I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m headed to a master class on plot with Cheryl Klein soon. Two pals – Doug Anders and Susan Banghart – are fans, and I’m fast becoming one myself. Another pal, Julia Noonan, pointed me in the direction of a transcript of one of Cheryl’s talks, “Some observations about electric eels,” that despite its unusual title, really is about writing for children. It’s a fabulous piece, and I’m more excited than ever for the class.
One passage, in particular, struck me – though the whole thing is incredible and well worth the time spent reading and re-reading – as a writer, librarian, and mother:
” In general, reading for escape, hiding in books, is a double-edged sword, as I imagine many of you know,
• Because it disconnects you from the people around you.
o You enter your own world, where the voice on the page drowns out the real voices in the room.
o The reality of the book will almost always be richer and more interesting than the reality you’re living.
• It will almost certainly be better shaped, for one thing, because it has a conscious and all-powerful shaper.
o And the mere fact that you can close the book and turn off that reality gives an appealing illusion of control—
• all the more appealing if you’re a kid, and control is still something you don’t have much of.
• So you read more and more, and separate more and more from the lives other people are living.
• This is something we forget, when we praise kids for reading and reading and reading
o That reading can be as addictive and isolating as video games, or the Internet, or TV, or any other intense, focused interaction with people who aren’t there.
• And when you spend so much time reading about, and loving, imaginary people’s social lives—
o You don’t always have one of your own.
• And thus your outsiderdom gets reinforced by the very thing you were using to escape it.”
(Cheryl Klein, “Some observations on electric eels.” January 2011.)
I am guilty of this on all three fronts, but especially as a librarian. Though I do encourage kids to talk about the books they read, both with other kids and adults, to use those books as a way to interact, this statement really resonated with me, perhaps most of all because I was once one of those children. Indeed, I may be one of those adults, despite thinking of my voracious reading habit as a hobby more than an escape.
I’m going to continue on my quest to provide books for electric eels – and goldfish, too – but I’m going to keep Cheryl’s words in mind and try to encourage children – and myself – to engage with the world a little more. Even if it’s just by talking about my most recent favorite book.