“Apropos of …” is a new section of Library Mice which is more opinion piece (sounds a bit self-important but I can’t find another term really) than review. I wanted to keep it slightly separate because it might be more broadly about reading and not necessarily just about picturebooks or indeed children’s literature, as is the case today.
This is not really about kid lit, but it also about kid lit.
Lockdown had a unexpected effect on my reading – I read a lot of graphic novels (that’s a surprise to no one who knows me, as that’s what I gravitate to when in need of comfort reading) but I also found myself going back to adult fiction at the expense of a lot of my YA reading. That new me seems to have stuck around and I read a lot of adult fiction now, particularly contemporary romance. I have zero qualms about admitting this since there is nothing that irks me more than snobbery around reading. I think I’m fairly well educated so my choice of reading “frivolous” books is a deliberate choice, not one I make through lack of knowledge or intelligence. I really resent anyone that suggests otherwise. Anyway. This all came about because I really enjoy Ali Hazelwood’s books (definitely not kid lit) and I have just finished reading her next title on Netgalley, Love Theoretically, which comes out in June.
Hazelwood writes steminist romance (about women in stem academia and research) which is very, very far from my own reality and maybe that is the appeal for me: they really don’t mirror (my) real life, as Calla Wahlquist points out in her article about romance novels. As I read reviews from other reviewers about this book and her previous novels (the most well-known, thanks partly to Booktook, being The Love Hypothesis), many were pointing out that a lot of her books have similar storylines, her characters have similar characteristics, or arcs, and that that sameness was getting boring. And yes, I hear those points. But also, so what? This idea that you know what you are getting, that you know where the story is heading, is exactly what I am looking for. This yearning for predictability in our reading has been researched quite a bit in terms of the resurgence of crime fiction during the pandemic. Imogen Dewey defines it deftly in her Guardian article as a “very uncomplicated form of self-care.” This phrase really spoke to me; I realised that is exactly why I am reading those books. Romance does suffer from a level of snobbery that crime fiction does not, however, even though the numbers don’t lie: lots of us are reading it.
There is no denying some patterns in our reading behaviours are seen as “problematic” by some gatekeepers. Many adults see some of their reading as, while maybe not shameful, certainly not something they feel comfortable sharing. Often colleagues chatting to me about their reading will feel the need to apologise or downplay their reading choices, as if being a librarian automatically makes me a custodian of “proper reading”.
This sniffy attitude towards certain books is bad enough when applied to adults’ reading choices but it is down right problematic when it comes to children and teens’ reading choices. Told what they are reading is trash, adults will continue to read regardless, though they might hide it (which is easily done with an ebook reader). Children, however, might be put off reading forever. Yet if any one should be allowed to find comfort in the joys of familiar reading, it is young readers. Famous Five, Rainbow Magic, Beast Quest, Diary of a Wimpy Kid …. the examples of formulaic fiction in children’s literature are endless, and for good reasons.
The familiarity in the plot development, characters and settings are not only beneficial in becoming a confident reader but knowing what is coming brings order and comfort, when the world outside of the book pages can be unexpected, chaotic and sometimes scary. This does not only applies to series reading. Why are gatekeepers telling children they are “too old” to read that book, or that the book is “too easy” or not “proper reading”. If we, as adults supporting children in their reading journeys, are so keen for children to read “for pleasure” (another term that irks me but that’s a whole other apropos), then who are we to police what “pleasure” is or what it looks like for individuals? We all know how far policing what books children read can go and they all come from having so called children’s best interests at heart, allegedly.
True joy in reading can never be found unless the reader makes the choice. Adults don’t necessarily need validation for those choices (I think deep down many do), but children most certainly do, to grow as confident readers. Educators should seek nothing else but help them achieve that. Now if you’ll excuse me, the next chapter of The Soulmate Equation awaits me.