Think Before You Speak. Read Before You Think.

Slate Magazine recently ran a piece by Ruth Graham telling us that adults should feel embarrassed reading books that were written for children.

I never knew reading came with rules.

I’ve read enough YA books that I feel qualified to respond.  You know why I read them, Ruth?  To piss you off.

It started in the fall of 1999.  Kelly was 10.  The school would send home a monthly flyer from Scholastic Books.  I loved getting books from Scholastic because they were so cheap.  They had an ad for a book called Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  It sounded great but it was also the third book in a series we weren’t familiar with.  We ordered the book from Scholastic and went to the bookstore to buy the first two.  (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban remain the only HP books we’ve ever owned in paperback.)  That started the same trend in my household that it started in most households, Kelly making midnight trips to the bookstore dressed as a dementor the night a new HP came out.  Kelly got to read them first, Jackie second and I was last but we’d all read them so fast that we were all caught up in the same week.

Harry Potter inspired so many games in my house.  We’d take turns naming chapter titles, or students, or teachers, or books, or magical creatures or spells to see who would get stumped first.

Ruth says I should be embarrassed. I have no idea but I’ll go out on a limb and surmise Ruth is not a parent.

I was not embarrassed.

I often read the books they were assigned in school, mainly to see what kind of books their Catholic grade school was exposing them to, and in just about every case, I was delighted.  Maniac MaGee, The Outsiders and The Westing Game; books I would have picked out for them myself.

I was not embarrassed.

Kelly was into John Green before John Green became cool. (Check that, John Green was always cool.  Before he became wildly popular.)  She’d recommend Paper Towns, Looking for Alaska, Let It Snow, Will Grayson, Will Grayson and of course, The Fault In Our Stars, whose popularity set Ruth off on her rant.

Reading the same books as your kids and talking about them with each other is wonderful.

I was not embarrassed.

They are both grown women living out of state now but I’ve found that hasn’t changed my reading habits much.  I get a lot of book recommendations from Twitter and/or Facebook.  Last week, I started reading a book called The Borrower (not to be confused with The Borrowers, about the tiny people who live in the walls.)

It’s a first novel by Rebecca Makkai, and Ruth would have a cow.  It’s not a YA novel; it’s a novel for grade school children.  And I don’t even have Jackie and Kelly’s childhood to hide behind anymore.  It said it was about a librarian and her close relationship with a ten-year-old voracious reader.  I thought I would enjoy it if Ms. Makkai could write.

She wrote:

Like a good Russian, I wanted to break into Pastor Bob’s house and poison him.  Like a good American, I wanted to sue somebody.  But like a good librarian, I just sat at my desk and waited.

She also wrote:

I refuse to have bookshelves, horrified that I’d feel compelled to organize the books in some regimented system – Dewey or alphabetical or worse – and so the books lied in stacks, some as tall as me, in the most subjective order I could invent.

Thus Nabokov lived between Gogol and Hemingway, cradled between the Old World and the New; George Eliot and Jane Austen shared a stack with Thackeray because all I had of his was Vanity Fair, and I thought Becky Sharp would do best in the presence of ladies (and deep down I worried that if I put her next to David Copperfield, she might seduce him.)

Ruth didn’t want me reading that.  She didn’t want me reading those two lines that made me laugh out loud and led me wondering which of my literary characters would do well with a visit from another. (I’d have Hermione Granger knock some sense into Ophelia and Huck and Tom hang out with Scout.)

I was not embarrassed.

The Borrower addressed the Pray Away the Gay phenomena.  It made me very happy to know young readers, especially those who grow up in toxic households, can find books that speak to them.

My advice is read what you like, watch what you like and listen to what you like.  Ignore those who judge you.  I’m looking at you, Ruth.

While I have you here and I’m writing about books, I just finished up a reread of A Song of Ice and Fire.  Two days after I did, I found Preston Jacob’s YouTube channel with videos about the Pink Letter Mystery and the Martell Conspiracy and they made me almost want to go read those parts again.  Almost.  One of the greatest things about ASOIAF is the vast amount of conspiracy theories it inspires.  I haven’t seen this kind of crazy devotion since Lost.

GRRM got mad last month at all the fans who worry about him dying before he is finished with his series.  I can understand his rage, but he is 65 and obese.  We love you, George.  We want you to finish the books.  Just mix in a salad now and then.





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