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26 October 2014 @ 01:25 am
so children aren't supposed to read children's books either, I guess  
(Is the New Yorker's new stance "no one should like reading anything unless it is approved by us"? Didn't they just publish one of these finger-wagging pieces for adults? Did they feel like they weren't scolding enough readers with that last one? Thought they'd cast their net a little wider, did they?)

"What if the strenuous accessibility of 'Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods' proves so alluring to young readers that it seduces them in the opposite direction from that which Gaiman’s words presuppose—away from an engagement with more immediately difficult incarnations of the classics, Greek and otherwise? What if instead of urging them on to more challenging adventures on other, potentially perilous literary shores, it makes young readers hungry only for more of the palatable same?"

"The Percy Jackson Problem," Rebecca Mead

(link via Neil Gaiman's Tumblr.)

Won't somebody please think of the children??? (What if the books are so enjoyable that children can't help themselves? What if they're like drugs?)

…I sometimes wonder if people would be less odd and panicky about this if we didn't live in a culture that was so concerned with precocity and early development. Let's say children don't pick up difficult incarnations of the classics - let's say they don't read them until high school or even, god forbid, college. (I'm assuming for the sake of this argument that reading the classics is a good thing that we would like people to do at some point, but it is not the only way to build a life.) Is that so bad? And let's say - brazen thought, but humor me for a second - that when they do read those classics in high school or college or even (gasp) when they're not in school at all (because I hear tell that people do still develop interests once they graduate), they feel more comfortable with them because they remember some of the stories from reading Rick Riordan's books: where, exactly, is the problem?

I feel like these articles all seem to operate under the impression that if you're not reading it (whatever it is) by the time you're ten, it's all over for you, and you're intellectually stunted forever. But I can never take these handwringing pieces seriously, because my own experience was so different. I was a pretty precocious reader as a child, in some ways: I started reading when I was two, I read well above my grade level, and I had a pretty well-stocked vocabulary. And Rebecca Mead would probably have approved of me, because for some odd reason I was obsessed with Bullfinch's Mythology (I…appropriated my mother's copy without actually thinking about it, to the extent that she found it on one of my bookshelves a couple of years ago and commented, "I used to have this book…"), and my first encounters with a lot of Greek and Roman myths happened in that book (although I have a very strong memory of first reading the story of Pandora's box in Virginia Hamilton's collection In the Beginning). (I didn't really latch on to the D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths - mentioned in Mead's piece - but oh, how I loved their version of East of the Sun and West of the Moon. I wish it would come back into print.)

But I didn't "graduate" to reading "serious" adult fiction when I was a child, or even very much when I was a teen. I was quite happy in the children's section, for a long time. I read and loved Matilda, and thought wistfully about how nice it would be to have been a prodigy, to impress somebody like Miss Honey because I loved Dickens - but I never went out and tried to read any Dickens. Even in high school, I liked most of what we read in school, and I understood it pretty easily - but even after reading and loving Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion for class, I didn't run to seek out any other Austen novels. I was far too busy at the time reading Robin McKinley and Patricia McKillip and Josepha Sherman, and trying to find all the Gillian Bradshaw novels I could get my hands on. I knew Fortinbras as the Murry family's dog in A Wrinkle in Time well before I knew he was a character in Hamlet.

And you know, I think I turned out okay. I read the rest of Austen's novels in college, and fell as ardently in love as anyone could wish. It turns out that I really liked Bleak House, once I got around to reading it. Shakespeare pretty much knocked me over the head and dragged me off to grad school, where I don't seem to have done any worse because I didn't read all the plays when I was twelve. And if I still haven't read Tolstoy or a bunch of other things yet - well, I've still got time. Because I haven't stopped reading, and changing, and learning that things I heard about when I was younger actually come from other sources that I can choose to explore even though I didn't then. (Baby Me would not have been ready for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, even though she had read a retelling of it. Baby Me was not ready for Twelfth Night, even though she could understand it perfectly well in her seventh-grade English class, because she hit backspace, appalled and embarrassed, at the first joke about venereal disease. Who knows what other riches Baby Me has left for Grownup Me to explore?)

The books that made me love reading - that turned me into the kind of person who could love Austen and Shakespeare as entirely as I do - were unabashedly children's books, populated with Moomins and dragons and children who ran away to hide in museums, and girls who traveled through time. The books that kept me in love with reading were the sorts of genre books that critics often sneer at (books that still have a purchase on my heart). Certainly the books that made me want to be a writer when I was younger, that made me think about how words worked together, were those kinds of books. (I literally started writing about writing because I wanted to figure out how McKillip's Riddlemaster books worked.) My reading abilities didn't atrophy and desiccate just because it took me a little longer to get around to the kinds of books that Rebecca Mead would consider important. So I bet those kids reading the Percy Jackson series are going to be fine.
ericadawn16: GrrArghhericadawn16 on October 26th, 2014 05:54 am (UTC)
Someone else had this on my F-List and I just RAGED!!!

