Monday, 6 June 2011

Here we go again...

There's been a lot said recently about young people and reading. Here's my two cents.

I read, a lot. Always have done, learnt to read at three and never saw the point in stopping. I love books, libraries and book shops are my favourite places to spend time, wandering through the stacks, looking for old friends and new ones. When I was younger I read whatever I could, still do, and some of it probably wasn't suitable for my age. My parents trusted me, they knew I was mature and sensible enough to decide what was appropriate reading for me. I read Lolita at 17, by request of the school librarian, who wanted to see whether or not I thought it something that should be included on the library's shelves for anyone to pick up and read. It is not really a book most people would ask a 17-year-old to read, let alone a librarian in a church school, but there you go. She was a smart woman who knew her readers, and trusted us to be sensible about things. I told my mum I was reading it, she didn't mind. It is a work of fiction, yes it is contentious, yes it does feature a man obsessed with an underage child. No it isn't really something any school would include on their syllabus. I can distinguish between reality and fiction. Lolita contains some gorgeous phrases, and is a work of literary art. It is not the true story of a peadophile.
That is an extreme case, what the Wall Street Journal's article seems to be saying is that all fiction written for teenagers is dark and dangerous, and will leave your child damaged. I don't particularly like the current trend for vampire fiction, mostly because the vampires are so wet. I grew up watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with its genuinely quite nasty monsters, and the Twilight thing leaves me cold. My sister adores it. She's able to understand that it's fiction. It doesn't impact on her life, they're just stories. The idea that parents have to be gatekeepers and only spoonfeed their kids books they
consider suitable is absurb.
Yes, there are dark books for teens, some of which are classified as fantasy (vampires, werewolves etc all come under this) and some are realism. Melvin Burgess' Junk, about two teen heroin addicts, is often banned for promoting drugs, it actually does the opposite, Gemma and Tar's lives are so bleak, it'd put even the most determined rebel off.
And yes, a lot of books do address teen sexuality, the reality is, teenagers are experimenting and exploring themselves and their potential selves, so why shouldn't the books they're reading to do the same.
In short, parents, trust your kids, they'll be ok. Teens, talk to your parents, reassure them, they can't help it, they've forgotten how to be young.

*Update Bitch Magazine (love) have a really interesting article on the topic.*
*Also if you're on Twitter, follow the #YASaves tag for more comments and articles from writers and readers*

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