I have often heard the argument that teen books and cross-over children's books, I'm thinking of the Twilight series and the Harry Potter series as examples, might have their failings as literature, but they get people - particularly young people, reading. Don't worry, I'm not setting up a "straw-man" to knock down. I accept that argument, having worked in a bookstore for the releases of the last books in both series, there is no escaping that these books were phenomena and got a wide range of people reading books who were normally not inclined to do so.
Anecdotally, Mary's father read the Twilight series after seeing the first movie and liked them tremendously. Mary's mother is quite the voracious reader, but her father had historically preferred to be a movie buff. I'm not sure that he is going for the Guinness world record for most movies viewed, but he's probably well on his way. However, like I said, he read that Twilight series, then moved on to the Southern Vampire series, and from there started reading Nicholas Sparks books. Now, that is not my taste in literature (Mary claims he has grown into a teenage girl), but I would hasten to point out that not only did he read the Twilight series, but that was his "gateway drug" into other books as well. This from a man that Mary's mother claims she had not seen read a book since before Mary was born. Now they have evenings when they do not turn on the TV and just read together. Adorable.
Now, I told you that story to tell you this one.
A companion of mine, who still works in the children's department at the bookstore, has argued that teen books are not necessarily beneficial to young people who were already inclined (or as the case with parents around here, required) to read. I don't want to put words in his mouth and I am paraphrasing, but as I understood it, his argument was: in our youths, the teen book genre was quite small and the natural progression from young readers books was usually into the "genres" section - SciFi, Fantasy, Mysteries, etc. (Back in the day, "Westerns," which these days seems to consist entirely of Louis L'Amour novels) - and not into teen novels. Thus, in order to read more adult-oriented literature instead of stories about talking mice or a disfigured kid during the U.S. War of Independence, we had to read books that were also written for adults. As Mary has pointed out, there were teen books that were, then as many are now, an introduction to sleazy romance novels (less graphic books about teen girls falling in love, being betrayed by their friends and god knows what else, probably menstruating or something. Girls are gross). My antagonist's argument was that the books that he and I read as teenagers, case in point David Eddings, were far better written and, through their more complicated narrative and plot structures, encouraged greater development of complex thought processes and reading comprehension.
I disagreed, but I thought I would look into it. Long story, short: I think I was wrong. The long story is below (and above since there will be subsequent posts) if you want to read it, but I thought the above was interesting to consider, even if you couldn't care less about my "investigations" (it's an abuse of the word to claim that my rudimentary research is that).
Methods and Madness
I believe that I should start by clarifying that this argument primarily concerns young people who would already be reading. As I said above, that some of these books are cultural phenomena is fantastic and they do, doubtlessly in my opinion, seduce some people into reading who either culturally, socially, or dispositionally would not have otherwise. In extreme cases, as with Mary's father, it can create habitual readers out of those who had never been or fall off from the practice. My bias is such that I consider this to be an unqualified "good thing," even if I can cite little evidence to benefits.
So, my studies in this case were the aforementioned series by J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, and David Eddings. I believe I will also include J.R.R. Tolkien's series The Lord of the Rings and it's prequel, The Hobbit.
These are an interesting and heavily-biased sample. Tolkien, in particular, stands out as an unfair standard by which to judge teen novels. However, it could also be considered unfair to judge Mr. Edding's books against Ms. Rowling's or Ms. Meyer's series; there have been no movies made of the Belgariad or Elenium nor have they convinced an entire generation of teen girls that stalking is romantic or middle-aged women that it is perfectly acceptable to lust after teenaged boys. Moreover, do I make the claim that the Twilight series is representative of all teen books and considering their wider appeal and impact in society, shouldn't other teen books be used? Why Harry Potter, since that series is housed under "Young Reader?" Tolkien and Eddings are both fantasy writers - why not include Frank Herbert's Dune, Lilian Braun mysteries, or a western series? The It Girl, Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl, and other teen romance books are consistent sellers; should they not be used?
Jesus, this is a blog, people; why are you being so demanding?
1) I do not make the claim that Twilight is representative of the teen genre, merely it's most popular selection. As the most popular selection, I am considering it an archtype - the epitome of a teen novel. That is flawed reasoning, but it will suffice for now.
2) The Harry Potter series is also being considered for its popularity, but I would also argue that as the books progress and the main characters become older, the content changes dramatically toward more mature readers. I didn't go back through the books for empirical evidence, but I would point out that the first three Harry Potter movies are housed in "Children's," while the subsequent films are in "Action/Adventure" at the bookstore where I worked. Also, deeply-flawed reasoning, I am aware, but enough to progress in my discussion.
3) Alright. Stop listing titles. There are literally hundreds of books that I could consider. By-and-large, Tolkien and Eddings are superior to much of the competition in their genre, such as the Dungeons & Dragons or Dragonlance books. However, when my points become clear later, it is plainly evident that Terry Brooks or, even more so, Robert Jordan, would make much stronger examples. Eddings, however, I argue is a more accurate representation of the fantasy genre - easily readable, but not so simplistic or formulaic as the books based on RPGs. Tolkien is being used because of his staying power - his work too could be considered an archtype of his genre.
4) Because those books are about rich, semi-retarded, unreflective, unrepentant tramps and the teenaged boys who bang them. They are a plague on our society and have no place in polite discussion.
Just kidding, I'll talk about them briefly, but don't take much interest in them.
5) Why aren't you convinced? Oh, I see. Fine, so the list is heavily biased by what I have read and to what I have easy access. In the past year or so, I have either read or re-read the Twilight saga, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and the David Eddings books. I don't read much in the way of SciFi or other genres and my teen reading is limited as well, including the smutty teen novels of which I have read one and one-half. Yeah, it's biased. Did you want to have this discussion or not? Fine, this "lecture/argument/paper" since you don't really get to participate. Stop reading or keeping going and hush up. You guys are jerks.
You're still here? Well too bad, this has gone on for too long already and even fewer people read epic blog posts than read my normal blog posts. More later.