05 June 2011

What did you read in your teens?

This morning I woke up to the big twitter kerfuffle #YAsaves about a Wall Street Journal article. I read a lot of young adult fiction and follow a few YA authors on twitter, so it pretty much jumped out at me.

In the article the author slated modern young adult books as being overwhelmingly dark and violent, and unsuitable for teens. This led to an avalanche of twitter posts and blog posts about how many young people are trapped in dark and violent lives and value something which makes them feel less alone. This came from YA authors who have received letters from teens saying this, and direct posts by teens. Sadly the spammers latched onto a trending topic and drowned the feed in garbage, but a wonderful person preserved some of these tweets on storify so you can see what I mean.

I tried to think about the books I read as a teen to see how this alleged flood of darkness compared with the late 80's (yes, I know I'm old, shut up), and to be honest, I realise that I didn't read young adult. I had a library card and the freedom to read whatever I chose (no censorship in our house. Love you, Mum!) so I ploughed through the children's section and read everything in it, then pretty much without looking up moved onto the next available shelf, which was adult genre fiction. For some unknown reason, they put what young adult books there were on the other side of the library. I didn't even see them until I had exhausted the adult genre fiction and was eyeing the non-fiction shelves.

So, the books I read as a so-called impressionable teen were adult horror (every one I could find), fantasy and thriller, with the occasional old-skool rapetastic romance thrown in, the kind that the Smart Bitches have a field day with occasionally. If this article author thinks YA darkness is bad, she should have seen what I was reading.

Those horror books didn't do anything to change me. What shaped me were my real life experiences, not things I read on a page. I don't propose to censor The Boy's reading, even if I did chicken out of reading the Tales of 1001 Nights to him.

I am really curious about the rest of the world, though. What books did you read as a teen? Do you feel that you were scarred by inappropriate books or saved by loving censorship?


  1. Hmmm, I don't remember there being anything specifically labeled YA fiction when I was a teen. As a pre-teen I read all those wonderful mystery series-- My favorite Trixie Belden, plus Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames Student Nurse, etc. etc. Even the Hardy Boys.

    By the time I was a teen I was reading the adult mysteries, starting with Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, and moving on from there. But this was back in the *koffsixtieskoff* so it seems things were simpler and more innocent then. No censorship was necessary. I was already an adult when Stephen King started publishing, tho I did adore his books.

    But I see now it was all those early mystery series that created my preferences, and I still love a good mystery, thriller, or police procedural.

  2. Robert Heinlein anything. The Exorcist, Porno...

    Hey, my father was a porno pusher. No one really cared what I picked up around the house. Sheesh.

  3. What did I read? I read Barbara Cartland, Jean Plaidy, Georgette Heyer, Robert Heinlein, John Wyndham, Austen, Bronte, Dickens, Anna Sewell, the back of the cereal box. We read (uncensored) D H Lawrence in high school in literature class as well as other classics. Oh and Shakespeare, nothing darker than Shakespeare!

    So I guess I read just about anything except mysteries and thrillers. Never did like those. Still don't unless they're about Eve Dallas and Roarke.

    My boys are now 18 and 16 and I've never, ever censored anything they wanted to read. Doron was just six when we read the first Harry Potter together. He started to read Terry Pratchett when he was nine.

    What about 'To Kill a Mockingbird' that's taught in American schools, isn't that dark?

    Talked about this with Doron, and he asked what about the Old Testament? If that's read in the original Hebrew or a good translation, then there's enough murder, rape, pillage, incest, and adultery to horrify any conservative.

  4. I read a lot of Ray Bradbury. Yes, I'm that old too! No one censored what I Read. From there I moved on to John Saul and Stephen King. All of these books I passed on to my boys. I think it is fiction and if they have fun reading it and it gets them reading and off the cell phone and video game then Great! No, no one in our family has become dark and violent because of reading dark and violent books. We haven't become murders or vampires or werewolves (yes, three of my boys and myself have read the twilight series.) My question is who gets to decide what is good and what is bad?

