Why I don’t knock people for what they love to read

So you love Twilight. Yeah, you know it isn’t the best book, yeah, you know the relationships are low-key abusive, and yeah, in hindsight the whole thing is pretty melodramatic. But why are you apologizing for it? Why is it your “guilty read”? Why … do people criticize you or make fun of you or call you not a “real reader”?

I feel the same way about pretty much every book, btw. Fifty Shade of Grey? You do you. Harry Potter still? Hey, if it’s your favorite it’s your favorite. Everything by Sarah J. Maas? We don’t see eye to eye on much, but at least we both love to read!

Okay, but Katie, they can’t read Harry Potter because its author is transphobic and trash.

Just, hear me out. I was ten when Harry Potter became like, super popular. I devoured it in a weekend, and I loved it so much I started reading it to my little brother, who was eight. Now, my brother could read just fine, but he never did. He didn’t like books, didn’t like reading. But after I read the first three Harry Potter books to him and stopped because the fourth book was too dang LONG to read aloud, he picked it up himself. He was nine, and he read that book ALL THE WAY to the end. Then, suddenly, he started picking up other things. He became a reader. These days he’s reading freaking Colson Whitehead. Without Harry Potter, no The Nickel Boys. I don’t think he’s still a big HP fan, but so many people with similar stories ARE. Who am I to tell them that the book that made them a reader is too problematic for them to continue to love?

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Discussion: Do you read seasonal books?

IT’S ALMOST HALLOWEEN!!!! I love Halloween, mostly because I love dressing up in costumes with my family. ❤ But I have to say I enjoy October in general, and I love Halloween/fall decorations, especially pumpkins. It’s just such a fun time of year!

I also always enjoy seeing lists of spooky books for spooky season. I even did one of my own, once. But the thing is, I almost never read spooky books in October. Partly because I don’t enjoy scary/spooky books, but partly because I rarely think of it.

But this isn’t the only time of year I see seasonal lists. At Christmas it’s inevitable to see lists of Christmas-themed romance novels. It’s like the Hallmark channel, but in book form. In the summer I see lists of beach reads, some of which are romance novels with middle-aged women in bikinis under an umbrella, others of which are cling-to-the-edge-of-your-seat thrillers. In early January I tend to see self-help lists, or at least books about people getting their lives together.

But, I never read in this way.

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Classic Remarks: Favorite Time-Period

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: Do you have a favorite time period for classic literature? 

DEFINITELY. As in, it’s not even a contest. I love Romantic literature. In particular I tend to enjoy French Romantic literature more than English, but as long as it isn’t Dickens I’ll read pretty much anything from the time period.

The Romantic era is a pretty big umbrella that covers a lot of different literary styles. It lasted from approximately 1790-1850. That means that both Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters are Romance authors, and they’re just about as different as they come. I’m sure I could google characteristics of the Romantic era, but I personally associate Romance novels with being long, melodramatic, and emotional. Some of the novels that epitomize Romantic literature for me are Jane Eyre, Les Miserables, and Great Expectations.

What I personally love about Romance novels is the feeling and emotion they are written with. Since mot of the classics I read in school were from the Romantic era or later, when I was first introduced to the Classical era through Tom Jones or Candide, I was surprised at how … aloof the novels seemed. In Romantic novels you get to really know the characters, their thoughts and feelings. This is taken to the nth degree by Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre when she wrote *gasp* in the first person.

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Discussion: How do you decide when to stop reading a book?

As a young person, I seem to remember feeling like I had to read all the way to the end of a chapter before I could put a book down. As in, I wouldn’t come to dinner until I finished my chapter. Luckily, that was before I discovered long books with long chapters. Then I got a little older, and I would put it down if I could get to the end of the page. I was experienced enough to be able to remember what was happening and jump back in, but not to remember where on the page I’d left off. These days, getting to the end of a paragraph is sufficient.

But I don’t prefer to stop in the middle of everything. I will if the timer is going off for dinner, but if I’m taking some reading time I’ll almost never stop at the end of any old paragraph. But how do you decide where to leave off for a few hours?