First of all, she freely admits to her knowledge mostly coming second-hand from her children. She mentions a few things from the first book which made me think...she never went beyond the first book and the first book does have the worst writing in the series because Riordan has tried to improve with each successive book...how many authors can we really say that about? Most authors that I've read find a comfortable ledge on their way up the mountain and just stay there, their talent becoming a sort of status quo.

I believe to truly complain about a books series, you should have read ALL of them. I have read all four of the main Twilight books which is also why I have such a problem with that article.

1. Riordan is such a better author with mechanics, depth of story and research. Meyers admitted to not researching anything after the second or third book. Riordan also has the advantage of having taught high school and already being an expert in mythology.

2. Riordan's books encourage empathy, tolerance and empowerment of women. There is nothing in Riordan's books that made me cringe or uncomfortable or think I would have to discuss with a younger reader so they don't get the wrong idea whereas Twilight tends to romanticize very dangerous dating violence and abuse as "romantic".

Riordan was also the first YA book I ever read where a teenage character was revealed as...*gasp*...homosexual! And they loved him! They try their best over and over to make him feel like he belongs. I love this.

Of course, she knows none of this because she would have had to read past the first book. I suppose she was assuming the films would fill her in but the films are awful.

The only thing she and I do agree on is not saying that any book is good because it leads to other reading. I have yet to find a reader who became a voracious reader because of Twilight and went onto better vampire fiction. Twilight always leads to...the crappiest dregs of romance.

On the other hand, Riordan does lead to other reading. Yes, some of that was simply his other books but they also teach about mythology in other cultures. I know with me, I end up second guessing my mythology knowledge and having to look things up. I also like having it as a refresher to tales I read long ago like The Odyssey.

Yes, I read some awful stuff as a kid, mainly R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike although my first adult book was Jurassic Park when I was ten. Apart from school stuff, my reading was fairly abysmal, licensed titles from film and television, until high school when I started a reading club partly to force myself to read more classics but ended up trying a book called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone...it was Rowling that gave me the courage to try new books, like those by Tolkien.
tempestsarekind: books and flowerstempestsarekind on October 26th, 2014 02:39 pm (UTC)
I always find these articles to be strange, because I doubt that even Serious Critic Rebecca Mead read nothing but utterly worthy, improving literature *all* the time as a child. Which is why, at a certain point, I'm not sure that the answer is to say "Well, these books are actually good; they're much better than Twilight," because reading Twilight isn't going to ruin a kid's capacity for reading other books, either.

As you mention, I read lots of Christopher Pike in middle school, because everyone in my grade read them - and lots of Lurlene McDaniels (derivative, formulaic books about teens with cancer). Neither of those authors put some kind of lock on my brain that kept me from going out and reading other kinds of books as well. The people who write these articles always seem slightly terrified that reading is such a delicate, wilting flower that it will simply be destroyed by contact with anything that is less than "wholesome" - but all of us have the capacity to enjoy many different kinds of things at once. I read so many dumb books that I can't even remember now - because the important thing was that I was reading tons of books. Some of them became my best beloveds; others were just a drop in the bucket. I guess I just don't understand why these articles all assume that reading something supposedly frivolous or "too" enjoyable (what a strange concept) will warp our reading minds out of true.

ETA: That said, I also don't understand Mead's insistence that the enjoyability of Riordan's books is a problem, and couldn't possibly lead children to seek out other treatments of the same kinds of stories - as though kids who are really interested in something don't look for it in as many places as they can. A lot of this reads like she might just be sad that her child isn't reading a book she loved - which is an understandable emotion, but not actually a problem or a worrying trend.

Edited at 2014-10-26 02:49 pm (UTC)
ericadawn16: GrrArghhericadawn16 on October 27th, 2014 05:39 am (UTC)
"A lot of this reads like she might just be sad that her child isn't reading a book she loved - which is an understandable emotion, but not actually a problem or a worrying trend."

I did have adults try this on me and make me read books they loved as a child...and I usually hated all of them like Nancy Drew or Harriet the Spy...I hated how often strong-willed girls seemed to get punished for being strong-willed. However, I did love The Boxcar Children series before my age group got into R.L. Stine and all.
tempestsarekindtempestsarekind on October 27th, 2014 04:01 pm (UTC)
It's reasonable to want to try to share the pleasures you had as a child with your child or with children you know; I definitely get that impulse, even if you really should remember to take the child's actual reading interests into account. But it's not necessary to deride the books those children *are* reading in order to do that.
melancholy in the rainliseuse on October 26th, 2014 06:09 pm (UTC)
I believe to truly complain about a books series, you should have read ALL of them.

Or, at least, attempt to have read them and fail out with a laugh and a rueful shrug. I mean, I have read all of the Twilight books because I wanted to see if a) they were as bad as everyone said they were - which they were - and b) because I knew they were going to be terrible and I wanted to be able to mock them.

I do know a few people who have managed to use Twilight as a stepping stone to further reading because they were so proud of themselves for having read something long and spread out over multiple volumes that it gave them the moment of realising 'okay, yes, I can keep this many characters straight in my head, yes I can remember things across books, and if I'm enjoying something it just doesn't feel as long as it looks'.
tempestsarekind: elizabethtempestsarekind on October 26th, 2014 06:32 pm (UTC)
Fair enough! These articles that basically run, "I have heard about some children's/YA books, and I will provide no evidence that I have read more than two of them, at best, but STILL, I am an expert and you should listen to me about how they are terrible" - they are really getting annoying!
melancholy in the rainliseuse on October 26th, 2014 08:22 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I am probably never going to take kindly to the tone/content of that kind of article but if they were ever based off of more than 'I have heard these exist, and might have read maaaaybe one' then I might not eye-roll quite so hard.
tempestsarekindtempestsarekind on October 27th, 2014 04:02 pm (UTC)
It's just an absolutely terrible way to be a critic! Very shoddy.
ericadawn16: Surpriseericadawn16 on October 27th, 2014 05:31 am (UTC)
So, I'm so happy to hear that! I've yet to meet one.
melancholy in the rainliseuse on October 27th, 2014 02:56 pm (UTC)
It's people I work with who left school as early as they were allowed and who have basically seen reading as a chore rather than something enjoyable. For whatever reason, for a few of them, the Twilight books were a useful stepping stone. Yay!
cschellscschells on October 26th, 2014 04:47 pm (UTC)
Have not read the article you mention, but I would venture to say I disagree a lot with it! *g* Coincidentally, the girl just begged me to order her a paper copy of the Odyssey for her AR reading time in class, and I can 100% for sure say that her interest came from Percy Jackson. In fact, I've probably said it before, but there are hundreds of children from our elementary school who owe their interest in reading and/or mythology to Percy Jackson via the readathon based on said series that the moms before us put together.

I mean, I actually think that Percy Jackson is a special case because it does foster an interest in the classics that most entertaining middle grade books don't, but the principle is sound, I think, when you say that any reading is good reading (especially for kids, but why not for adults, too?). I mean, how do you develop the ability to compare/contrast/articulate the relative merits of books (or anything!) without being exposed to many, many permutations of whatever it is? I think it's GREAT when kids read "crap" throw-away books because a) it puts "better" books into perspective, b) they're still exercising their reading skills, c) I think it's REALLY important to let kids become fluent/conversant in popular culture books so that they can both fit in with their peers and discover how to become a member of a reading community. I mean, PLEASE let us stop creating and enforcing artificial culture boundaries between children, you know? And (one last ranty thought, I promise) the thing is, nobody lets their kids wander the city/neighborhood for real these days after school or during the summer (at least, not in my experience), so it seems like the least you can do as a parent is let them explore the seedier side of the library without looking over their shoulders!
tempestsarekind: a sort of fairytaletempestsarekind on October 26th, 2014 04:58 pm (UTC)
Yes, I agree with all of that! I think the article makes the odd assumption that all kids would be reading other classic mythology books if not for the Percy Jackson series, and that the series is in fact preventing kids from reading those other books once they've read the series. But not every child who reads Percy Jackson is reading it for the mythology - sometimes you just like a particular set of books - and were not going to read classical mythology anyway, while others (like your daughter!) are inspired to read more because of those books!

You're right, too, that you can't develop taste (and here I mean "what you like" even more than the sort of disapproving "taste" often described in these articles) in a vacuum; you have to read a lot to be able to start making judgments about books! Also - YES, absolutely, sometimes books are about making connections with your friends and others, and there is nothing wrong with that!
melancholy in the rainliseuse on October 26th, 2014 06:05 pm (UTC)
Articles like that make me so so so angry. I spent most of my childhood reading every single Enid Blyton, and Nancy Drew book published and my dad read me The Hobbit. Yes, I was precocious and I read Jane Eyre at seven, but I basically spent my life in idylls of the 50s and fantasy worlds. And then I moved on to Harry Potter and any other YA supernatural fiction that would stay still long enough. I still read YA supernatural fiction like it's going out of fashion. I don't like Austen very much (I'd rather read Heyer) but I love Tolstoy.

I feel like there's this horrible "Kids don't read anymore!" rhetoric that goes alongside "Kids read the wrong things!" and I sit there thinking "well, of course kids might be a bit discouraged if what they hear when they pick up a book is 'don't read that, it's not improving enough'". I mean, I'm a grownup with a doctorate in English Literature and I still seem to spend a vast amount of time justifying the fact that I love Heyer and that I re-read Diana Wynne Jones's books compulsively. I want people to stop making children justify what they are reading. Yes, if they've enjoyed something which has a certain set of myths at its heart, it's perfectly realistic to say 'well, if you enjoyed that and were intrigued by Character X, I have something else you might enjoy'. Maybe they will, maybe they won't. But at least it won't be phrased as 'you are learning about this the wrong way. What do you mean reading is supposed to be enjoyable? PAH!'.
tempestsarekind: freema reading is sexytempestsarekind on October 26th, 2014 06:30 pm (UTC)
Oh, so much of this comment resonates with me. You can't simultaneously try to shame kids for choosing books they enjoy *and* get them to love reading! Why is this so unclear to so many people? It is one of the great pleasures of life to say to another person (child or not), "Ooh, if you liked that book, try this one"; why would you want to ruin that possibility by making a child feel bad about her book choices?

I once accidentally admitted to reading Neil Gaiman to a grad school classmate, and he practically sniffed at me. "Oh, you're one of those people," he said - whatever that even meant. People who read New York Times-bestselling novelists? I guess I am. (Not that this makes it "okay" to read Gaiman - just that I am clearly not alone in my reading habits!) And I still sometimes feel like being an English teacher means that people think I am not "supposed" to read certain kinds of books. But I get over it, usually. :)
melancholy in the rainliseuse on October 26th, 2014 08:26 pm (UTC)
You can't simultaneously try to shame kids for choosing books they enjoy *and* get them to love reading!

RIGHT! And yet, so many people don't seem to get that. I mean, I had an (otherwise lovely!) English teacher when I was in high school who sniffed derisively at whatever YA novel I was re-reading, and told me to read X and Y because they were better, and I'm a person who has always enjoyed reading and it put my hackles up and I deliberately didn't read two books I might very much have enjoyed. My other English teacher was much better about it and said things like 'oh, well, how about I lend you D because it has some of the same themes and ideas and I think you'll enjoy it'. Even when he basically tricked me because D was nothing like whatever I was reading, it usually worked out.

I think I really lucked out with most of my grad school cohort. We were all kind of 'I need something for pleasure reading. Bring me Nancy Mitford! Bring me K.M. Peyton! Have you any Streatfeild!'
tempestsarekind: ten is a bookwormtempestsarekind on October 27th, 2014 04:08 pm (UTC)
I am trying very hard not to be that first kind of teacher. :) Even if I haven't read a series a student mentions, if I have any familiarity with it at all I try to show that, and say something positive (even if it's just "oh yeah, that series seems really popular right now")…I would have been so wounded if I'd screwed up the courage to tell one of my teachers what I was reading and she scoffed at it.

I was able to figure out which people I could mention reading certain books to, so it worked out okay in the end!
melancholy in the rainliseuse on October 27th, 2014 05:28 pm (UTC)
Oh, it was mostly that she used to see me reading as I waited for my mum to pick me up after hockey practice, and she'd come over to chat and then roll her eyes at whatever it was. My other teacher started recommending things because he saw how amazingly bored I was by The Badger on the Barge which was our assigned reading.
tempestsarekindtempestsarekind on October 27th, 2014 11:39 pm (UTC)
That seems a bit rude! You were clearly minding your own business and reading things for pleasure outside of school hours! :)
ericadawn16: Confusedericadawn16 on October 27th, 2014 05:34 am (UTC)
It's not okay to read Gaiman?

When he's an award winning author? Who also puts fresh, sipernatural twists on old tales?

I'm confused.
tempestsarekind: neverwheretempestsarekind on October 27th, 2014 04:09 pm (UTC)
But fantasy is an inherently lesser art form, don' t you see? No serious person should read it! /sarcasm
negothicknegothick on October 28th, 2014 02:26 am (UTC)
I don't know. I get so impatient with reviewers who praise Margaret Atwood's fair-to-middling and sometimes actively awful apocalyptic trilogy. Can some of you hear what this reviewer thinks is so glorious about the prose in this sample? And notice how the reviewer uses the quote as a stick to beat other writers of the fantastic:
"'The smaller birds are stirring, beginning to cheep and trill; pink cloud filaments float above the eastern horizon, brightening to gold at the lower edges.' In so much genre fiction, language is sacrificed to plot and invention. It’s a pleasure to read a futuristic novel whose celebration of beauty extends to the words themselves."

I see cliches and a fuzzy antecedent (what is brightening, the filaments or the horizon?).