres. I read anything Orson Scott Card. I read some (very small percent but still technically "some") romance novels. I read some science fiction. I read some fantasy. I read some historical fiction. But I rarely rarely rarely if ever read anything deemed "contemporary literature" those labeled "literary" and "sophisticated." It usually just means heavy, verbose prose with very little action and few characters that I actually "like" reading about. A generalization? Yes! But I read the descriptions of so-called "literary" "adult" books and I think BORING. Usually the author is so in love with himself or herself that they're almost unreadable. So if and when I do read "adult" books they're almost always genre fiction.

What does this say about me? Well, according to Roger's camp. It makes me immature and stupid. Okay, maybe not stupid. But definitely not "grownup" and definitely "missing out" on the big things in life.

To sum it up? I read kids books. I read YA books. I read some adult books. Very specific types of adult books. I'm not in the least ashamed of my reading taste. I don't think kids books or YA books are "less than" other types of books. I don't think of adult books as "real" books and everything else as less than or shabby imitations of the real thing. I love what I read. That's why I read it. It would be a chore to slug my way through some of this so-called "real" and "literary" stuff. Leave that for others. You won't find it here!

Fortunately the reading police doesn't exist, and it doesn't really matter what anyone else thinks of what I'm reading or what you're reading or what we're reading.

Read what makes you happy. That's what it's all about! I've always had that philosophy. If what you're reading is making you feel unhappy, bored, or frustrated. Recreational reading shouldn't feel forced, shouldn't feel like a chore. It shouldn't be your "duty" as a grown up to read books that bore you to death.

It all comes back to the Readers' Bill of Rights (Daniel Pennac):
1. The Right to Not Read
2. The Right to Skip Pages
3. The Right to Not Finish
4. The Right to Reread
5. The Right To Read Anything
6. The Right to Escapism
7. The Right to Read Anywhere
8. The Right to Browse
9. The Right to Read Out Loud
10. The Right to Not Defend Your Tastes

Edited to add links:

Grrrrrrl Powerrrrr! and And furthermore....furthermore...and on top of that and We Won't Grow Up
Oh Grow Up
The Same Old Story Edition
I am grown up. I am. I am.
Duck and Cover
Do Adult YA Readers Need to grow up?
Different markets, different audiences, and recreational reading


Paige Y. said...

I was going to comment on the whole mess over at Roger's blog but why bother? You said all I wanted to say.

Jeane said...

That's quite a rant over there on Read Roger. I read most of it, but kept my hands clean. I don't see why people should judge what others read. I liked your description of how your reading tastes changed over time. As a young adult I used to read lots of adult fiction. As a college student, I used to escape pressure by delving into picture books. Now I read a whole range of things even my husband doesn't appreciate, but it doesn't matter, because I do.

Dewey said...

I didn't click the link to Roger's blog yet, but I have to say that there are far too few book-lovers in my life for me to get picky about which sorts of bibliophiles I think are worthy of my respect and which I should judge harshly. I'm just going to be thrilled that I know anyone at all who understands my own love of reading.

Melissa said...

I got a bit po'd at roger's post (my fault for being curious) and I ranted over at Finding Wonderland. But 10. (The Right to Not Defend Your Tastes) hits the spot. I'm not going to feel bad because some guy in NY (who's the editor of Horn Book, how's that for irony!) thinks that reading too much YA is bad for you. Bleh. (PS, I won't tell you how freaky similar our reading histories are. You're like my long lost reading twin. :)

Debi said...

"It shouldn't be your "duty" as a grown up to read books that bore you to death."

Love it, Becky! And well said!

Suey said...

Hear, hear! (or is it Here, here???) Great post!

Unknown said...

Oh Becky, how very much alike we are. I haven't completely given up on adult books, but those I do still read are very specific, either in the authors or if they are part of a series I've already begun.

I can't even begin to explain how much I love YA, having just "rediscovered" it a couple of years ago. I didn't read much YA when I was in the actual target age range, but now, why wouldn't I? I work with teens, the books usually move pretty quickly, and there are some incredible plots and amazing authors. Umm... Scott Westerfeld anyone? A little Stephanie Meyer? Sarah Dessen?

And the Reader's Bill of Rights? I hope you don't mind, but I'm borrowing's brilliant! I will, of course, be giving credit to where I found it! :-)

Liz B said...

Ah the comments... I think the comments got me just as angry, if not angrier, than Roger's original post. It looks like since Horn Book Roger says it's ok to slam YA/childlit readers, let's go to town! So many of them equivalents of "if you don't read what I think you should, there is something wrong with you."

And I was totally thinking of posting that clip, LOL!

pam said...

I can't believe that someone who take issue with another person chosing to read YA books! While, I don't read them very often, I completely appreciate your decision to do so. I love the reader's bill of rights, thank you so much for posting it!