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a sense of joy and then a panic
a sense of joy and then a panic
People of the Book 
01.21.10
leather
I get really tired of the argument that it's all right for kids' books to be social-norm-enforcing, poorly-made crap because "at least it gets kids reading."  Reading what?  Grown-up crap?  Ah, but it doesn't matter what they read, right, cuz it's all just about a word exercise - there's nothing contained in the story itself.  Oh no.  No message, direct or indirect or subliminal.  No moral of the story.  No push-nod toward a particular course of action, a particular sort of person, a particular status quo.  Nope, books are empty.  In one ear, out the other.  It's just the act of picking up a bound bundle of paper and looking at words and stringing them together to form a sentence.  Just like addition and subtraction.  A skill, if you'd like.  Girl A only reads Sweet Valley High books and she's intellectually better off than Girl B who doesn't read at all, just watches movies.

Please.

I know you want your kid to read.  But just because your kid doesn't like to read doesn't mean you should give them shit to read.  How does that make any goddamn sense?  You're basically saying your precious little pudding has no ability to understand complexity (or other people, or difficult situations...) and shouldn't even try.  And sure, parents should not "monitor" what their kids read or scan their Barnes & Noble purchases.  But should they have conversations about the books their kids are reading?  Yes.  Should they encourage their kids to challenge themselves?  Big Fucking YES.  


Disclaimer: I'm sure it can and has worked, the "gateway drug" method.  And there's nothing wrong with reading SVH or what-have-you.  I was into Goosebumps myself.  (I'll credit Goosebumps for getting me knee-deep in horror, but not reading.)  The problem is that "at least it gets kids reading" is used as a justification-of-shit defense that also functions as a your-critique-is-inherently-invalid card.  Somebody says, "Wow, this book presents a really bad image of people from other countries."  And somebody replies, "At least it gets kids reading!"  And the conversation ends.  (I would love to see this argument applied to The Turner Diaries or The Anarchist Cookbook).  Kind of like "support the troops!" and "it's for charity." 

Double Disclaimer: I never had to be coaxed to read when I was in elementary school (I was given easy-reading versions of Victorian children's lit), and I rarely did out-of-school reading in high school, but I always had hard books to read for class (I absolutely did not know what all words meant as I read them, and I almost threw The Sound And The Fury, The Crossing, Dubliners, Billy Budd, Orlando, Zorba the Greek, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and the entire works of Shakespeare into the fires of hell after reading their opening segments.  But you don't have to understand what each word/stylistic trick means to read and enjoy the story.  I'd like the story, so I'd read it again, and understand more.  I probably understood only 60% of the words in Blood Meridian.  So I never understood the whole "circle the words you don't know" approach to English class either.  Makes a little more sense in foreign language class, but not much).  My cousin's kid was one of those non-readers who only played video games, so the family pushed Harry Potter onto him, guns blazing.  He was okay with Harry Potter, mostly because of the movies.  Never moved onto anything else.
Comments 
01.21.10 (UTC)
I agree. Schools fetishize reading, like reading in itself is something special, but it's not. People do need to know how to read in order to do daily-life stuff, but beyond that, I don't think it's particularly useful to try to force a habit of reading on people if they're not interested.

There are people who treat reading as some talisman of success: if your kid reads (and you can then get finer degrees of this, like "if your kid reads above grade level," or "if your kid reads fifty zillion books instead of just ten," etc., then that means... .they are going to end up being successful corporate lawyers or doctors or portfolio managers or something. And there may be a correlation, but it's not a causal one. Families that force their kids to read for an hour each night probably also do bunches of other things to push their little darlings down a path to material success--but it's not the reading, per se, that did it.

Then there are people who want their kids to read because they themselves like reading. I can sympathize with this, but it's like any other interest. You might want your kids to love football, or fishing, or tinkering with mechanical things, or drawing, or taking care of animals... .and if you share that enthusiasm, they may even go along with it, because they like spending time with you, but whether it catches on as a genuine enthusiasm of their own is another matter, and you can't really force it, I don't think.
01.21.10 (UTC)
Yes. Like it's an inherent good, and I think it's really not. It can be awesome. It can also fuck you up, like anything else. Content matters. Context matters. Reading =/= P.E, where just going through the motions is the whole point of doing it.

