This week we’re trying something a little different. Instead of doing a full-length post I thought we might do a whole bunch of mini-topics that I’ve been contemplating but haven’t been able to get enough material for a full post for. You down with that? Good.
Welcome to my junk drawer.
Do boys and girls read different things?
For those who don’t know, I work in a bookstore and it’s not an uncommon thing for me to be asked to recommend a book or a series for a harried parent/auntie/adult figure who needs to know what the kids are into these days. Or, more specifically, what their kid would be into.
Which is fine and thankfully there’s a great range of, frankly brilliant, kids authors out there. But there are always some books that I simply don’t recommend for certain kids and often it’s for incredibly arbitrary reasons.
For example, I generally won’t recommend a book that has a female protagonist if the kid’s a boy. And I don’t know why that is. When I was a girl I never had any problems with reading books that had boys as the protagonists, so why doesn’t it work the same way for boys? Because of this strange mental block I’ll bypass the shelf of Tamora Pierce (Books which still make me flail with joy) and instead head straight for the Percy Jackson or the Artemis Fowl books (Which, admittedly, still make me flail but not quite as much).
I was talking with one of my co-workers and she tends to do the same thing. Girls get the pick of the bunch while boys are restricted to boyish books. And that doesn’t make sense at all. Is this just an us thing? Or do we all collectively need to start buying boys books with strong female protagonists?
Every book I pick up these days is in first person. When did this start happening? And Why?
For the Rule breakers
Breaking rules is fun, isn’t it? To boldly split an infinitive, to write a story with as many car park violations as you possibly can, to sprinkle exclamation points around like… well… sprinkles, to continue sentences going long after they’ve overstayed their welcome. And, because writing is essentially a creative sport, if anyone call you out on it you can always give them your most disdainful look and tell them that they obviously don’t ‘get’ it and that they’re heathens for not appreciating your art.
The beauty of writing is that you really can do that. Like all creative pursuits, often it’s the rule breakers who are the ones who change and revolutionise the field with their crazy ideas. It’s the rule breakers who saw how confined everyone else was by those petty rules and decided that they weren’t part of that crowd of people who were considered ‘good’ writers, they wanted to be great.
And sometimes that works. Sometimes the rule breakers discover that the rules were only hindering their creative voice and that, really, they’re better off without them.
More often, however, they crash and burn in a fiery, but amusing, explosion of bloated prose and grammar fails.
But rules are meant to be broken, right? And, in fact, it is better for the rules to be broken because that’s edgy and cool, man, and that gives the work value because we don’t conform to your system.
But being edgy and cool doesn’t mean breaking rules. It means breaking the rules for a reason. If your prose is full of dense description because you want your story to have a trapped-in-honey kind of feel to it, more power to you. If you’re twisting grammar to the point where it screams because that’s how your character understands the world and it wouldn’t make sense otherwise, I applaud you. If your story is filled with useless dead ends that send home the Nihilistic philosophy of your book I take my hat off to you. But if you’re breaking rules for no reason other than to be cool or because you are unaware that rules exist, I am perfectly within my rights to peg your book at the nearest solid object.
Should we study Twilight?
It’s back to school time over here and we’ve got a brand spanking new national curriculum. Previously the curriculum was set by each of our individual states and it was a shemozzle of different systems whenever you crossed state lines.
This national curriculum has the interesting effect that now all students will be reading roughly the same books as they go through the schooling system. And the selection is pretty much what you’d expect, some classics (With themes and messages that you can easily squeeze an essay out of) combined with some modern classics (with the above-mentioned essay readiness).
And before you all expire with horror, no, Twilight is not on the list.
But should it be?
As much as the comparison pains me, Twilight did what Harry Potter did before and what Hunger Games is doing now, it encouraged kids (mostly teens) who’d given up on reading to pick up a book and see what this whole craze was about.
And so they picked up Twilight without really having any reference point for what is a good book and what is cheap entertainment.
Now, perhaps this is making a target of myself, but I don’t mind the Twilight books (Though I count them as the trilogy and mentioning that abomination of a fourth book is likely to send me foaming at the mouth). They’re engaging for what they are and I have no problem with their existence. But, objectively, they are not good books.
And that’s okay. Not every book in the world needs to be good. But when they are the book that has gotten teens back into reading, there needs to be some kind of discussion talking about why Twilight is what it is and why it’s not the be all an end all of literature.
Think about it. If you’re between the ages of say 12 to 25, it’s a pretty good bet that you’ve read these books. And you’ve formed your own opinions about them. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to be able to discuss these books in an environment where you’re encouraged to go beyond the ‘Edward is sooo hot!’ and ‘Vampires don’t SPARKLE!’ extremes and instead discuss the allegations about Edward and Bella’s relationship being abusive? Or the way Meyer’s Mormon upbringing has influenced the text? Or just why millions of girls fell in love with these guys and what that says about us as a society?
Personally, that’s a discussion I’d love to have in a classroom setting. Much more than talking about the painfully thin allegory of Animal Farm, anyway.
The Dark Past
Unless you do something with it, I don’t care. Your character does not become more interesting if you casually mention that they were abused as a child and then never speak of it again.
That was fun, wasn’t it? I’ll have to do that again next time I’m fresh out of anything but mini-ideas. I’d love to know your thoughts and opinions about any of the issues I’ve talked about so please comment and tell me what you think.