Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Age-Old Discussion of What Should Be Read

Recently, an article was published by Slate which was written in order to create lots of traffic by enraging readers so much that they would write articles and link back to the original article.  The article worked quite well, generating dozens of links and much discussion.  Here's a link to the Slate article followed by my response.

Against YA:  Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.

Alrighty then.  I don't feel embarrassed to read children's and young adult books, although I don't tell everyone.  Sometimes it's not worth the effort.  Sometimes I don't feel like having to explain why to the narrow-minded people.  They won't get it no matter what I say.

I have noticed that many adults who don't read children's books do read young adult books, including members of my faculty.  So I'm not alone although I do take it quite a bit further than anyone else I know.  The target audience of this blog, however, reads just as many children's books as I do.

Several good rebuttals were posted in the aftermath of the original article.

No, you do not have to be ashamed of reading young adult fiction
Let's All Just Read More Great Books, YA Or Not
This Is Why Young Adult Books Are Not Only Acceptable, But Beneficial For Adults
In Praise of Reading Whatever the Hell You Want
Really? Are We Still Genre Shaming People For The Books They Like?
I Write Young Adult Novels, and I Refuse to Apologize for It

The readers' comments are the best part of each article, because they tell us what people really think.  The following statement from C. S. Lewis was heavily quoted throughout the comments.
"Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."
Really, that's all that needs to be said.  People who point fingers at others and claim that their actions are immature are, in fact, the immature ones.  I didn't realize until reading all of this discussion that the young adult category has exploded in recent years and that more of the books are purchased by adults, like me, than by teenagers.  According to a recent study, 55% of the people who purchase young adult books are adults and 78% of those adults report that they have purchased the books for themselves.  The stigma against reading young people's books is not nearly what it once was. 

I prefer young adult books rather than adult books because I don't want the adult level of sex and violence in my books.  I enjoy the young adult dystopian novels, especially the ones with zombies.  Those do have violence and some gore, but since the books are young adult books, they don't take the gore all the way to the extreme.  I want a good story without the gratuitous sex and violence.

Some of the comments to the articles stated that there is nothing wrong with reading young adult books, but then the statement was qualified with as long as that's not the only type of book being read.  Others phrased it slightly differently, stating that there could be a problem with reading young adult books but only if the reader was reading nothing other than those books.  Exactly why is that a problem?

This spring I read only Nancy Drew softcover books.  I read them at the rate of one per day from February through early May.  Since I wasn't reading anything else, according to these people, there was something wrong with me.  Really?  I bet those of you who have enjoyed the reviews haven't minded at all that I read all of those books.

Now I'm reading only the Three Investigators books in order from #1-43.  I suppose that is equally bad, right? There must be something wrong with me.  No... no, there isn't.

I do better when I read every book in a series in rapid succession.  A few years back, I was reading and reviewing the Grace Harlowe series for this blog.  I made the mistake of reading other books in between reading the Grace Harlowe books.  The result was that I got massively sidetracked and never finished reading and reviewing the Grace Harlowe books.  That's a shame.

I freely admit that I haven't read any books for adults in a long time.  I'm not sure what the last one was.  Years ago I read novels by Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, and others, but I've been caught up on series books and young adult books for a long time.  I should go back and read some more of the classics, but that's not a current priority.  Maybe someday.

These days I prefer reading books that are easy to read, where I don't have to think hard.  I'm exhausted at the end of each work day, and quite honestly, I don't have the energy to read a scholarly tome.

Books have always been escapism for me.  I read what interests me, regardless of the reading level.  Isn't that the way it should be?


Jack C said...


Agreed! Teaching all day drains me, literally saps my energy. So reading a series book is mindless, and a joy. I'm going to get that CS Lewis quote framed and displayed somewhere in my classroom this fall!

Ms. Yingling said...

I read MG all the tim so I can do my job as a middle school librarian, but when I am really stressed, I read Lenora Matingly Weber or Beverly Cleary. It's still reading. You're right about the articles being purposefully incendiary!

Homeschool Mom said...

I applaud your reading choices; unfortunately, we don't allow our children to read what children should be reading these days. Some of the YA selections in the bookstores borders on pornography. I am both a homeschooling parent and a college History professor, and have seen all sides of this issue. I am also almost 52 years old, and I love reading Nancy Drew and other such great works. I have read the Anne of Green Gables series many times, and am working my way through the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud H Lovelace. Good literature doesn't have to be written for a 52 year old!

Strikeon Box said...

The best comment I read on this article was from Tony Carpenteri om response to some genius who was bragging about reading calculus as opposed to reading the Hardy Boys. I trust he won't mind if I post it here:

"Well, gee. I've written two reference books on the Hardy Boys (and rumor has it that I've written a couple books *in* the series as well,) and I "read" calculus in high school and at MIT.So mock away, Skipper!"

Jennifer White said...

That does bring up a good point. I did read small parts of a few statistics text books during the last year in preparation for our changing curriculum. Those of us who read children's books do read some scholarly books, just not necessarily for fun.

Sean said...

Here is a series that is not even mentioned, and it seems few know about. The second and third series of the Bobbsey Twins! They came out in the '80s and are mysteries like Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew rather than being "kiddie adventure" books like the main series that ran from 1904-1979. The peak was reached with books 1-18 of "The New Bobbsey Twins" in the late '80s. Do you care to review any of those?

