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.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS -


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. Non-fic­tion 1. alexFer­gu­son:Myau­to­bio

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