The beginner’s guide
Haven’t discovered the joys of young adult and children’s fiction yet? Well, you can read how one bestselling author did and check out our columnist’s recommendations for some of the best to start you off.
After finishing the book, I promptly forgot all about it and was reminded only when I spied Ten Years In The Tub: A Decade Soaking In Great Books, a hard-bound collection of the columns that was recently released.
The Complete Polysyllabic Spree actually comprised two books – The Polysyllabic Spree and Housekeeping Vs. The Dirt – and was followed by two more collections, Shakespeare Wrote For Money (2008) and More Baths Less Talking (2012).
Ten Years also includes columns that appeared after More Baths and, as one Amazon reviewer remarks, “With this compilation, he (Hornby) has committed the same sin as a band that releases an album consisting of previous material ... plus one new song.
“This is so annoying to fans who have the other material but also want to hear the new stuff. These days, a fan can download just the one new song, but that is not an option here. As a music fan and music reviewer, he of all people should know better.”
And so Hornby should, but perhaps the decision had nothing to do with him. Let’s just blame McSweeney’s, the publisher of The Believer and Ten Years, or those 365 white-robed young men and women who run the magazine.
Back to The Complete Polysyllabic Spree: I didn’t forget the book because it was forgettable. Like Hornby and scores of others who love to read, I was just distracted ... by other books – books bought and books read and books read about (the three categories AS it really been seven years since I reviewed Nick Hornby’s The Complete Polysyllabic Spree? That was a compilation of Hornby’s Stuff I’ve Been Reading columns that appear in Dave Eggers’ literary magazine, The don’t always overlap).
I was so distracted that I didn’t even notice Shakespeare Wrote For Money and More Baths. Well, instead of getting Ten Years – a pretty good deal at RM103.28 for the hardback – I got Shakespeare, which I found shockingly expensive at RM53.31 for a paperback, for crying out loud. Still, hardback compendiums are a pain to read, especially on your back, which is how I do most of my reading (watch this space for my thoughts on The Complete Uncle).
I got Shakespeare mainly because I wanted to read about Hornby discovering young adult (YA) fiction.
Hornby reads widely but, like so many adults who love to read, he wasn’t reading any YA fiction. If you love to read, there are no good excuses for not reading YA fiction. Hornby admits he’s probably never paid much attention to these books because he’s not the age they are intended for. He doesn’t add, “If they’re for young people, they can’t be very good”. I know this is what lots of people think about YA and children’s fiction: “It’s way too simple and an insult to my intelligence.” Ha-ha, yeah. Right.
After “Hoovering up” several YA novels, Hornby makes this observation: “(They) are not light in the sense that they are disposable or unmemorable. On the contrary, they have all, without exception, been smart, complicated, deeply felt, deeply meant. They are light, however, in the sense that they are not built to resist your interest in them: they want to be read quickly and effortlessly.” In other words, they are not verbose, pretentious, or boring.
But, I must warn those encouraged by Hornby’s assessment that not every single children’s and YA book is a good read. Among the titles Hornby read were David Almond’s Skellig, Louis Sachar’s Holes, Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden and Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat. These are lovely books, but there are also a lot of duds in the YA and children’s fiction world – just as there are plenty ter- rible books written for adults.
You have to make an informed choice when picking your reading material, so pay attention to reviews, look at awards lists, ask your friends for recommendations. Even among the widely acknowledged hits, you won’t like every single title because you’ll have your personal preferences in content and style, so you have to shop around and find what works for you.
John Green may be the most popular YA novelist right now, and the movie of his latest novel, The Fault In Our Stars, is coming out in June this year so you might want to start with that book. OK, how’s this? Off the top of my head, here are five YA/children’s books I think you should start with: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, My Heartbeat by Garrett Freymann-Weyr, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (this is a graphic novel), and The Miraculous Journey Of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.
Give these books a chance. The fact that you aren’t a teenager or a kid isn’t reason enough not to read them. To borrow an analogy used by Hornby, that’s like refusing to watch The West Wing because you don’t work in the White House.
Happy Exploring, Happy Reading!
Daphne Lee is a writer, editor, book reviewer and teacher. She runs a Facebook group called The Places You Will Go for lovers of all kinds of literature. Write to her at star2@thestar. com.my. Non-fiction 1. alexFerguson:Myautobio
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