Ideally, I still like to read to the end of a chapter. I mean, books are divided into chapters for a reason. They (usually) create reasonable stopping places, and give your brain time to process what you’ve read.

But sometimes the chapters are LONG, and you can’t keep reading for another 65 pages before you need to go to bed. In those cases I’ll usually read to a page break if I can find one. Those are also natural stopping places, and sometimes I’ll take a brain break at one even if I’m not planning on stopping for the night.

What about when books (and this sometimes happens) don’t have page breaks? Where do you stop? Honestly, I get obsessive sometimes and read to the end of the chapter, even if I really shouldn’t. Other times I’m just like, meh, and stop literally wherever.

How do YOU decide where to stop reading? Let me know in the comments!

Classic Remarks: A Humorous Classic

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: Tell us about a classic you find humorous. And my automatic response is to ask, is it too obvious to talk about the collected works of Jane Austen?

In particular Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Northanger Abbey are the funniest of her novels. While Northanger Abbey isn’t laugh-out-loud funny like the other three, its satire remains so relevant today that I found this book to be hilarious enough to want to write a YA spoof about Twi-hards. I’ve lost interest in that project since YA paranormal romance has fallen out of popularity, but whatever, I still love Northanger Abbey.

But Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite books of all time *because* of how funny it is. I think where Austen’s sense of humor really shines is in her over-the-top characters. Mr. Collins is a particular favorite of mine, and his speech about why Elizabeth should marry him one of my favorite parts of the book. Lady Catherine also has some great moments, and Mrs. Bennet is a hoot.

Austen is great a one-liners, too. The opening line remains one of my favorite in literature. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man of good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Her general observations about the world aren’t always relevant still, but are nevertheless funny. In general her writing style is aloof and witty, and for whatever reason I am in love with it.

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Classic Remarks: Laura Ingles Wilder in School

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie has been criticized for its depiction of Native Americans as “primitive.” Should students continue to read this book in school?

I want to start by saying that, as a teacher-librarian, I think kids would better served reading fewer classics and more books they are going to be able to relate to and without old-fashioned language to decode. I don’t want to throw the classics out, but for elementary schoolers there’s not really a reason to read Little House in the Big Wood AND Sarah Plain and Tall AND Charlotte’s Web. If there’s nothing in your curriculum for kids under the age of 13 written since 2010, in my opinion your curriculum needs to be adjusted.

There’s a lot of reasons for this that aren’t the point of this post, but I’ll summarize by saying that the major points of doing a novel study in elementary school are 1) improving kids’ reading level by challenging them without challenging them so much they can’t get it, 2) teaching them to love reading, and 3) make connections with literary elements they’re learning about and see them in the wild. If the book has antique language, that can be an added element of difficulty that can prevent them from enjoying and understanding a book, which interferes with all three goals. AND if they aren’t being presented with books they love, kids won’t learn to love reading. It’s not that kids won’t love classics, but they may be able to connect more with some of the FANTSTIC kids’ lit being written today.

I also want to preface by saying that I loved the Little House books, especially the later novels, as a young person and read them more than once. While I now understand that it’s a pretty ethnocentric look at the past, I credit Wilder with starting my interest in Historical Fiction and history in general.

Moving on to the discussion.

No, there’s not a reason for teachers to be teaching Laura Ingles Wilder in 2020. While I don’t necessarily have *as* big of a problem with Little House in the Big Woods, and can understand why teachers would use it as an example of Historical Fiction, I think the problems with the series don’t outweigh the benefits of an actual first-person account of pioneer life.

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Stop saying that if I don’t relate to a book by an AoC it’s because I wasn’t “supposed” to

Okay, I am almost never confrontational on this blog, but I’m going to be today. Because I have read this dozens of times in the past year and I’m sick of seeing it.