I don't know how I'll be when/if I become a parent, so of course this is all more from the point of view of the child/student.
01.21.10 (UTC)
One thing I find interesting/ironic is that some of the very parents who want their kid to read (talisman of success) don't want them to read too much--not, y'know, if it interferes with other college-application-building activities, like getting first violin in the regional orchestra, or math homework.

And just like today people demonize video games as the thing that'll destroy youth, reading bad stuff in the past (comic books, say, or pulp novels) was the thing that was going to destroy them, back in like the 1930s. So the current notion that any old reading matter will do is new; people didn't always feel that way by any means.

And yeah: reading can traumatize you as much as a scary movie can, for sure. I remember being terrified by stuff I encountered in books.
01.21.10 (UTC)
Yeah, that's not a surprise. There's a lot of emphasis put on the "well-rounded, well-adjusted" child these days.

That hadn't occurred to me, but that's true. I wonder why everything's changed. I'm tempted to say mass media and the internet (is there anything that's shameful to read now? almost everything has a corner of the internet and a small press to support it). It's not like I think any of these things are going to destroy kids' brains or morality or the rest - I expose myself to a lot of trash, god knows - but the total lack of critical thinking that goes along with the Reading for Points mindset... is mind-boggling.
01.22.10 (UTC)
Well-rounded is one thing, but it depresses me when activities are always with an ultra-pragmatic purpose in mind, usually related to the child's future material success.

I know that you're not suggesting that mindless reading is going to destroy kids--I kind of derailed the conversation with my own rant. You were saying that for reading to have value, you should consider what's being read. That seems fair, and I think does dovetail with my rant. Reading for points commodifies reading. Why not read the cereal box? Or the small print on automobile ads? (Rhetorical question)
01.22.10 (UTC)
Hey, I just got out of the HS rat-race several years ago. I know all about the depression that entails. (granted it's a rat race I entered myself... but for the gifted kids it's like 100 or 0)

No, that's cool. It's clearly a subject that elicits strong opinions, especially from writers! Yeah, though, that's exactly it - consider what's being read. Double with reading for points commodifies reading. I think what does come close to the automobile ads and cereal boxes = Reader's Digest. My best friend's parents kept a stock of them in their bathroom (fittingly) and that magazine has got to be the most mind-drudgy stuff out there. It's like a twitter version of Chicken Soup for the Soul, written by a traveling Bible salesman.
01.22.10 (UTC) - back cover blurb
"a twitter version of Chicken Soup for the Soul, written by a traveling Bible salesman" LOL!!

Can't you just see it on the back of a book? The thing is, I can totally see Reader's Digest embracing that description unironically!
01.22.10 (UTC) - Re: back cover blurb
Now everybody's happy!
01.21.10 (UTC)
I dunno, I'm kind of a proponent of reading. I think people who read have a decided edge on those who don't. Unless it's stuff that doesn't really involve reading. And you get that whole domino effect where they can pick up nuiances and subtext from one book and apply it to another. Etc.

Anyway, remember those Drugs are Bad commercials, where the dad that looks like Gabe Kaplan from Welcome Back Kotter is hollering at his son, "Where did you get this stuff! Who taught you this was okay!?" "You!" cries the son, "I learned it from you, okay?!" Dad looks sheepish, the two go off to smoke a blunt together.

Reading is much like that commercial. If you don't read at home, and your kids don't see it, don't put them in the summer reading program, or berate them for not reading, because chances are they just won't see how it's important at all if they can't even catch their parents reading ANYTHING. The same goes with Algebra, Calc, Trig, etc. Unless you are using it, you won't get any use out of making it part of your thought process.

