In defense of kid lit and rereading

So I went to CampFI two weekends ago. And then, instead of having time to recover from that (#introvertproblems), I jumped right in to chorus concert week where I spent multiple evenings at rehearsal (remember my plan to go to bed at 11? Impossible when you get home at 11, assuming you’re lucky and don’t have to wait 20-25 minutes in the metro station for a train home so it’s even later) and had to dedicate my entire weekend to it. So to say I’m exhausted is a bit of an understatement.

I was adventurous and went to barre Tuesday night for the first time in the better part of three weeks (yes, that’s how busy I’ve been); I am very consciously making the choice to skip it tonight in the hopes that that’ll allow me to finish up this post and go to bed more or less on time. But other than that, I spent Monday and Tuesday evenings in an exhausted stupor on the couch, too tired to do things that’ll make my life easier, like putting dirty dishes in the dishwasher (my roommate isn’t currently home so I’m not forced to clean for her sake), or to work on the things I want to get done. My impending car insurance renewal isn’t going to research itself, after all.

That’s made it hard to figure out what to write about lately. It’s hard to pull money lessons out of sheer exhaustion, and even harder to dedicate the time to sit down and write a post. Hell, I haven’t even spent any money so far this week thanks to the seriously well-stocked fridge (again, good thing my roommate isn’t here because it wasn’t just my half of the fridge that was full!) my mom left when she departed my apartment on Monday morning. Bless her for that, especially because this is a week I’ve been too tired to think about making food for myself, let alone grocery shopping and actually making it. I may have spent the bulk of the last two evenings on the couch but at least I had healthy food to eat while I was there!

So let’s talk something a bit different today. And let’s start off by revisiting my bookshelf.

Boooooooooks

If you focus in on that middle shelf, you’ll see a ton of books by Robin McKinley, Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series, as well as the classics—Jane Austen and assorted others like Jane Eyre and North and South. That back row of books has the honor of being my “favorites” shelf. (For the record, the first four Harry Potter books are those ones on the top shelf whose spines you can’t read. I picked those up off the sidewalk one day a few years ago! #frugalwin) We’ll come back to this shelf in a bit.

The making of a bookworm

I started reading in preschool: on more than one occasion I got in trouble for situating my mat by the bookshelf and reading during our naptime instead of sleeping. Who wanted to sleep when a) they could never fall asleep anyway (yeah, I’m not joking about how far back my sleep issues go), and b) there were books to read?!

I read at lunch. I read during recess (causing many exasperated teachers to ask if I was sure I didn’t want to go play instead. Nah, I’ve got a book. I’m good). I read while walking down hallways in school. I bought my first purses based on whether I could fit a book in them. I got fantastically good at tuning out the world around me so I could concentrate on my book (a skill I am sorry to have lost, along with being able to read in the car).

Back to my bookshelf and my favorites.

YA for life

Having spent so many years avidly reading, I’ve devoured quite a few books in my time. But my overall number is lower than it could be, thanks to the fact that for my very favorite books, I go back and reread them once every year or so. I love Jane Austen, and classy woman that I am (•hairflip•), it’s those books and other highbrow literature that I’m rereading fairly frequently, right?

Wrong. The books I revisit most are the YA fantasy books I started reading in elementary/middle school (sorry, Jane. As much as I love it, Pride and Prejudice is just not as easily readable as, say, Dealing with Dragons). Is that becoming of a 26-year-old? A lot of people would say no, but I give absolutely zero fucks about that. And I don’t foresee my love of YA fantasy changing anytime soon.

Those books on my “favorites” shelf are just a drop in the bucket. I have all of Tamora Pierce’s books and Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series still in my childhood bedroom. I also luckily have copies of them on my Kindle, which is good because I don’t physically have the space for all of those at the moment.

Badass ladies

Alanna, Daine, Kel, Aly, and Beka; Sandry, Tris, and Daja; Nita (and Dairine) Callahan from Young Wizards; Aerin from The Hero and the Crown (can we take a moment to talk about how growing up I was so jealous because Aerin is a much more awesome way to spell my name?); Hermione fucking Granger.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but thanks to the books I read, growing up I had so many fantastic examples of strong females. Yes, they count even if they’re fictional. Maybe more so because they felt like friends to me. Leaving aside the fact that I don’t live in a fantasy world and therefore lack magical abilities, I am sadly not even half as amazing as some of my favorite characters are. But that foundation was instrumental in shaping me to become the feminist I am today.

