In my last post I wrote about the serve and volley between author’s need to preserve his/her artistic integrity and distance from public pressure and my growing sense of the need, and opportunity, for authors to gain through interaction with their young readers. Well that very night, courtesy of Joyce Valenza, Ernie Cox and their Virtual Cafe, I got to speak about — well — all of the concerns that I write about here: nonfiction, kids, boys, books. But because the elluminate session took place in my home at 8 PM, my older son joined in. So soon not only were we talking about books for young readers, we had a young reader eager to make himself heard. I had a dad’s concern when he seemed to ramble and have trouble coming to a conclusion, but he did find his way to some well-phrased and sharp insights. Joyce and Ernie suggested I give him a chance to all of you periodically — and I will. Anytime he’s read enough books, or has a strong view about some of them to share, he’ll get a guest column. I’ll let you know, and if you have a young reader in your home, library, school who would like to chime in, I’ll give them the floor.
Here’s the pro and con — when I listen to enough kids talking about books I have two opposite reactions: it can reduce to too many people saying more or less expected things about more or less the expected books (doubtless the same is true of adults). But then one young reader says something so fresh and insightful it changes everything. And that brings me to last night. Cynthia Leitch Smith came to my Rutgers class and was terrific for nearly 3 hours straight. I had read her Tantalize as a kind of comment/satire of Twilight. But, she told us, she had written it before the Twilight series started to come out. In fact, when she and her agent were first thinking of who might publish Tantalize they were concerned, because the rule of the day in publishing was the girls would not read books with monsters in them.
This is one of those rules that we invent and come to believe in — until kids prove us wrong. Other famous rules were — fantasy is dead kids only like gritty realism; YA is dead kids don’t read it anymore; boys don’t read; kids only like short books; kids can’t follow flashbacks; nonfiction doesn’t circulate; blacks don’t buy books, etc. etc. I have heard each of these expressed by savvy people not as rumor, myth, fiction, hunch, but rather as incontrovertable fact. As these beliefs are passed around from one editor, one agent, one publisher to another they reify, they become set in stone commandments — until real readers come along and shatter the tablets. And so the value in having young people talk with us about books is, if nothing else, to get some air into our set views — to remind us of the variety of responses books invoke in readers, to humble us — and to open our eyes to fresh insights. So I’ll let you know when Sasha is getting ready to post. He is 10, so lets say readers 9-12ish (there is a fudge factor on either end) are welcome, pass along any remarks from such readers on books they’ve been reading that you’d like me to share. Lets see what we can learn from the voice of the public.