Reading and Imagination

Imagination is a fire.

No, think about it. Fires start small and can either peter out if they have insufficient fuel, or can catch and blaze away forever.

A log will burn for a good long while, but you can’t easily set a log on fire with a match. The match will burn out long before the log catches fire.

A recent article argued that the glut of YA fiction is turning off young readers and “robbing our teenagers of the change to become literate adults.” (I won’t link to the P.O.S. article because I don’t want to encourage page hits.)

Aside from the asinine assertion that reading can cause illiteracy (I know that’s not what the author meant, but it could have been worded in such a way as to NOT suggest that.), the article basically laments the fact that reading things like The Hunger Games and Twilight is keeping teens from reading “classics,” and thus, contributing to the illiteracy of society.

Oh noes! Western Civilization is going to collapse because little Timmy McGee is reading X-Men comics instead of Ulysses!

Now, I can go on and on about what constitutes a literary classic. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone when I say if I had started reading Faulker or Joyce or Woolf when I was 12, I would be a very different person. I wouldn’t have developed a love of reading for one. Without a love of reading, I probably wouldn’t be a writer.

Elitists love to separate fiction into Literature and Pulp. All genre fiction is automatically shuffled into “pulp,” unless, by circumstance it becomes so ingrained into culture it becomes impossible to ignore it (and even then they’ll hold their noses when they speak of it).

All literature has value, however. It boggles my mind how someone can bitch about teens choosing to read instead of playing video games, watching TV, “hanging out” where ever teens hang out these days, etc. It’s crazy.

See, a good fire, needs to be started properly. If you want voracious, “literate” readers (and by literate, I assume the author of that despicable piece means “readers who like & appreciate what I consider to be Literary Fiction” rather than people who are able to read and comprehend), you have to get them hooked on reading.

So, start small. If you want that log to burn, you use kindling (yes, you can use an accelerant, but sometimes, an accelerant will burn too fast and not actually cause the log to catch fire). You lay a foundation of small sticks (or wadded paper), and gradually pile on larger and larger sticks and branches. Once the fire is good and burning, THEN you add on the logs.

Good fiction, whether it’s YA or not will make readers WANT more fiction. So what if it doesn’t have anything profound to say? Not everyone finds the same thing entertaining or enlightening. Fiction of 100 years ago was written in a totally different style and can often be impenetrable to today’s youth. Why would you want to force them to slog through that before they have a good foundation? That won’t make them lifelong readers. Instead, it will only teach them that reading is boring WORK and I don’t know anyone who will willingly spend their free time doing boring work when they could be doing literally anything else.

Reading should be fun. It should help you escape. Show you new worlds, new ideas. Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction should be the kindling we use to light the fires of imagination in our young people, not a data point to use while we rant about the decline of our youth.

Categories: Reading | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Reading and Imagination

  1. I agree with what your take on what kids should start with.. Imposing high literature on kids is no way to cultivate a reading habit.
    Not everybody with a reading habit is going to end up reading the classics either. There’s filtering at every level. Different streams of people flock to different ponds. Some end up reading run of the mill horror fiction their entire lives, some crime. It’s a limited population that ends up attempting the classics and successfully developing a love for the beauty in them.

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