Wednesday
Jun262013

Reading Literature, A High Brow Affair?

Posted by Navdeep Singh Dhillon
A few weeks ago, a blog post on NPR created quite the stir. The central point of the article is clear from the opening paragraph:

Research shows that as young readers get older, they are not moving to more complex books. High-schoolers are reading books written for younger kids, and teachers aren't assigning difficult classics as much as they once did.

As a writer, avid reader, and a teacher, I am constantly telling my students to read, read, and then read some more. The sentiment of NPR's post is one I don't agree with because they seem to suggest there is nothing complex coming out of Young Adult Literature, and it doesn't seem like they've taken the time to read the genres they dismiss so quickly, such as the dystopian fiction of Hunger Games, or "books about vampires." These themes are also prevalent in "classics," like Frankenstein, Dracula, and George Orwell's 1984.

An interesting fact about genre is that many female writers of "classic" literature, used male pseudonyms, such as George Eliot because their work would immediately be put into the less serious "fluff" sections of the bookstores. Fortunately, this barrier was broken in a relatively short amount of time, but imagine a haunting tale like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein being taken less seriously than Irish writer, Abraham "Bram" Stoker's Dracula, just because of who wrote it, or what genre it was placed in!

I am all for anyone actively reading literature, but I do agree that when you start reading solely for entertainment, it is the equivalent of watching reality television and going through the motions without any critical thought process. The genre of Young Adult Literature has many books that are questionable in regards to the quality, but it's no different than any other genre, including so-called, "classics." But it's up to the readers to make that decision, rather than enforcing a position that reading anything in the entire genre is causing readers to become less critical readers. Let me assure you, I have been involved in some very articulate, and heated debates on the subject by the novelists over at TeenWritersBloc.com!

To give you a quick example of why I think it's dangerous to dismiss an entire genre, let me draw your attention to a different genre: the graphic memoir. Maus is a graphic memoir written by Art Spiegelman and confronts some really intense themes of the holocaust, the narrative of trauma, and it took very reputable book blogs, book reviewers, and newspapers several weeks to even realize it wasn't just a "silly" comic book for kids. It went on to be a national bestseller and has garnered several awards, yet it still confounds people when they attempt to put it in a list:

The problem for the list-makers has been how to define "Maus," which has been categorized under both fiction and nonfiction. (Sunday's New York Times Book Review switches the second volume from fiction to nonfiction on its best-seller list.) Mr. Spiegelman's work is not like most comics. Nor is it strictly fine art. It confounds simple description.   


Posted by Navdeep Singh Dhillon
Follow Me on Twitter @navdeep_dhillon
Visit me at www.NavdeepSinghDhillon.com or www.IshqInABackpack.com 

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