Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ruminating In My Pants #2: The Teen/Tween Reader

With the enormous success of the lameness that is Twilight comes much master-debating by bloggers across the nerd fiefdom that is the inter-web. Harry Potter and Twilight have managed to capture the imaginations of many a budding reader, and no matter what my objections to either series, you have to say that this is a good thing. The shit of it is, though, that the success of said crapsterpieces hasn't inspired said budding readers to venture out much beyond those two authors.

Now I might not be the best person to solve this issue but that doesn't mean I ain't got no opinion (The Nerd always has an opinion, and it is always the right one). When I was a boy, I wasn't much for young adult fiction. I figured that if I was going to invest my time in a three hundred page book, it may as well have been written by someone who wasn't pandering to my age group with childish morals and unadventurous storytelling. So instead of reading Johnny Tremaine and the R.L. Stine canon, I read Stephen King and Lawrence Block. They were easy to read and their profanity, sex and violence was just what I needed to feel slightly edgy, slightly badass in my fiction choices.

Now, I know what you're saying, dear reader. Your monocle has shattered and you are raising your index finger in admonishment, declaring, "My dear Nerd, what of the morals of the young children? Will not their young minds be thoroughly warped?" To this I say only this: Yes. Of course they will be. And that is a good thing.

Do you fucking know what Twilight is? It is about abstinence vampires. It is a primer for girls to eventually read romance novels. Twilight is fucking sexless romance and testicle-less vampires. If there is a greater literary crime I have yet to hear of it.

If it takes some titillation to get kids to read so fucking be it. Do you want them not to pick up a novel until the next Da Vinci Code comes around? No, no you do fucking not. I would rather they read about blood and guts than they read some toothless bullshit and figure that's what all reading is like so why should they bother reading at all?

When you're a kid you want a little bit of danger, you want to push the limits a bit. What better arena than books? It's good for you, it's cheap entertainment, and the initial love of some good old fashioned trash might later lead them to be more adventurous and then finally tackle the hoidy-toidy canonical works.

If I were a middle school English teacher and wanted to get a twelve year old boy excited (if the sentence ended right here I'd be a bit of a paedo) to read I would toss him a copy of The Road. It is short, it is violent, it's an adventure, and it's a minor challenge. I really think that it should be the new middle school book instead of Lord of the Flies, though that one is still extremely solid.

Now, I cannot write off all teen fiction (though I'd like to). I remember feeling that sense of danger, that sense of getting away with something from the author Christopher Pike when I was a kid. A few of his books were pretty much straight-up noirs that felt exciting and edgy, like glorious dark pulpy trash. Gimme a Kiss, Die Softly, The Wicked Heart - that shit was a rush when I was a kid.

Let young readers feel like they are getting away with something. Remember how everybody knew what page Anne Frank talked about "touching bosoms" in her diary? Or how shocked you were to find a discussion of "beating off" in The Chocolate War? It's that sense of "adultness" that I think inspires certain kinds of readers. You'll always have your boys who like sci-fi/fantasy shit and you'll always have lame-shit series that girls will eat up like fucking candy, but for everyone else you need to foster that sense of danger, that sense that you have to read under the covers with your flashlight so your parents won't catch you reading such filth. That stuff warps minds. It develops nerds. It sprouts lifelong readers.

It worked for The Nerd of Noir.

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