But because I work in the Kids Department, that means I pretty much don't read what we affectionately refer to as “Grown-Up Books.” I'm okay with it; as I said I even consider myself fairly well-read. Until I have an embarrassing interaction: I tell someone I work in a bookstore, and they ask what I think of the hip new book that everyone and their mother is reading. I have never, ever read that book. I haven't read Steig Larsson's Dragon Tattoo trilogy, or The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, or Let the Great World Spin. I mean, that's okay, right? I've read most of the hip new books that every twelve-year-old is reading, and most of the big children's book award-winners of the last five years. I do read a lot, and within the realm of children's books I read across genre- biography, history, science , fantasy, romance, mystery, literary fiction, coming of age. And as I've written here before, you can learn an awful lot from children's books. But sometimes, that doesn't feel like enough.
Due to Seija's hearty recommendation of William Styron and especially Sophie's Choice, I decided to break free of the under-18 crowd and read a big kid book for once. Seija politely reminded me that if you read a lot of young adult fiction, you might forget how much effort you as a reader are expected to expend to get into the characters and situations in a novel like this. I laughed and said I would be just fine, thank you very much. But it was quite a different experience, and she was right in a big way. Not to say that young adult novels do not require emotional heavy lifting; I would even say some can be more taxing. But after a week of diving into SC, I felt like I had extra roommates. I was taking Sophie, Nathan, and Stingo's opinions of things into account in my daily life, as if they were hanging around and might be offering up a comment on my lunch menu or musical choices any minute. Finishing it took me probably two weeks, whereas I can plow through an average middle grade novel in a lunch break plus a good evening on the couch.
The whole thing got me thinking about what I like and don't about the two respective kinds of fiction: books specifically aimed at young folks, and books aimed at the general reading public. I've read books for kids on a wide variety of intense topics- being an immigrant kid while surviving abuse at home, surviving a self-inflicted gunshot wound and the resulting recovery process, day-to-day life in a concentration camp, a community of runaway slaves in Canada, stories of losing important people in a myriad of ways. The language in kids and young adult fiction, both descriptively and emotionally, is often quite a bit more direct. There's less worming around trying to figure out how to feel, trying to weigh every option all the time, less constant analysis. It's a story about something, always moving forward. Sometimes when I read adult novels I actually find myself annoyed by their Hamlet-y indecisiveness. Just decide whether to be or not be, and quit whining already. Okay, so you had an affair/someone died/she doesn't love you back. Deal with it! Sometimes my angsty teenagers seem more emotionally mature than older protagonists.
But this is all just to say that it can be an interesting exercise to read outside your comfort zone. I highly recommend it. Whether it expands your horizons or just reinforces why you love what you love, it can't be a waste to push it every once in awhile.
-Anna, Kids Books