Context. There have been a lot of posts (especially since May) about how White privilege and unconscious bias can lead to white reviewers to rate books by authors of color lower. These posts often focus on ways we write our reviews that are unfair to authors of color (and readers of color) that are almost always fair. True, reading about an unfamiliar world experience can be uncomfortable, which some reviews frame negatively and should not.

However, one point that I’ve seen time and time again is that the authors of these posts might say “Stop saying you didn’t relate to a book. The book wasn’t written for you, you weren’t supposed to relate to it.” And I just cannot express how angry this idea makes me.

Yes, it is fair to say that a book by an author-of-color was maybe not written “for” me. It is a fair statement that I might not “see myself” in the book as much as a reader of the same ethnicity/background of the author might. But that does not mean the author doesn’t intend for me to relate the novel or characters.

The entire point of literature and reading is to connect with people and experiences who are different from you. A good author can make a character who is completely different from you relatable. A big part of the reason to read books from diverse authors are so you can experience empathy for people who are different from you. OF COURSE you’re “supposed” to relate to these books!

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Classic Remarks: Contemporary Classic

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: What is a contemporary book you think might become a classic?  Or should become a classic? This is a difficult question for me because I don’t read a lot of literary fiction which is, in my experience, what is most likely to be taken seriously. Even within genre fiction I’m not super likely to read the critically acclaimed literature as much as I am to read the fun literature.

But perhaps I have a bit firmer of a grasp on what is going to be remembered in children’s literature and YA. While kids lit has a firm set of books that are by and large considerd “classics”, YA is so new that other than The Outsiders it doesn’t. But since there is so much content written for teens now, I think it’s inevitable that these lists start coming out.

When thinking about what would be included in a list of YA classics, it’s impossible to believe that the list would not include something by John Green. He has been consistently producing work that has received critical acclaim for long enough to be, well, influential. The only question would be, which book? Looking for Alaska is the most widely used in schools, while The Fault in Our Stars is easily the most popular of his books. In my opinion Paper Towns has the most to say about what it means to be human. I think ultimately Looking for Alaska’s consistent use by teachers and frequent bannings (which keep it on the librarians’ radar) will land this book in the YA cannon as that begins to develop.

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Discussion: Does your mood affect your ratings?

So as I’m writing this I’m reading Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, which I was really excited to read and is objectively AMAZING. I mean, the writing is so readable but so intense. Would definitely compare to Gabrielle Zevin in that’s is “chick-lit” or “women’s fiction” that can easily be taken seriously as “literary”.

But.

I’m not enjoying it. In fact, it’s stressing me out. Not because it isn’t amazing, but because I’m currently SOOOO stressed at work. We are attempting in-person school in the middle of a pandemic, and we’re not letting kids browse the books so I have to pull a hold (or two) for EVERY KID IN THE SCHOOL. Plus we’re going to try start giving books to distance kids, so that’s a lot to plan! Plus I’m finishing grad school this semester. I just have a lot going on, and I’m having stress dreams literally every night. So reading Queenie, who has anxiety and panic attacks, is really activating my own stressed, anxious feelings.

I think if I had read this book this summer, which was very laid back, I would have been much more appreciative of what Carty-Williams has very successfully achieved with this book. I really can’t downplay how GOOD this book is. If I wasn’t so stressed right now, would I feel differently?

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Classic Remarks – The Ending of The Giver

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: How did you interpret the ending of Lois Lowry’s The Giver? I think it’s only fair to say before I start that I read this book as a novel study with my fifth grade (?) class, and we discussed this at length with the teacher, so my answer might be her answer…

I should also state that I have not read ANY of the sequels, and I have no idea what happens in them or what they are about or who the characters are, and it’s definitely possible that reading those books would change my interpretation.

In case you’ve forgotten, at the end of The Giver the protagonist, Jonas, kidnaps his adopted brother, Gabe, in order to prevent him from being “released”. They travel for days and days, and eventually the weather gets cold. They go on into the snow until Jonas finds a sled at the top of the hill, and they sled into a Christmas village where someone is waiting for them.

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