Books, books, books. Lovely lists of books. Is there anything that conveys a sense of companionship and adventure better than a list of books?
Oh, of course: a stack of books.
I’m knee-deep in book lists as I’m thinking through the next school year. Here’s my plan: for each trimester, I’m going to make small catalogs of books, complete with a picture of the cover and synopsis. Then the kids will ‘order’ their books to read for the trimester. This way I have a lot of control, but they have a feeling of choice. I’ve tried to vary the settings and styles of books so that I’m not working from assumptions about what they’ll enjoy.
For example, Sandra is going to get a catalog of about 8 books for the Sept-Christmas season*, and I think I’ll ask her to choose 5. I’m still debating how many to require, especially since they vary in length and that will affect how quickly she can go through them. My goal for Sandra will be to get her reading not only at grade level (which she now does) but also reading at speed at grade level. So I’ll start with slightly easier books and then make each following trimester a little more complex. That way when I ask her to read more chapters per day than she’s used to, she’s starting on an on-ramp and not the Autobahn itself.
This means that I am reading all sorts of reviews and descriptions of books these days. And, oh, don’t they just make me weak at the knees. I have visions of myself surrounded by stacks of these books near a shady hammock, a summer vacation stretching before me like an endless stretch of white beach. Oh, to have child’s mind about the summer holidays again…I want to read every one of the books I’m offering Sandra.
Recently, I’ve stepped out of my non-fiction/classics/biographies/genre fiction tendencies and started reading Young Adult fiction. I’m not the only one, either. An article on the popularity of YA fiction in the L.A. Times put it well:
“‘I think part of the reason we’re seeing adults reading YA is that often there’s no bones made about the fact that a YA book is explicitly intended to entertain,” said Lizzie Skurnick, 36, author of “Shelf Discovery,” a collection of essays about young adult literature from the 1960s and 1970s.
‘YA authors are able to take themselves less seriously. They’re able to have a little more fun, and they’re less confined by this idea of themselves as Very Important Artists. That paradoxically leads them to create far better work than people who are trying to win awards.'”
I have a problem with Literature. It boils down to this: I don’t like most modern literature because I find it dull, grim, or nasty. Or all three. I also don’t believe in reading fiction to make myself a better person; I don’t buy into the idea that art’s role is to change the world. Given who goes to art shows or reads modern literature, it’s a little more of ‘preaching to the choir’ than changing the world. No, I believe that art should be beautiful or fascinating and books should be well-told stories. If I want to be a better person, I read non-fiction.
If I’m reaching for a novel, I’m reaching for a mental vacation or an adventure. I’ll time-travel and read classics. I’ll keep myself a-tingle with genre fiction. Modern” Literature”, especially the kind that wins awards in Canada, is too full of importance and grim details and too skimpy on reasons to keep reading other than being able to partake in pretentious conversations at dinner parties. Not that I haven’t tried. At 13 I was reading Atwood, Findlay, Potok, and a host of other heavy-hitters. But I started to feel that all of my optimism, my faith in human spirit, and my enjoyment of reading were fading away. I do have a good go at modern literature every now and then. But I always seem to wonder why everything is so grim and so dull. Is this the only way these authors can feel like they’re ‘doing real literature’?
The next few novels I want to read are all YA: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, A Wrinkle in Time, Dear Canada: Alone in an Untamed Land, Emily of New Moon, Fairest….to name a few.
And yet, rather laughingly, I am at the moment reading the best work of modern literature I’ve read in a dog’s age: Wolf Hall by Mantel. (It’s even a prize winner: the Mann Booker Prize. Perhaps they aren’t like Canadians over there and allow their authors to write good stories and still win awards.) I can’t put it down. At first a few of the style choices made the reading a bit more like work, but I’ve slipped into them now and find it a very pleasant yet gripping read. I stayed up 2 hours past bedtime for the first time in months and months reading it. I feel like I know Cromwell and yet that he is closed to me. How has the author done this? How can I feel intimately part of a stranger?Now that is craftsmanship.
*Interested in the first draft of her catalog?
The Hobbit, Tolkein
Misty of Chincoteague, Henry
Ella Enchanted, Levine
Behind Rebel Lines, Reit
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler, Konigsberg
Christmas Carol, Dickens
Treasure Island, Stevenson
All-of-a-Kind Family, Sydney Taylor
Dear Canada: Alone in an Untamed Land, Maxine Trottier