Girl meets Boy meets Books

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.

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Reading. The difficult stuff.

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.

JANUARY

maus

gatsby

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.

FEBRUARY

wonder

451

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….

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12 responses to “Girl meets Boy meets Books

  1. This is such a cool idea!

    If I had someone to inflict my book choices on, there could be no better starting point than Ros Barber’s ‘The Marlowe Papers’. It would entrance even the hardiest of poetry-phobes.

    • beccawearsredwellies

      Maybe I’ll add that to my ‘to-read’ list. I love poetry but feel so ignorant about what’s out there. I mostly just enjoy stuff I did at school, Hopkins and Blake etc…

  2. I love this post and your readswap project. I tried a similar thing once and it didn’t work as well as yours seems to be doing. I like the jumps and leaps that some adult lit requires but I think I’m a relatively slow reader and cannot get happily lost in poetic (or poststructural) language: I just flounder. I prefer to get lost in ideas and find that a good story is the best sugarcoated covering, whether it’s intended for children or adults. Best of luck, Becca.

    • beccawearsredwellies

      Thanks! I’m realising that where my imagination excels my fluency in reading is actually quite lacking. Sometimes I’m having to read passages two or three times to get what they mean! I need some suggestions for the coming months though! I’m thinking When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Andrew Fukuda’s The Hunt, and maybe some Michelle Magorian? It’s tricky!! And No Hot Key Books Allowed!

  3. How interesting! I feel the same about Gatsby and 451, though that’s not to say that some of my favorite books aren’t adult reads, but I prefer things with a tinge of fantasy. If you want to read something “for adults” but with the transitive power of YA, I recommend Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore. It’s a mystery/fantasy/historical fiction novel about the circumstances surrounding van Gogh’s death, and the supernatural power of the color blue. THAT is a book that I recommend to nearly everyone. As for your recs, I had to read Maus in grade school and I thought it was brilliant! Now I think I ought to find my way to Wonder.

    By the by, I gave my mother John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars for Christmas and she can’t put it down. This is the first time she has actually read something I’ve recommended to her, sad I know. But YA prevails!

  4. beccawearsredwellies

    That sounds amazing!! I will definitely be searching that one out. Sometimes even picture books can be really affecting – Michael Rosen’s Sad Book for instance, or any of Shaun Tan’s stuff – The Island by Armin Greder is really powerful too. Probably not suitable for younger readers though. It’s really hard to categorise books for age I think – although obviously you have to. But it shouldn’t stop anyone reading something!

    • I absolutely agree! Like the Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman – not necessarily for kids, but in a kid friendly format. I read a GREAT quote by Neil once, in which he explained that he doesn’t write books for any specific age group, it’s his publisher that decides whether it’s for adults or for young adults. He said that if kids want to read Good Omens or American Gods, then that’s who he meant them for. Obviously some things aren’t appropriate, but he has an excellent outlook on his readers.

  5. I often take ‘healthy’ reading breaks – at the moment I am putting myself through Our Mutual Friend (some bits are great, but sometimes I’m thinking geez Chaz, get to the point!). My favourites in the past couple of years have been Crime and Punishment and Vanity Fair.

    I think you need to have a varied diet as a reader – sometimes pushing yourself and sometimes going for something more relaxing. A mix of styles and a shift from story-focused to theme or language focused keeps you on your toes!

    Such a great idea!

  6. To counter the argument that you’re less likely to get lost in the lyricism of a children’s book I’d offer up The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett, which is such a stunning story, written simply enough for young readers to enjoy and beautifully enough for anyone to be impressed by. Not one superfluous word; every one ringing with magic and sorrow.

    The adult book I most put off for fear of the the work I’d have to put in – but which completely defied my expectations – is The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Again, not a word out of place, and it takes you firmly by the hand on an overwhelming and heartbreaking, angry-making, important and unbelievably impressive story-journey.

  7. Pingback: So long, fare thee well, pip pip, cheerio, I’ll be back soon (for tea and cake) | Hot Key Books Blog

  8. An interesting discussion is definitely worth comment.

    I do believe that you ought to publish more on this issue,
    it might not be a taboo subject but usually people don’t talk about such subjects. To the next! Best wishes!!

  9. Pingback: So long, fare thee well, pip pip, cheerio, I’ll be back soon (for tea and cake)

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