Saturday, August 26, 2006

Young adult this and that

There's a quote in the NYTBR this Sunday from Gary Paulsen a very popular young adult writer saying he would never write for adults because they are essentially beyond the point where they could be moved and changed by literature. All that, he says, happens when you're young. Now to some extent, I think he's right (after all, just yesterday I wrote here that my favorite film is The Black Stallion--a movie I saw as a kid, of a book I read as a kid). It was as a kid that I decided I wanted to write, and it was as a kid that I read Harriet the Spy, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Borrowers, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, every Judy Blume book, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory...all books that established one of the deciding precepts of my life: the imagination matters. They are also books that got me excited about reading, developed my empathy, and probably socialized me. And I have even had the thought that if I really wanted to affect a reader I should write for kids (my first job was working at a children's book publisher); and one day I'd like to write a book for kids. But... But... surely all hope is not lost for adults.

In Florida we have The Big Read, one of those NEA programs to try to fight the decline in reading. Our program, like the One Book One City programs is a fine idea; I'm all for it. But the books chosen are all books commonly read in high school (To Kill a Mockingbird, Farenheit 451..) and the programs seem to be aimed at high school students. I assume this has something to do with the statistic that the biggest drop in readers was in the young adult range, but it seems to me either all the progam intends to do is to get parents to read the books their kids are reading or it plans to reteach what's already being taught. I think we need something more like the Netflix system--where recommendations are made based on your preferences--so that readers will find a wider net of books they can enjoy. And adults should be encouraged to read books of a complexity and sophistication that CAN move them. Maybe they're not being moved because they're reading books (see my entries on Prep, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) that lack the complexities of adult reasoning (there is such a thing, right?).

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