In Defense of Story
I’ve noticed this hot-button topic of Young Adult (YA) and Juvenile fiction surfacing a lot lately and I definitely have my own, strong opinions on it. I was saving this up for a longer essay, but a good ol’ editorial in a literary mag seems as good a forum as any for the discussion, so off we go.
We live in a world of fast-paced, sophisticated communication. Our world is burdened with war, poverty, and a myriad other difficult problems, and sometimes that complexity can wear on our hearts, minds, and souls. For many of us, the world of adult (and by this I do not mean “for mature audiences”) fiction does nothing to alleviate this feeling of world-weariness.
The bookstore shelves are jam-packed with woeful tales of isolation, loss, and personal pain. I do not deny that there is a place for every kind of story, but for my own experience, I do not need to be reminded that everyone is having just as hard a time, or harder, than I am.
So, off to the Children’s section I go, and you are welcome to join me. That’s where the tales of wonder have retreated to, hiding the core of great Story with a capital “S” in the guise of “children’s” literature. Personally, I find that classification insulting to the books as well as to children. While many books for kids cater to a similar lowest common denominator ideal that adult pop fiction does, there are many more sophisticated, wonderful stories there that do not talk down to kids, asking them to rise to the challenge of a deep and enjoyable story. And isn’t enjoying stories the reason we read in the first place?
Yes, I realize that sometimes working our way through a well-written tear-jerker can bring its own kind of pleasure, but isn’t reading something we do for fun? Shouldn’t it bring a certain amount of joy, a bit of, dare I say it, escapism? Having a little respite from the every day world can be a relief, especially in such difficult times as those we’re all facing now.
And let us not forget about the difficulty many of us have even fitting reading into our daily schedules. So often we hear people complaining, “Oh, I’d love to read, I just don’t have the time!” As we all know, most folks who make this complaint spend a large portion of time playing Farmville or watching adorable cat videos on YouTube. (And yes, I count myself far too often of this number.)
To these people, and myself, I say look towards the children’s section of the bookstore or library. (The short story anthologies are never a bad bet either. Hint, hint.) Those shelves are chock-full of quick reads, stories full of excitement, adventure, and heart. Amazing, unique characters lurk in the pages of these volumes and none of them take more than a couple of short sessions to read. The additional advantage to this tact is that it is simple to experience a wider variety of stories in a much shorter period of time. The journey there and back again takes a little less time, that we may join Laira as she explores the strange uses of the Golden Compass, or help Doon and Lina save the people of Ember.
So huzzah the world of Story, and huzzah the children’s section. If you see me there, my head will be held high, and if you join me, I promise not to make fun of you.
Further reading (and encouragement):
C.S. Lewis – On Juvenile Tastes (http://bit.ly/bvjbtc)
Pamela Paul – The Kid’s Books are Alright (http://nyti.ms/a9i1CC)
Susan Carpenter – Young adult lit comes of age(http://bit.ly/c5a3EK)