6/2/07

Literary Regression

I'll be doing some work in my high school's library later this summer, a revisitation of my senior project, in which I got to play at being a librarian. One of the best parts of the job was buying and cataloging (and often reading) new books, mainly young adult and children's fiction. You wouldn't know it from glancing at a display in the teen section of Barnes & Noble, but there are some really good books still being written for that age group. I'm long past the time when those books were technically at my reading level, but one of the qualities that makes these books good is that I still enjoy reading them for the first time, unaided by nostalgia. I think many authors make the mistake of dumbing down their prose in all the wrong ways, assuming that teens won't understand complex structures or rhetorical devices; basically, writing with any stylistic depth (by depth I don't mean Faulkner; plain good writing is fine by me). Consequently we get a lot of books full of stilted dialogue and simplistic narration. Really, I think teens are capable of understanding the English language as well as the average adult, though maybe with smaller vocabularies (and what better way to broaden them than by reading?). Content-wise, very few things are off-limits in teen fiction these days, and young people are the best audience for fantasy, myths, and generally imaginative stories. My point is, there isn't really a good reason why young adult literature shouldn't be one of the best genres available. Think of Philip Pullman, for example, whose (amazing) His Dark Materials trilogy is just as likely to appeal to adults as children. My other point is, the number of books out there is absolutely staggering. Even in my comparatively tiny high school library of 3000 books, I haven't read an appreciable fraction of them. I missed a lot of great books during the time I was theoretically supposed to read them, but that's not going to stop me from catching up now.

In conclusion, a short list of books I came to late but enjoyed:

You & You & You by Per Nilsson, tr. Tara Chace
The Realm of Possibility by Devid Levithan
The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
Zigzag by Ellen Wittlinger
Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Any favorites of your own? Please share!