LRotert said...

I'm wondering if anyone has read or knows anything about the Jean Mary Willard books written by Ella Dolbear Lee. I have not been able to find out much about the author, except that she appears to have been a prolific illustrator of nursery rhyme books. I received one of the Jean Mary series of five books as a "two-fer" in an EBay auction and am now through book number four. They are titled as "mysteries," but really aren't, as compared to Nancy Drew, etc. I'm really enjoying these and would like to find other series that are similar. I've already read the Arden Blake and Madge Sterling books. Thanks in advance for pointing me to another similar series.

keeline said...

The Jean Mary Willard series is described fairly fully in two pages in the Girls' Series Companion: 2006 by the Society of Phantom Friends, p. J-276 to J-277. If you don't have this and can't find it, I can provide the page images.

There are five volumes published originally by A.L. Burt (hard to find) between 1931 and 1933. They were reprinted by World Syndicate in cheap editions with pulp paper.

1. Jean Mary's Adventures (1931)
2. Jean Mary's Summer Mystery (1931)
3. Jean Mary in Virginia (1931)
4. Jean Mary's Romance (1931)
5. Jean Mary Solves the Mystery (1933)

Ella (Margaret) Dolbear Lee (1866-1954) was married to Mr. Charles C. Lee, her first cousin (their mother's were sisters). She taught school for a while. She was an artist for greeting cards and other advertising art in Chicago.

As far as a similar series, it might be well to look to another series she wrote, under a pseudonym, the Blue Domers series (1928-1930) as "Jean Finley" for A.L. Burt . As near as I can tell, these were not reprinted by a cheap firm like World Syndicate or Saalfield. I don't see a list in the GSC:2006 but there are 8 titles in the series:

1. The Blue Domers (1928)
2. The Blue Domers' Alphabet Zoo (1928)
3. The Blue Domers and the Wishing Tree (1928)
4. The Blue Domers and the Magic Flute (1928)
5. The Blue Domers in the Deep Woods (1928)
6. The Blue Domers Under Winter Skies (1928)
7. The Blue Domers and the Hidden Shanty (1928)
8. The Blue Domers' Nest (1930)

The titles seem a bit more juvenile and perhaps this is why they are not included in the GSC:2006. A Google image search supports this. The standard cover image for all of the titles shows fairly young children.

If the same author doesn't appeal because of the age difference, perhaps you can outline the elements in the Jean Mary books that especially appeal to you so that people who are familiar with series of the era can make suggestions. Obviously my background is more in the authorship and publication history area since I've not read these.


Jennifer White said...

I haven't read the Jean Mary books either, but I suspect that some of the good series books from the 1930s would appeal to you as well since you have read Arden Blake. The Mary Lou series by Edith Lavell and the Mexican Mystery Stories for Girls series by Helen Randolph are possibilities. Since you have read Madge Sterling, which was written by Mildred Wirt under a pseudonym, you would likely enjoy many of Wirt's books.

LRotert said...

Thank you, James and Jennifer, for your information and recommendations! The Jean Mary books I have are all the cheaper World Syndicate versions. I will look into the Girls Series Companion for more information about Ella Dolbear Lee, and will look into The Blue Domer series, along with The Mary Lou series and Mexican Mystery Stories for Girls. Jennifer, you rated your favorites in another post, and I'm interested to know why you rated Mildred Wirt's Brownie Scout series above her Girl Scouts series. I just finished the Girl Scout series and loved them, but have some other books to read before I can plunge into another series purchase. Thanks again!

LRotert said...

Thanks, James and Jennifer, for your information and recommendations! I will try to find the Girls Series Companion and investigate The Blue Domer series, as well The Mary Lou series and the Mexican Mystery Stories for Girls series. I have read a few of Mildred Wirt's Penny Parker books, but they weren't memorable. I just finished her Girl Scout series and enjoyed those. I'm curious, Jennifer, why you rate her Brownie Scout series above the Girl Scout series. I need to read everything I have before I can plunge into another book series purchase, so those may have to wait awhile. Thanks again!

LRotert said...

Thanks for the information and recommendations, James and Jennifer! I do not have a copy of Girls’ Series Companion: 2006 and the only copies I could find in a quick online search are going for $115-$150. If it’s not too much trouble, James, I would like to see the page images. I will also look into The Blue Domers series, along with The Mary Lou Series and The Mexican Mystery Stories for Girls series. Jennifer, in another post where you ranked your favorites, you had Mildred Wirt’s Brownie Scouts series above her Girl Scouts series. I just finished the Girl Scouts books and will start the Brownies when I’m done with Jean Mary, but am curious why you liked the Brownie Scout series better. Thanks again!

Jennifer White said...

It's been quite a few years since I read Wirt's books, but I recall that the Brownie Scouts books have more of the qualities that I enjoy. Some of them remind me of Nancy Drew mysteries.

It's kind of strange, because I tend not to like the books for younger children as much as the ones for older ones. I ought to like the Girl Scouts books better, but I found them slightly less interesting.

By the way, I have to approve the comments on all posts except for the very newest posts in the blog. I get notified when a comment is pending. I have this setting so that a spammer can't go through and leave lots of comments without me being aware. Sometimes there might be a delay of a few hours in a comment getting published unless I check my email right after the comment is posted.