Most people really won't need to read anything more complex than a roadsign on a daily basis. At the most, they'll need to read information about insurance, how to assemble a TV stand, or the ticker for a storm warning at the bottom of their TV screen. And how much of any of that is in any kind of coherent language anyway?

The awesome thing about reading, vs. TV, movies, etc. is that your mind has to be active to glean information from it. Therefore, you'll have a higher retention rate and in essense, feel smarter when your dumbass friends start trying to school you when Jeopardy comes on. The bitch of reading is that it isn't instant gratification, which means unless your name happens to be Faust, you'll never be able to read everything that has ever been written. You'll just get a narrow crossection, which also means that you will probably learn more by watching TV than you will pouring over books all day. In the end, we're all wormfood anyway. So, if you like to read, then read. If you don't, then enjoy what you like to do. But reading can be really fun too.

Take that LaVarr Burton!
01.22.10 (UTC)
I'm not NOT a proponent of reading, at all. FWIW, however, I never in my life saw my parents read any book when I was growing up, and I was a voracious reader anyway. But they did buy me a lot of books, so I got the message that as a child I was "supposed" to read.

What I was trying to say was that I'm very much against the line of thought that says a book has merit just because it's readable, and therefore it doesn't matter that a book promotes, say, being a materialistic and shallow person (Gossip Girl, which constantly gets propped up with "at least it gets girls reading" - I'd seriously rather have my kid watch Who Wants To Be A Millionaire than read GG) or that a book is written horribly. What that implies is that you (general you) don't think your kid's actually absorbing anything from what they're reading, which is like the opposite of what reading SHOULD do. So either your kid is getting awful messages, or the writing is so bad it's barely activating your kid's brain cells. Either way: worthless. And I'm talking about bad books here. By far not all children's books, of which there are many I think are good.

Of course, kids will read what they will read. But I think "at least it gets kids reading" is a hollow compliment. Does it make 'em think, is what I want to know. Enid Blyton is another author who's constantly supported by the "at least she gets kids reading" line, but as a kid reading her books (given as presents) she made me violently NOT want to read because I found her depiction of girls and her plots stupid. So yeah, I needed to find an author who did not write like her. Which is to say it does matter what's between the pages.
01.22.10 (UTC)
The eternal subject of "What is Quality". Yep, I agree with you totally on this. Sometimes trash is fun to read, but there's a difference between trash and vapid trash.

My mom was the big reader. My dad read only Louis L'Amour, but he could read one in about an hour. They used to buy me books, but I liked the idea of books better than reading them. I surrounded myself with books and didn't read most of them, but they were a comfort for whatever reason. If I got into a series, I read the heck out of them. Not exactly the best that I could have been reading, but not on par with Gossip Girl either.

I always dug on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents the Three Investigators books. A few other titles too, but yeah, it's like these days some books they offer kids are the equivalent of giving a person dying of thirst a glass of warm salt water and saying "Hey, at least it's wet!"

Some books are really good though. The Percy Jackson books to name a few. I'm actually more optimistic these days than I was when I was a kid because there is more YA stuff. Back in the day, you could read Dr. Seuss or cut your teeth on Stephen King. Not much in-between.
01.22.10 (UTC)
Heh, it is indeed an eternal subject.

I should note that my mom read with me - like when I first read The Hobbit, we read it together because it was a bit "above" my reading level (and then I finished it on my own). That's it though. But they were both former academics, so we had a room in the house that was filled with their books. LOL about liking the idea of books more than reading them. I know what you mean. There's a part in Dahl's Matilda that speaks to that comfort, I think. Roald Dahl is a good example of what I was into as a kid, actually.

Ha to the desert-thirst thing. I never got into YA really - only YA author I liked was William Sleator, and that was still meh. I tried to like Madeleine L'Engle's stuff, still meh. I read a fair amount of nonfic at that age though. I also randomly read stuff lying around my aunt and uncle's house - gave up on Handmaid's Tale, but got through 1984 and She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb. Not YA. I haven't read a lot of the YA that is exalted these days (Percy Jackson, Dark Materials).
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