And that set me up nicely for being a (moderately) badass single lady managing her own finances, no?

Also given the horrible events of the last few days (“misogyny is the most common gateway drug to other forms of hate” is the most heart-breakingly true thing I’ve seen in a while), I’m perhaps a bit more grateful at the moment for all of the examples I had growing up of strong females in the books I was reading.

Adult lit versus kid lit

For years I’ve read books off the various bestseller lists and ended up disappointed after because they weren’t as great as I’d been expecting based off the breathless reviews. I always feel guilty about not finishing books, so for the most part I do finish ones that I’m not enjoying (life is too short for that, yes, I know!!). But I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve been relieved to finish a book because I didn’t care at all about a single character or about the story. As an avid reader, heaving a sigh of relief isn’t exactly what I want my first reaction to be upon closing a book.

Regardless of how I feel about any given YA book, they generally manage to make me care about at least one of the characters. I feel like that’s a pretty low bar to set for a book, but there are plenty of adult fiction books that didn’t manage to clear it.

The binge-read test

I have no self-control when it comes to good books. I will stay up way too late reading “just one more chapter” and then the next day when I’m exhausted and cursing myself for my bad decisions I’ll swear to myself I won’t do that next time. That never happens. Many times in college I had to consciously make the decision to not even start a book because I knew I couldn’t afford to put my life, homework, and sleep on hold for the day or two until I finished it. It doesn’t even matter if it’s a reread. I’ll still stay up til I finally turn the last page at 3 am or some other ungodly hour and rejoin the real world.

I’m older and tireder (and a blog writer with enough late nights) these days, so luckily my ill-thought-out late nights of reading don’t happen as often. But when they do, it’s almost always thanks to a YA book.

It’s not all magic and unicorns

“Young adult” also doesn’t mean juvenile. I mean, have you ever read The Hunger Games series? That shit gets dark. I don’t want to start a #notalladultlit moment here, but I’ve found it’s the YA books I read that tend to handle thorny issues best, as well as addressing them in the first place. If you want a fantastic YA book about racism and police brutality, I highly recommend you go read The Hate U Give.

And somehow Angela knew I’ve been thinking about my favorite YA books lately and texted me this a few hours before I’m writing this:

“No one’s taking away your emotions…. This will adjust them.” If you’ve ever seen this fantastic of a treatment of mental illness in adult lit, please point me to it. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist.

Familiarity

I mentioned in my 2017 round-up that I wanted to prioritize more fiction reading this year. I have books out from the library that I am legitimately excited to read, but reading those non-fiction books just isn’t the same as fiction. I’m finally making good on that and reading my first fiction book this year. Even better, it’s by one of my favorite authors.

I picked up Tamora Pierce’s latest book last night. I don’t remember the last time I read any of her stuff so it’s been a while (time for a reread!). Despite having not been immersed in that particular world for a while, despite the fact that it’s about a side(-ish) character (and, remarkably, not a woman), despite the fact that it’s set in a different location and slightly earlier time period from the bulk of her Tortall series, it was thrilling to open the book and see the familiar map in the front matter. By page two it felt like I was coming home.

It was instant and effortless to sink right back into that world.

I am someone who needs to take more risks in her life; I absolutely know and acknowledge that. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing to go back and periodically reread old, comforting favorites. I have actual, real life friends (I swear!), but some of these books legitimately feel like old friends.

I sound like a broken record

Books are the shit (especially YA books), and by extension your public library is also the shit. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got a Tamora Pierce book to go binge-read before it needs to go back to the library.

What are some of your favorites to reread? Let’s have a YA party in the comments!


A slightly tangential postscript for anyone looking to add something delightful into their life: you know that feeling of pure joy when someone discovers something you love and loves it as much as you do? That’s one of the premises behind Mark Reads, where Mark reads (and watches) and reviews something his community has asked him to read that he knows nothing about. (What’s fun is that he’s now an author so I’m sure there will be a Mark Reads Community Reads Mark where the tables are turned and he laughs at everyone for not knowing the plot twists in his book.)

