Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Undiscovered Literature

By Tamara Girardi

We all have those authors that have us running to the bookstore on release day. They're our go-to authors. When we want a solid read, a funny read, a spooky read, we call on them. But I've recently been reminded what we're missing when we fail to venture out of our favorite sections in the bookstore.

This semester, I'm the graduate assistant of the adolescent literature course at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The course is mainly directed to undergraduate students majoring in English and secondary education. The purpose is to expose the future educators to works of contemporary young adult literature they may consider teaching in their classrooms. The titles on the syllabus are primarily literary.

The titles I often read on my own are also young adult, but they are mostly genre or commercial fiction. I'm not about to take the traditionally academic stand that a foul stench tends to radiate from such work. I adore Alyson Noel, Sarah Dessen, Ally Carter, Meg Cabot and many other popular writers, but the stories I'm reading for the adolescent lit course have made me think about YA differently.

They focus on serious issues such as imprisonment, conformity, sexual abuse, slavery, war, starvation.

If you're wondering to which titles I'm referring, take a look at Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak or Chains, Walter Dean Myers' Monster, Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl or Milkweed. The stories are heavy but enlightening. Truth be told, there are times I want to run back to the light, comic, feel-good stories I often read. Maybe it's because the class forces me to keep reading. Probably that and I really do like discovering new literature (and rediscovering some novels I've read before).

So what do you think? In your spare time (since time is just something we never have quite enough of) can you step outside of your reading circle? I challenge you to discover a piece of literature outside of your reading comfort zone and give it a try. You might just learn something that will spark your own writing.

Are you up for the challenge? Got any ideas of titles you might try?


Annette said...

Great post, Tamara. I do have several literary novels on my to-be-read or recommendations from those I respect...but I keep pulling out the books that are within my comfort zone. Thanks for the reminder to take a chance on something different.

PatRemick said...

I love the concept, and wish I had the time for extensive exploration of this area. I think I need to rethink my priorities!

Ramona said...

Tamara, I envy you studying YA literature, always my favorite genre. YA librarians are, and always have been, the front line against censorship, because their area of work gets the most hits.

I'll take your comfort zone challenge and read a book that's been staring at me from my TBR shelf: The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett. I'm ashamed to say I've never read any of his work.

Great post!

Laurie said...

What's helped me to step out of my comfort zone are book clubs. I belong to a couple and coordinate a third, and I've found that through these book clubs every month I generally read two books that I wouldn't normally have chosen on my own. I've loved them all(only one clunker in the bunch)!

Karen in Ohio said...

Same here, Laurie. My book clubs have introduced me to some stellar reading choices. Right now I'm reading Per Petterson's first book, Out Stealing Horses for our meeting next week. It's fabulous, and a choice I would not have made on my own.

Bente said...

Not sure if you guys are aware, since you're not part of the YA community, but there was an attempt to censor SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson recently, and the internet is full of support. Twitter has Speak Loudly twibbons you can put on your avatar/picture to show support for SPEAK and other endangered books. Some incredible blogs have been written, too. Two I can highly recommend are by Myra McEntire and CJ Redwine, both Nashville YA writers and both friends of mine. If you want to google and read.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Joyce said...

Bente, you beat me to it! I was going to mention those two blogs. CJ Redwine's especially, will bring tears to your eyes. With Banned Books Week coming up, this is an important issue to address.

Joyce said...

I usually read in my comfort zone, too. And lately I've been so busy I haven't read anything at all for several months.

When I do venture away from mysteries and thrillers, I'll read historical fiction. I haven't yet found a literary novel that I could get all the way through. I'll keep trying, though.

Tamara said...

Such great comments! Glad to hear most everyone is already challenging their reading familiarity or welcoming the challenge I placed in the post.

Ramona, I've really enjoyed reading these books. To be honest, I am "reading" most of them on my drives back and forth to school. I spend about six hours or more commuting three days a week. I figure I may as well make use of that time.

The points about Speak are right on, I'm afraid. Attempts to censor that book are frequent. I won't lie, some of it is very tough to read, but it most definitely has secured a place in the YA canon (if there is one).