Sometimes you have to do things you just don’t want to do. Sitting at the back of a classroom struggling alongside James Ramsay en route to the Lighthouse I am sure there are many who have thought – I just wish I could read what I wanted.Sometimes after a hard day at school or work there is nothing better than collapsing with something that you know will do you no good but feels amazing, is warming, relaxing, easily digestible. It’s really hard work to trawl through something which is ‘good’ for you but that is difficult, sometimes boring, and often long.
So, in an effort to whip my reading muscles into shape, this January I embarked on a “healthy” reading kick. I took up a once a month reading challenge. Each month, I would swap books with a boy — a literary athlete who sprints through Dickens, vaults the American classics and thinks nothing of taking on a marathon Russian read. On one condition. He had to take on one of mine. So here’s how we have fared so far.
I gave him MAUS by Art Spiegelman
When I read this book I realised that I had not read anything which so perfectly summed up the complex relationship we have with the Holocaust – coming from a Jewish family I realised how persistent its shadow rests on our perceptions of ourselves, our family and our shared history. As a graphic novel it excels in portraying a difficult story with a subtle touch. I knew he would love it and it was about as far away from Charles Dickens as I could think…
He said –
Maus was a really new one for me because I’ve never read a graphic novel and my exposure to comics as a child was minimal. I doubted how much it could actually affect me before I began, and having a vague idea of the subject matter wondered if it might somehow trivialise it. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. It was one of the most affecting, challenging and gripping books I’ve ever read. It gives us insight not only into the Holocaust itself and those directly involved but how it relates to our world since. Certain passages are more haunting than any fiction could ever aspire to be, and the drawings only seem to make the tragedy more human. It is simply a work that every human should read. It is that important.
He gave me THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I wanted you to read the Great Gatsby because it’s a true classic and in my opinion lives up to its billing as the Great American Novel. It exposes like no other novel I’ve read the harsh reality of the American Dream. Its characters are wonderfully alive and Gatsby himself so mysterious that the novel drags you along by the scruff of your neck through a world you at once abhor and desperately want to be a part of, until its sudden, devastating climax. I knew that you would be as affected by it as I was.
I said –
It was okay. I mean – it was pretty good. I read it from start to finish and I enjoyed it. But it didn’t enhance my understanding of this world or transport me to a different one. Reading it I realised that adult books demand much more work of the reader. YA books should actively pull you into a different place. If you are reading adult sometimes you have to jump. But I can see why it’s a great classic. I think I should read it again to really get to grips with its nuances.
I gave him WONDER by R. J. Palacio
We’ve often discussed where YA and Adults sit in relation to each other. Sure you can have brilliant books on both sides, but I wanted to prove that even books aimed at a very young audience can have a real impact on its reader regardless of age. Also, that this genre is producing really brilliant books all the time, and it’s not just the classics which are worth reading once we outgrow children’s books. WONDER totally absorbed me and stayed with me long after I had finished it. I really hope that he loves it as much as I did.
He gave me FARENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury
I wanted you to read Fahrenheit 451 because it’s the best ode to literacy and literature I’ve ever read, without being preachy. Being a great advocate of libraries, literacy and literature for all, I knew this theme would strike a chord with you. I’m sure there is an endless number of themes you relate to in children’s books but there are just as many in adult books and some that will relate to you more as you grow older. Adult literature uses more complex language and metaphor than children’s so exposure to ideas that are likely to challenge your views or are simply a challenge to comprehend is always valuable.
The Final Word.
He said – You may disagree, but I feel it is rare in children’s literature to get lost in the language – the story world yes, and often, but rarely the actual language. With more adult writers, particularly Wilde, Fitzgerald, Updike and Dickens for me, you can get carried along merely on the beauty and musicality of the prose itself. I think more exposure to adult literature will probably be valuable to you as a children’s editor too as it just gives you another different perspective on ideas and writing and what can make a great story and what can make a story great.
I said - I don’t know if I will ever love adult books like I have loved children’s. I can respect them and admire their cleverness, but will they worm their way into my very soul? A book you read as an 8 year old can become your best friend, I don’t know if I will ever form a relationship like that with a book that feels like my contemporary or adversary!
So I put the question to you: What books would you press into empty hands? What will rejuvenate and reinvigorate a tired brain? That copy of WAR AND PEACE? Or cosy up with a well-worn favourite. What do you think? Stay tuned to find out how the book swap fares….