I found Mark back when I was in college towards the end of his read through the Twilight series (my complicated thoughts on that poorly-written melodrama about an abusive relationship are not something I’m getting into here), and since then he’s read so many of my favorites, including The Hunger Games, His Dark Materials, Ella Enchanted, The Hobbit/LotR, all of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall and Emelan series, and he’s now reading Diane Duane’s Young Wizards universe (plus one of his supporters on Patreon is having him read through Robin McKinley’s books each month; he’s finished Sunshine and is now on The Hero and the Crown). Getting to witness someone discovering one of my favorites is immensely gratifying and almost like recapturing the wonder of reading it for the first time. Mark’s reviews also dive into the weightier issues present in the subject matter, and that discussion continues in the comments.

Plus it’s also fantastic fun to laugh at his wildly wrong predictions, wince in sympathy/cackle maniacally when he gets blindsided by a plot twist that tricked me when I first read it, and cheer him on for predicting things correctly (including ones I didn’t pick up on myself).

8 Replies to “In defense of kid lit and rereading”

  1. Yes! I am practically a Tamara Pierce devotee; half the reason I want a proper home library one day is so that I can finally own and display all her books. As is, I read through Alanna, Kel, and Daine’s series at least once a year. I’m glad to see someone with the same YA preferences! So many people I talk to have no clue who Tamara Pierce is.
    Another favorite of mine is Ender’s Game. I enjoy the entire series, but books 2-4 more closely resemble adult fiction to me, while the first I feel was solidly written for a younger audience.
    Also, I don’t think I even finished going through Young Wizards… going to have to check that out.

  2. I feel so much shame–I’ve never read any Tamora Pierce. It sounds like everyone’s really into fantasy! In that realm, I also have liked:
    Daughter of Smoke and Bone (series)
    Seraphina

    In terms of non sci-fi, I like:
    Graffiti Moon (it’s like poetry)
    When You Reach Me (it’s for 8-12 year olds, but I love how she writes)

    Ha, should I write my own YA love post?

  3. Okay, time for me to reread Alanna. And I can’t tell you the number of times I read Ella Enchanted growing up.

    And in case anyone wants to know, that excerpt is from “The Fiery Cross,” the 4th book of the Bloodlines series by Richelle Mead (spinoff series from Vamprie Academy). She also has some adult fiction, but her YA lit is her very best work.

  4. Love this post!! It’s creepy how much I feel you and I are on the same wavelength sometimes based on your posts and tweets. I too could (and still can) be found reading walking down the hallway, at recess, in class, always. I have also mostly retained the ability to tune out the world around me when reading and also any time I’m focused; my coworkers can be having a dramatic conversation and I wouldn’t even know it unless they say my name.

    YA is one of my FAVORITE genres. And I totally agree that there’s just something about fiction. I have a huge list of non-fiction books I want to read, but I need a break in between and sometimes I just need to get lost in a fictional story. If you’re ever looking for a new YA book, The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci was life-changing for me in 8th grade and I re-read it a year or so ago and it was ALMOST just as good as the first time (there’s something about the first time though).

  5. I barely read any fiction at all, muchless YA stuff. I’ve been told both The Hunger Games and The Harry Potter books are great, but I’ve just never gotten around to it. Perhaps I need to go full-FIRE and just read more 😉

  6. Haha oh girl I feel ya “My impending car insurance renewal isn’t going to research itself, after all.” #samesies
    I knew I loved you for a reason… I’d get in trouble all. the. time. for reading at the dinner table, in the car, at recess, during ‘study hour’, under the table in typing class (yes we used to have one of those haha)… the boy knows better than to try to tell me anything or talk to me while reading, because the ‘real world’ no longer exists. One must say my name repeatedly or shout to drag me out of the current imagination world I habit completely. Now I’ve a huge list of library books I’ll be renting out this weekend, thanks!
    I love YA fiction for sure, it’s great to escape into. My lifelong favorite though is John Grisham, I adored law thrillers throughout middle school/high school/college. I own pretty much every book he wrote. And of course the classics, Harry Potter, Where the Red Fern Grows, Holes…

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