  5. There were books that had a lot of hype when I was a teen, and my mother wouldn't allow them. "Joy in the morning" was one that was popular among my peers when I was in high school. But I never bothered to read it.

    However, I spent my summers reading my way through my neighbor's library of Shakespeare... I'm not sure "Joy in the morning" would have been any more risqué.

    My senior year I graduated to reading the LA FreePress and any paperbacks I could buy at the little shop next to where I worked. And my mother would try to censor the copies of FreePress that I would bring home (after I had read them) - it was a losing battle she finally conceded. She never saw the paperbacks.

  6. My parents tried to get me to put off reading a book once when they didn't think I was old enough for it. It didn't work. They didn't try again. :)For anyone interested, the book was Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. Yes, I'm that old. ;)

    I read anything and everything I wanted as a teen. Stephen King, V.C. Andrews *wince*, and Thomas Hardy, to name a few. Will I let my children do the same? So far it's easy, considering they're choosing books like Sisters Eight and Percy Jackson. I'll probably continue to try to keep up with what they're reading, though, so that we can hopefully have intelligent conversations about it. But that's mostly because I love to read, and I want to share the experience with my kids.

  7. I was uncensored and given free rein at the library. I went from Judy Blume's 'Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret' to 'Wifey' seemlessly in my early teens. Mom didn't say a peep when I brought home the Harlequins. I read Stephen King and Anne Rice as well. My parents were (and still are) voracious and eclectic readers so I can't imagine them them ever stiffling reading of any kind. I suppose if I had brought home stacks of similarly themed and questionable books --such as 'How to Build a Bomb in Your Basement' -- they might have said something... ;)

  8. A very thoughtful response, cross posted with the author's permission. Thank you Mina:

    I read stuff but I did not become an avid reader until after high school.

    I teach middle school (6th grade...10-12 years old) and it is a MAJOR problem with parents not caring about what their kids read. Please reserve judgement until I finish what I need to say.

    I think parent/teacher communication is vital to the educational process. I am highly proactive with communication and really know my parents and students. But I find it scary that many parents just tell us to do whatever we want. Wonder if I don't do the right thing. Not all teachers know their students well and will give them whatever.

    As a teacher, I spend a lot of time getting to know my students so I can match them to good books. However, I still have to be careful. For example, some students might want to read The Hunger Game series but do not have the maturity level to handle the themes. Therefore, it is my job to communicate this to the parents and allow them to make that decision. Sadly, most parents just tell me to do whatever I think is best. This pisses me off. Here is why.

    I think it should a priority of a parent to have an open dialogue with their children about what they are reading. It opens the doorway for further, more serious discussions. I mean if your child won't discuss the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series with you, do you really think they will discuss bullying, drugs, and sex with you?

    I am fairly conservative but I refuse to "censor" student choice. I will do everything in my power to make sure students are reading things that are appropriate for them.

    I have friends that will let one child read the Harry Potter books starting in elementary school independently. However, they will read the books along with their other child because of their sensitivity and personality. I think that is wise parenting. You need to know and understand your child and not leave it to others to do this. It is a slippery slope!

    I have students that read Nicholas Sparks and it is fine for them because of their maturity level and understanding. Usually, they have parents that are reading them too. In the same class, I can have students reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I hope those same parents are reading those books too. Active parenting.

    I do think kids should be allowed whatever they want but I think people need to be wise in the choices that are put before them because no two kids are the same emotionally.

    It is my opinion that it is our job as the adults to not expose to kids too much too soon. That already happens way too often.

    I mean why the hell are 8 year olds going to see movies in the Twilight series? Really? You can't say no to your child? That is way too early. Let them be kids.

    Okay enough of my rant. Let me have it.

    Just a different perspective from a teacher. And yes, I do have to parent a lot and that is just the way the cookie crumbles.

    Mina =)


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