Reading: An Autobiography

I am an avid reader. My life can be mapped out, sectioned off into different time zones, by looking at what I was reading at a certain time in my life. I recently have become interested in this phenomena as I am in a position now, as someone in her mid-thirties, where I read more YA (young adult) literature than I do “adult” literature. Of course, I have my job as an excuse: being a high school librarian means that I have the perfect cover for this vaguely embarrassing habit.

But why should I find this habit embarrassing? I tell my students and the adults who like to read YA that they should never be ashamed of what they choose to read (unless they are reading Mein Kampf as the bible of political theories, but then they have bigger problems). If you feel like reading a trashy romance novel, then you should read a trashy romance novel. That’s the great thing about reading for pleasure: we can follow our moods. And mostly our moods reflect what is happening in our life.

But let me digress from my autobiography for a minute, to champion the much maligned YA genre. I am not sure why children’s and YA literature is not considered “serious” lit. Like any adult lit, it has its Dickens as well as its Danielle Steeles. It is not all fluff. I just read the Chapter “Pig and Pepper” from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to my daughter and was floored by the scathing satire of the upper class. My daughter enjoyed it just as much, but on a different level – the image of a cook throwing cooking utensils at the duchess, the horrifying lullaby the duchess sings to the child/pig – all that is pretty funny stuff. And although they are rare (just like they are in the adult world), there is also a whole set of YA and children’s novels that are worth a read by any audience. Here are a few off the top of my head:

  • Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card ( I am reading this right now and am completely, mesmerizingly disturbed by it)
  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
  • The Tale of Despereaux and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

And these are just the books that I have right in front of me at the moment. I am sure if I thought about it, I could think of more. Yes, there is a lot of dross. But there is in adult literature too. I maintain that the elements that make a good novel holds true for the ones written for children and young adults as well and shouldn’t be judged just by the fact that they were written (or more likely, marketed) for a younger audience.

Okay. I have now stepped off my soap box.

From the time I learned to read to about 12:

  • The Bobbsey Twins
  • Nancy Drew
  • Narnia Chronicles
  • Judy Blume
  • Beverley Cleary
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins (my favourite book)
  • Frances Burnett Hodgson
  • L.M. Montgomery
  • and a lot of Archie and Veronica’s

I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on. The Island of the Blue Dolphins was one of my personal favourites as well as The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I also remember being forced to read and, to my suprise, loving, My Side of the Mountain.

From 12- 14:

  1. Robert Cormier
  2. Paul Zindel
  3. Anne Rice
  4. Catcher in the Rye
  5. Lois Duncan
  6. Paula Danziger

This was probably the time I read the most YA fiction. The Chocolate Wars by Robert Cormier, Paul Zindel’s Pigman novels, and of course, as previously mentioned in this blog, The Catcher in the Rye. I also read all the Anne Rice I could get my hands on and I remember reading my one and only Stephen King novel, It. It scared the crap out of me. Ahh yes, and some Paula Danziger, and, of course, that swami of the supernatural, Lois Duncan, with some juicy little yarns about stuff like astral projecting and other supernatural abilities.

From 14-20

  • George Orwell
  • D.H. Lawrence
  • Aldous Huxley
  • and many other classic novels

I remember being very influenced by Aldous Huxley’s dystopian vision of the future as well as going through a hardcore D.H. Lawrence phase. This commences my elitist period in literature, where I wouldn’t read anything that wasn’t published by either Penguin or Faber and Faber. This continues into my twenties when the line between pleasure and school gets blurred as I was doing an English Lit degree. Still, you can imagine that includes a lot more “canon” works.

From 20-25
This is the period where I was part of an intense art group and under the tutelage of a very intelligent, didactic philosopher. For the first time in my life, I start reading non-fiction. Layman’s books about quantum physics, H.G. Wells’ armchair History of the World, Introduction to philosophy, Dostoyevsky, Ivan Illich, books about religion and spirituality, biographies, as well as more canon works of fiction. This period ends at about 25 when I had my first child and my brain melted like a s’mores on a campfire.

From 25-30
I read Harry Potter over and over again. And flyers from the local pharmacy. And, oddly enough, Ulysses by James Joyce while breastfeeding my firstborn in the middle of the night. Oh, and we can’t forget, that literary classic, the Ikea catalogue. I also started getting interested in theories of education, for obvious reasons. Although my children were very young, the prospect of sending them to that Lord of the Flies (read when I was 14) environment scared me. I started reading John Holt, Neil Postman, and more Ivan Illich. I also remember reading Philip Ayer’s Centuries of Childhood, a book that has greatly affected me.
Oh yeah, and this period marks my first book club, an experience that I really enjoyed. I read books that I would never have picked up like Jan Wong’s Red China Blues. One I hated so much I wanted to kill myself was The Hours by Michael Cunningham (I think- I am too lazy to go look). I felt so strongly about the book that to this day I refuse to watch the movie.

From 30-to present day
This period in my life is where we move to Montreal. Harry Potter is still being read with much frequency. And from the time I end up in the children’s department in the library, children’s and YA books.

But recently, although I still read a lof of YA, I have noticed that science-fiction has been figuring more prominently in my reading list. The Red Mars series by Kim Stanley Robinson was my first real introduction to this genre and I have to say I loved it. I also just read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and was blown away. What is funny about this trend is that as a teenager, I would not even look twice at a science-fiction or fantasy book, let alone one marketed to teenagers.

Thus concludes my reading history. Now that I have written, this long rambling post, I realize that this is probably only interesting to me…

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3 Responses to Reading: An Autobiography

  1. Alex says:

    it's totally interesting to me, too! i think of it as being similar to skukling over to your house and scanning your bookshelves. only better, because my bookshelves don't always represent the fullness of reading, since it's missing the other 90% of material I borrowed.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Glad you didn't kill yourself over a book. That would've been the lamest suicide note, ever.

  3. No, but my rants might have had others contemplate it.

    And Alex, I agree- half the stuff I've read, no wait. Most of the stuff I've read has come from either the public library or a friend's library.

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