Saturday, February 09, 2013

Judging a book by its genre

There is a show, Up For Debate, which comes on the radio on Saturdays at about the same time I am waking up and I will often half listen to it as the coffee starts to revive my fuzzy brain. I enjoy a good debate and like to hear the two opposing sides of an issue have a calm and reasonable discussion. I usually find myself on one side or another, but sometimes I find myself vaguely annoyed with both sides. Such was the situation this morning.

The topic at hand was the value (or lack of value) of Christian romance novels. I imagine that if you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you could make a very educated guess as to which side you would imagine I would land on. I have no patience with twaddle, particularly in children's books, and I am a voracious reader. I was actually surprised myself that I disagreed with both partied.

I think it was the wholesale dismissal of a genre without regard for the individual books themselves. Are there insipid books within the 'Christian romance' genre? Without a doubt. But I have also read insipid, worthless books that are located in the more self-important 'serious literature' genre, as well. Just because a book is shelved in a certain section isn't a guarantee that it is good or that it is bad.

The part of the discussion that finally roused me out of bed and downstairs was a conversation with one of the callers. The caller recounted a discussion with a young girl who was disappointed she hadn't won a writing contest. When asked about what the girl had been reading, she replied that she had read all of Grace Livingston Hill's books. The woman replied with the question of, "Why would you bother reading more than two? Once you have done that, you have read them all." Knowing and agreeable sounds were heard from everyone on the show, as if to say, "Yep. If all you read is Grace Livingston Hill, then of course you are shallow and not terribly intelligent."

Well, first off, yes, I agree that Grace Livingston Hill's books are formulaic. But, I still like them. I love her descriptions of home life and the importance she places on making a home. And frankly, when my life feels a little out of control, I like the comforting feeling of knowing what to expect from a book. I really don't think there's anything wrong with that. Children often feel the same way. Have you noticed at certain ages, most children go through a series-jag, reading every single book in a series even though each book is basically the same? The world can be an uncertain place and in mid- to late-grade school, children are becoming more aware of this. I don't think it is a coincidence that this is the age these reading habits make their appearance. It is comforting to know what to expect when you open a book.

That doesn't mean that any of us should get stuck in the easy comfort of predictable reading, just that it does have it place. I will sometimes choose to read a more "difficult" book when I realize that I've let my brain atrophy a bit too much. And I love these books... Middlemarch, Anna Karenina, Vanity Fair, Jane Austen's books, etc. I've even slogged through Salmon Rushdie's Midnight's Children. All because I wanted to and not because anyone made me. And they are worthwhile and I do find myself pondering them long after I've closed the cover. I would encourage others to do the same. These are the books that have shaped our culture and have much to say to us about being human. They, too, have their place. But I also think that if I were to disparage books that are considered 'easier' and announce that they have no value, I am not going to encourage the readers of those books to try something else. They will either decide that yes, indeed, those books really would be too difficult for someone like them to read or that they don't want to read them if it is going to turn them into such a literary snob.

All of this does make me think about how I guide my children's reading habits. I am blessed to be raising voracious readers. I will state up front that I do not preread every book that my children read. There is no way I could keep up and I think that if they had to wait for me to finish a book before they could start it it would have a dampening effect on their enthusiasm. They would find other ways to fill their time and it would be difficult to go back. I do spot check and I am careful about the books that are purchased to live in our home. I am also more careful about what I read to the younger children. I want to fill their heads with good language and good stories to give them a basis on which to judge other books. But I do let my older children read widely and they do. There have been some instances where I will look at a book and ask that they do not finish it and tell them why. I have never had anyone give me grief about this. More often I have had a child return a book to the library stack saying that they didn't like for whatever reason... content, style, topic... and move on to something else.

And sometimes it is more helpful to discuss a book that may be questionable with the child, why it might not have been the best choice and the reasons for that, than it is to just forbid them reading it. Forbidden fruit often seems like a very sweet thing indeed. My personal parenting strategy is that as long as they are reading a lot from many different areas, the bad will cease to have the power it might and the good will stick out.

Really, just go and read a book!
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Pray for Brandi today.


This is Brandi. She is 6 years old. She lies in her crib and waits and waits and waits for someone to scoop her up and tell her how loved she is. Just imagine a grin on her face, her hair allowed to grow out. Imagine how transformed she will look when she is loved. Pray that she doesn't have to wait too much longer for her parents to find her.

1 comment:

Lucy said...

I completely agree with your assessment of Grace Livingston Hill! I don't know if I've read all of her books, but I have read a lot of them and I really hope my daughters enjoy them too. Nobody could ever accuse them of being great literature, but her focus on home and the godliness of her main characters, male and female, are fine ideals for a young head to absorb.

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