Saturday, July 12, 2008

Summer reading is killing teens

Darn. I was going to blog about this exact topic, and ShelfTalker beat me to it. It's a brilliant blog entry, really, so I will just add a few comments of my own. ShelfTalker says:

The best summer reading lists, I believe, should include a solid mix of books published for young adult readers and books published for adults, with an emphasis on ENJOYING reading. I think lists should include books that will appeal to reluctant readers AND books that will catch the eye of those kids who genuinely seek a challenge (or who just want to impress college admissions counselors). A list NEEDS to include newer books and (really, truly) the lists need to include a brief summary and/or review.

This is one hundred percent true, and if I may, I'd like to add a few summer reading list requests of my own. A great summer reading list, imho, should also have:

1. Books about people of all different colors, social backgrounds, and nationalities, preferably ones published after 2000. Not that I don't love Things Fall Apart, but can we get Chanda's Secrets on there, too?

2. A book 150 pages or shorter, and a book 500 pages or longer.

3. An equal balance of male and female main characters, and those characters should be treated as equals. One of the most egregious insults I ever saw on a summer reading list was a list that had books covering health topics. In these books, all of the boys were heroes who were "coping with" a family member's mental illness, and all the girls were mentally ill. I don't even know if the person putting the list together noticed this. Noting that the NIH says that men are more likely to suffer from mental illness than women, I suggested that the school add Under the Wolf, Under the Dog and A Beautiful Mind to start. I don't think they ever did, though.

4. Books that have the word "fuck" in them. No, I'm serious, and this is where my lack of ever being a school librarian shows. I think there's a lot to be learned from the structure of Fight Club, the way Palahniuk plays with the narrator's identity and the graying lines between order and chaos. But it's got a lot of grit and swearing, so one is unlikely to see it on a summer reading list. But come on. What reluctant reader sixteen-year-old boy, if he had to read something during the summer, wouldn't want to read Fight Club? Strong language is a way of life, and it can be a way of great writing.

5. Science fiction and fantasy...wait for it...written by women. If I'm lucky, I'll sometimes see The Mists of Avalon on a summer reading list, and that's it for speculative fiction written by women. Everything else seems to be Asimov, Clarke, Card, etc. Those books aren't bad, but a list that doesn't include fantasy and SF written by women doesn't send a great message. Please, if you're reading this and one of your jobs is to assign summer reading titles, consider books by Octavia Butler, Mercedes Lackey, Robin McKinley, J.K. Rowling, Nancy Farmer, Holly Black and Annette Curtis Klause, to name a few.

6. Books with gay characters. You know where this is a problem? Middle school reading lists. Fact is, it's 2008 and kids are becoming sexually aware earlier and earlier, even knowing they're gay or lesbian in middle school. Please, middle schools of the world, would you consider adding Alex Sanchez's So Hard to Say to your reading lists?

7. Non-linear structures and non-narrative language. Books written in IMs. Books written in diaries, letters, and emails. Books that alternate narrators. This is a multitasking generation. Shake things up a little!

8. Popular fiction. Oh yes, I went there. Maybe I'm not cut out to put summer reading lists together, but I believe all reading is good reading. As I've told some reluctant readers, finding the right book is like finding the right pair of jeans. Sometimes you have to try on 5 or 6 before you find one that's the perfect fit for you. And we all know teens are heavily influenced by their friends, so why not add the books their friends are reading, whether it's Scott Westerfeld or Janet Evanovich?

I'm a little worried by the ShelfTalker commenter who thought Lurlene McDaniel's Prey was "a surprisingly good, realistic, and non-exploitive(!!) look at a predatory female teacher," because I found Prey to be the exact opposite of all of those things (and not just because Boy Toy was my favorite book of '07), but other than that the comments on that entry are fantastic.

I didn't blog yesterday because I was tired from being in line for my new iPhone since 5 a.m., so I think the next entry will have to be How Do I Love My iPhone 3G, Let Me Count the Ways.

No comments: