I would like to take a moment today to look at TWO thoughts I often see expressed on social media.
THOUGHT 1: I hate when I see parents shaming their kids for reading books that “aren’t challenging enough.” Does every single book have to be a challenge????
First of all, while I completely agree with the sentiment that not every single book needs to be a challenge, as a mom I’m also not big into parent shaming. You don’t know that parent! You don’t know that kid! Maybe that kid DOES read challenging books and the parent is a snob that thinks Warriors is too “kid-y” for her child. Maybe. Or maybe, just possibly, that’s a brilliant kid who is capable of moving on to bigger and awesomer things, but won’t read anything outside of their Magic Tree House comfort zone. YOU DON’T KNOW!
Which leads me to the next popular social media opinion.
Thought 2: I sort of liked that book, but I found it difficult/unenjoyable to read because it was too slow paced.
I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. It is 100% okay to find a book too slow. BUT. The more I blog and the more time I spend in the online bookish community, the more often I see this sentiment. I see it constantly, and about incredible books! It’s disheartening, because I’m realizing that there are so many readers, especially younger readers, who can only enjoy a fast-paced book.
So what do these two popular opinions have to do with each other???
I would like to propose that many readers, including young readers, are not challenging themselves enough.
As readers we prefer books that are in our comfort zone. Obviously. That’s why it’s a comfort zone. And we encourage each other (and ourselves!) to read the books we want to read. That’s great too! However, especially in our formative years, if we never take the time to read something outside that comfort zone, we can’t grow as readers.
What that challenge is might be different for different people. It might be you need to read something “harder”, it might be something in a different genre, it might be something older or newer than you’re used to. For me, personally, I’ve been challenging myself by reading more 20th century American books, a time period I’ve previously hated. And you know what? The more of it I read, the more I learn to appreciate it, even *gasp* enjoy it.
I am starting to suspect that with the growth of the YA genre in the last decade, it is too easy for readers to plateau. YA is an AMAZING genre, and it has so many great things to offer to both teens and adults. However, I think we can all agree that most YA books (keyword, most!) are fast-paced, unputdownable, and romance-driven. They tend to have a lighter writing style, to avoid outright philosophizing, and be less dependent on symbolism and thematic elements. Let me again stress that there is nothing wrong with that! However, if that’s the only thing you ever learn to read and enjoy, you are missing out on so much.
I wrote a post a few months back about pacing in YA vs. “adult” literature. I talked about how YA books tend to be paced faster, and people who mostly read YA tend to enjoy fast-paced books. I noticed how The Bear and the Nightingale, for example, was a slower-paced book that I adored was disliked by many book bloggers because it was “too slow.”
But I avoided what I really wanted to say.
If you hated The Night Circus because you thought it was too slow, you are REALLY MISSING OUT!!! It’s so romantic, and enchanting, and ethereal. It definitely isn’t for everyone, I can concede that, but you guys it is so amazing! And it’s not just me. SO MANY PEOPLE adore this book.
I hate to think that a teen who grew up reading YA and never had to stop reading YA as they reached adulthood will forever miss out on the enjoyment of incredible books like The Night Circus just because they aren’t used to the pacing. Books like Where’d You Go Bernadette, Uprooted, Jane Eyre, Wolf Hall, or The Name of the Wind. There are so many amazing, well-loved books out there outside the YA genre.
I am notorious for saying that I believe any two people could fall in love if they spent enough time with each other. I tend to think love is really just familiarity, on some level. It’s the same with books. Anyone can learn to love just about anything if they spend a lot of time reading it. As you become more familiar with it you start to get used to it and, eventually, enjoy it.
As someone who refuses to “get used to” coffee and beer, I’m not saying you should drop your favorite genre and torture yourself by exclusively reading something you hate. BUT. I would encourage all readers, and especially teens, to branch out from time to time. Find a book in a genre you don’t normally read that isn’t too long and sounds interesting to you, and don’t DNF it! Ask for recommendations, find something similar to a book you do like. Branch out.
And parents. Challenge your kids. Not every book, and not every day, but don’t let your kid continue exclusively reading Animorphs until they’re in 7th grade and at an 11th grade reading level. Hem … hypothetically. If they’re reluctant, try buddy reading! Ask your local bookseller or book blogger for recommendations. I bet you can find something they’ll love!