Giving Teen Genre Readers Time (or) Fighting Tyranny of Reading

4 Apr

Last week when I updated about the YALSA symposium session on Street Lit I forgot to mention one of the most crucial pieces of knowledge I gained from the session.

One of the presenters (I believe it was Beth Saxton but can’t be certain) mentioned that teens who begin reading Street Lit usually branch out from the genre after a time. How long? Usually about a year after they begin to devour street lit novels.

A year is such a brief period of time, especially if it is that period of time that reifies reading as a lifelong habit. On the other hand, it can be difficult to watch a reader who is clearly capable of reading more sophisticated work returning repeatedly to a genre or author they are already comfortable with. Some teens I work with read virtually nothing except the Twilight saga for an entire year. They would cycle through the saga, and then, as soon as they were finished, start the first book again! These teens also wanted to relive details of the books, not debate their underlying themes. The only teen in my reading group not taken with Twilight was a diehard horror fan who refused to read anything else. It was a trying time.

Since then, I have seen every member of the group blossom into readers with great curiosity and diverse interests. It seems that’s how many of us become readers – we experience a passion for a subject or genre of stories or even a certain book that is so consuming that we must read everything within that area, repeatedly, until we feel exhausted with it.

It’s easier to place a measurable value on this if the teen in question is a history buff instead of, say, a paranormal romance fanatic. The former is academic and might lead to an illustrious career whereas the comprehensive value of the latter is more rigorously questioned and debated[1]. Devising a critical theory of the value of the romance story is beyond the scope of the this blog. However, based on what Saxton and Honig said, it seems that readers of any genre will benefit from having access and encouragement to read in the area in which they are passionate. After a time, they are likely to become curious and branch out. As mentioned before, when teens say “I want a book just like it” doesn’t mean “I want a book with the same plot” but one that makes them feel as intensely as the book they just finished did.

It has taken me a long time to conquer my own bibliophilic impulses and learn that the best reader recommendation is one that fits the individual, not one that molds them to my idea of who a reader should be or what they consume (I have come to think of the process of forcing books upon poorly matched readers as The Tyranny of Reading). The keys to readers advisory are flexibility, knowledge, an open mind, and active listening.

[1] For those interested, Read React Review is an excellent blog on romance novels. Its author is a philosophy professor who both enjoys the romance genre and interrogates its ideology and general theories of desire.

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