Adult Fiction

I generally think my parents did an okay job of raising me.  They showed me a lot of respect and were very non-judgmental about certain aspects of my life, like my loser exboyfriend I knew they didn’t like.  But I still resent the way my Dad, one Sunday on our weekly bookstore shopping trip*, said to me, “No.  I’m not buying you any more kids books.  You can read at an adult level, start reading adult books.” 

I swear, I thought I was going to cry.  I can’t remember if the book in question was an American Girl book, a Little House on the Prarie book, a Dear America book, or a Babysitters Club/Sweet Valley High book.  It could have been an innocuous book by Louis Sacher, I honestly don’t remember.  But I remember the tone in my father’s voice as he told me to grow up and start reading grownup books.  I should probably point out that I was 11 or so at this point, which is, frankly, far too young for most of the adult books out there. 

As I stared into the Adult Fiction section, I felt nothing but confused.  How was I supposed to know what books were good or not?  Karen Cushman and E.L. Konigsburg didn’t write grown-up books.  My dad read books about ships and the navy.  I didn’t want to read those.  My mom read scary-sounding non-fiction with titles like, “Mad Cow, USA!” and then wouldn’t let us eat hamburgers anymore.  Being told to find Adult books without any kind of guidance was difficult, and I retreated into the kids section to read until it was time to go home, which I did without any books. 

I think part of my Dad’s logic at this time was that I was tearing through books made for kids, and it was starting to become expensive.  I think he also thought a lot of the books I was reading were the book equivalent of cartoons.  (Apparently he’d never heard of comic books.)  But I do think that he thought I read at an adult enough level that I should be reading adult books, even if adult books weren’t the right books for me at the time.  (Not only could I not handle adult themes, I thought they were dreadfully dull and didn’t get half the book.) 

This did prompt my switch to the Young Adult section, for awhile, and also fed my obsession with historical fiction.  Because even though I didn’t want to read books about boats, or mad cow disease, or anything else grown-uppy, I was always happy to read books about the Civil War and the American Revolution.  So my parents encouraged that, and I eventually discovered Ann Rinaldi and Margaret George and other works of historical fiction.  By the time I was about halfway through high school, I was better able to navigate the Adult Fiction section, although even now, sometimes, I still stare at it and think, “how am I supposed to know what’s good?” 

I worry enough about how to encourage reading in kids (I think family reading time is going to be the answer) that I don’t stress about how to make sure they read “appropriate” books.  I also know that I’m not any worse off for having read all of the Babysitter’s Club books and the Sweet Valley books.  I turned out just fine, thank you. 

*It’s not like my parents were really wealthy, but they were messy and lazy enough for it to be financially worth it for them to buy books instead of  checking them out of the library.  In my lifetime, I have paid probably over $200 in late fees and lost book expenses.

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5 Comments

Filed under Family, Uncategorized

5 responses to “Adult Fiction

  1. Babysitters’ Club!! Sweet Valley High!! Oh, how I LOVED them. I just found an enormous cardboard box in my granny’s attic full of Babysitters’ Club books. I remember when Mallory and Jessi got their ears pierced in one book and I was So. Jealous. I suspect if I were to read any of these now I would be horrified, but I adored them at the time. Boring grown-up books just couldn’t compare (in some ways they still can’t – I don’t think I’ve ever loved a series as much as I loved those two. Sigh….)

  2. Jo

    Oh, my heart wants to take eleven year old you by the hand and give suggestions! I read those books you’re speaking of, but there were six of us voracious readers, so our parents couldn’t afford books. We went to the library every week with three or four apple boxes to carry home almost a hundred books every time. We’d read thru ours and then switch with our siblings. I switched to adult books myself once I started finishing mine too quickly.

    I still read YA books, and kids books! I’m looking to find used Little House on the Prarie/Anne of Green Gables books because they’re so dear to my heart.

    • vadoporroesq

      I’d offer you my Little House books, but I love ’em too much! The boxed set on Amazon was pretty reasonable, last I checked…maybe save up?

  3. I had almost EXACTLY the same conversation with my mom around the time I was 10 or 11. She told me she wasn’t buying any more “trash” books (by which she meant Babysitters’ Club and Sweet Valley Twins); she would buy me good books and if I wanted others I had to earn the money for them myself.

    I think the lesson that I should earn my own money to buy things I wanted wasn’t a bad one, but adult academic me strongly questions the existence of a sharp line between “trash” fiction and good fiction 😉 On a more serious note, I’m not sure it’s ever good to make kids feel dumb or unimportant because of their choice in books. At least we were reading, right?

    • vadoporroesq

      OMG my Dad called them “trash” too! This argument came up a lot when Harry Potter was such a craze – do we encourage kids to read silly fiction books about wizards, because at least they’re reading? Or do we encourage them to read things that are age-appropriate and deal with more complex themes? I would like to point out I wasn’t *just* reading trash. Although I wonder if I did just read trash, would my parents be more likely to encourage me to keep reading it, because then they would think, “at least she’s reading?” My parents should have applied the same rule as they did to cereal – you can eat fruit loops, but you must mix them with an equal amount of a non-sugary cereal. I think this is the rule I’ll take with my kids. Also, I read a whole lotta chick lit as a high-schooler and those books were way more “trash” than any SVT/BSC books.

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