Things that make you go hmmm

Two things caught my eye this past week: a lovely blog post by Louise Lareau of the NYPL Children’s Center and an article in New York Magazine.

Who knew Encyclopedia Brown had been solving cases for 50 years?! Yes, indeed, Donald Sobol’s beloved boy sleuth has been at it for half a century. The Children’s Center at 42nd Street is celebrating by hosting Encyclopedia Brown Day, Saturday October 26th, from 2 to 4PM. It sounds like a treat, with a scavenger hunt and puzzles galore. Can’t make it? Neither can I, sadly. But we can enjoy Louise’s blog post about Encyclopedia Brown instead.

In the October 14th issue of New York Magazine, Jen Doll (what a great name!) writes about being an adult fan of YA. Though not all of Doll’s examples are YA – Harry Potter, anyone? – she has written an interesting examination of why adults read YA and the creep of YA lit into other kinds of entertainment, such as TV shows and films. About adult books, Doll writes, “…they don’t always captivate me the way YA does. [YA] are the books I read in a one night rush… Adult books may be great literature, but they don’t make me feel the same way.”

Aside from the fact that plenty of YA books could well be considered great literature these days, I find it interesting that Doll and most of the folks cited in her article all talk about how reading YA makes them feel – much of those feelings nostalgic in nature, such as feeling young again, feeling the intensity of experience, and the desire for happiness. (When did books for adults become so depressing, anyway?)

I read widely, across age levels, across genres, across topics. I do find that YA books tend to be more easily read in a single sitting than, say, Jonathan Franzen or Alice Munro – but that’s certainly not true of Louise Penny or Naomi Novik. (Although most fantasy books are simply too hefty to read in an evening – even for those of us speedy readers. (Go on, I dare you. No way can you gulp down Rothfuss – or Paolini – in a single sitting.)

Part of me thinks that all this is rather silly. What does it matter who the intended audience is? A good book is a good book. And as for the throwaway line that we may be “bringing down the collective IQ of our nation by reading below our grade level,” really? Huh. I dare say Zusak’s The Book Thief reads at a far higher level than many of the mysteries I blissfully check out each week. Why must we read “serious” literature to be taken seriously? Jane Austen would have had a field day – her defense of novel reading remains as pertinent today as in her time.

In fact, perhaps adult literature has gone too far. Perhaps in its search for new forms of the novel, new ways of expressing ideas and themes, adult literature has become the modern-day equivalent of Fordyce’s Sermons. Improving and literary, but dull. Unutterably dull. Perhaps kidlit is simply having a renaissance: great authors writing great books that people of all ages want to read.

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5 thoughts on “Things that make you go hmmm

  1. I agree with you, Leslie—a lot of adults can be “snobs” about what is and isn’t good literature. I think readers should fit their taste, and although there are some adult fiction books I’ve enjoyed, I am simply more drawn to books written for younger readers, from board books through YA. They are typically easier reads in that the story outweighs the vocabulary, and there’s often more freedom to allow the fantastical. I also think the emotions focused on are more core and visceral in nature, and not weighed down by adult minutia and problems. I’ve also found I really don’t want to READ vulgarity which is often what constitutes adult literature, too.

  2. I read so many kids book of all genres because I read with my children. The time that I have to read becomes writer research as well as quality time. Plus, we discuss plot, characters, setting and predicting what’s to come. I’m building literary minds before I’ve published my own manuscripts! I’ll take all that over reading an “adult” book anytime.

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