Read What You Want!
The Dame's Controversial Post:I've just come across this article following, and thought it might be of interest to you.
BEAUnhomie: YA Fiction
Articles like Gourdon’s tend to surface a few times a year, all with a certain fundamental problem: most of their writers seem to have totally forgotten what it was like to be a young reader. In fact, I suspect that they forgot what it was like to be a young adult. Their criticisms of modern fiction for being too dark or too sad, and their passionate defense of their children’s “happiness, moral development and tenderness of heart,” originates from idealized visions of youth. True, I’m not really old enough to have earned much nostalgia, but I have found that nostalgia tends to cloud memory more than clarify it. In falling prey to nostalgia, many have glossed over the reality of growing up: the curiosity and confusion, the exploration and missteps. It would be a very strange and sanitized childhood that had absolutely no contact with death, or depression, or pain, or sex. YA literature, as with all literature, provides a means of understanding that.
Adolescence requires darker and more complex literature than what many adults seem to expect. But the darkness in YA lit is not just craven, opportunistic reactiveness. It provides a way out. Though Gourdon is right to say that entertainment shapes taste, she forgets the other half of the equation: when need creates a space that art is called to fill. The “moral development” that she calls for is admirable, but what does morality even mean when there are no stakes? Can there really be redemption without trauma or fallenness? There’s a much stronger, brighter moral vision to be found in Harry Potter than there ever is in Nancy Drew. And Ponyboy’s promise to “stay gold” can only inspire readers after they’ve witnessed how difficult it is for him to do so.
There is no doubt that there is good and bad YA fiction. In response to Gourdon’s article, many have called for a kind of “ratings system” that would alert parents to mature themes or objectionable material. The rationale is that if such a system is in place for video games or films, there should be one for literature. However, I think that this system would be profoundly unhelpful as a filter, and would in fact impede the reading experience. Gourdon bristles at being called a “f—ing gatekeeper,” retorting that she calls it “judgment,” “taste,” or “parenting.” All three of these things are good. Gates, even, are good. But none of these are substitutes for guidance, for actual reading, for actually determining quality. It’s downright silly to boil “appropriateness” down to a calculus of nudity and blood. Ratings systems are inherently ham-handed; they don’t account for good writing or good storytelling, and they have no idea what to do with “thematic material.” They would be very poorly-conceived gates.
And as someone who is on the uncertain cusp of young adulthood and adulthood, I would like to advocate for a certain level of inappropriateness. I was always a fairly avid reader; I’m not sure a single school year went by, from kindergarten through senior year, without my being lectured by a teacher for reading a novel under my desk. Reading at inappropriate times characterized my childhood, and reading at inappropriate ages did too. I found that I reacted in three ways to these “above grade-level” books. First, I would put it down, because my total incomprehension made for a very boring reading experience. Second, I would put it down, due to lesser grade of confusion, colored sometimes by shock. Third, I would keep on reading, and learn something valuable from it. Those jolts of discovery are part of reading. They’re part of growing up.
Moreover, I would argue that young people who pick up books with serious themes are young adults who want to be Serious, and they are generally preferable to people who exclusively read about sunshine, just as they are preferable to people who only listen to the Jonas Brothers and Taylor Swift. (But that’s another beef for another time.) Kids who truly love to read never take kindly to being limited. Their natural inquisitiveness will lead them wherever it will.
*This article is continued via: http://www.beaufortbooks.com/2011/06/beaunhomie-ya-fiction
The Dame's Take on This:
First I want to express my awe and congratulations to the intelligent and wholly forthright young adult author of the above article. This is an important question that begs an answer from the young people whose reading freedoms such a concept; and, perhaps eventual "gatekeeping," would affect. What an apt representative they have in this young writer.
The whole article is not posted here, and I beg you to click on the link and finish the read because of it's significance.
My thoughts on the subject have mostly to do with my experiences and belief in personal freedoms of spirit and mind. I love books, love authors; and, I love readers of any age who seek "discussion" and wisdom from the writings of good author's who have posed in their stories questions of life, its strangeness, struggles, and over-comings.
When I was a teen, having been a wolfish reader since a tot, much of my time was spent at the library. I lived on a military base in Europe for most of my teen years. There were no American book shops available, no internet, and no young adult novels. Categories of books in my libraries went from children's to older children's and took a leap to adult literature in those days. I read what interested me and what I "could" read.
Had anyone imposed their rules on me regarding what I could and could not read because of ratings in reference to morality or spiritual content, I would have most certainly rebelled. Why? Because I was an intelligent, mature, comprehending reader, who always chose books well above my conceived age group. I was taught early on to evaluate what I read. Just as young people are taught today. I was taught that stories in books are make believe sometimes. Just as young people are aware today. And, I was taught to look for the over-all moral of a story. What was the finest moment of a book? What did it have to say that would enhance my life and learning?
Only once did my dad question what I was reading and listening to, and that, not to me, face-to-face. He shouted to my mother, "Do you see what she's reading and listening to shut away in that room?" :] This is what it was: "The Group" by Mary MacCarthy, and Bob Dylan...16 years old and clearly, I was out of control! It was 1966. LOL But, neither my mother nor my father came into my room and took away my book(s) or music. My dad only asked if he could see the book to read it, and then he passed it back to me later with a nod.
I believe that if a time should come when our society decides to "ban" or "conscribe" (in this context, my own word meaning to set a compulsory moral judgement upon) young people's books, we will have reached a time of great danger. We know that banning and burning books is a foreshadowing of tyranny; that Nazi Germany, as well as China in its Cultural Revolution, chose to arrest people of culture, to destroy books to wipe out "other-thoughts," and we can easily piece together the awareness certain human rights are destroyed when anyone tells another what they can or cannot read.
I'm against any type of censoring of books. Let the reader choose. Because I loved Anne Rice's vampires in my young adult years didn't make me a vampire, an immoral person, wicked or warped of mind. Rather, it broadened my mind, causing me to do research with a renewed interest in many things, since Anne always included pieces of culture in her writing; i.e., classical music, fine art and sculpture, museums, exotic cities throughout the world and the United States, costuming and interior design, wines, and theatre--just for starters! She also supported reading through her characters as they strove to educate themselves and broaden their minds...monsters, vampires, castratos, witches, gouls, alike!
I also found it interesting that the topic of what's a male and what's a female book came up in the article's discussion. Funny that I have not known this gender-bias in book selections for myself, my children or my grandchildren. Haven't ever recognized them except in a passing, curious thought. And when the thought did cross my mind, with regard to my grandchildren, I thought better of considering it an issue! Although I could see why some would think romance novels were for women; in fact, I've seen men reading them on several occasions. Likewise, I've been known to read what some might consider "men's" literature...when I read all of the James Bond novels at 14 yrs. old, for instance. Seems so crazy to label books gender-specific. However, let this also be a word of caution to women and men.
What are your thoughts on these controversial issues, particularly as Banned Books Week comes to an end?
Thank you for stopping by and reading,
P.S. Who was Huck Finn written for, anyway? Specific gender?