Tag Archives: reading

Taking on book snobs: A manifesto for readers

By Claire W. Staley

In my literary exploits, I have been confronted with many people who disagree with the kind of books I read. This is a wonderful thing. However, I sometimes find that they transfer this distaste to me as a person, and I suddenly find myself placed in a small box and dismissed.

You, my good sir or m’am, are a book snob.

And the fact is, no kind of book is better or worse than any other, and here is why:

  1.   That person you just placed judgment upon? They are buying books, which benefits authors and publishers alike, and thus benefits readers. More buyers, more books. It’s simple.
  2.   You never know what someone is getting out of a book. Stop expecting everyone that reads 50 Shades of Grey to be desperate and unimaginative. Plenty of smart, intelligent, well-rounded people read those books, and plenty of not so smart, intelligent, and well-rounded people read them as well. Just like with every book, every reader finds something different in a book. If someone connects with the characters of 50 Shades of Grey, crushing that connection not only undermines the book industry, but you as well.
  3.   Others might not enjoy the kinds of books you enjoy. How would it feel if someone put you down for that? The Golden Rule from kindergarten still applies in reading and book loving social etiquette.
  4.   Most people who get made fun of for what they read really don’t care what your opinion is. I adore Harry Potter, but do I force anyone else to join me on my fangirling? I do not. And yet people still scoff and make fun of me for loving it. But I can assure you that your opinion of me doesn’t change my love for it, because I gained a better understanding of myself and the world through reading those books.
  5.   You are basing an entire person on one choice they make. For instance, I love fantasy and sci-fi. I am immediately grouped with the nerds and the wallflowers–happily grouped with them , I might add–and others look down on me for it. That is not my entire personality, and while I recognize that I have many facets to my personality, being placed in a box and dismissed can cause some frustration.
  6.   I am a Twilight fan. I read all the books and loved them. I’ve read them multiple times, actually. I have people telling me in real life and on the Internet that they are stupid and vapid and anti-feminist, and by extension everyone who reads them are as well. But something about Bella helped me feel not so alone in the world. To degrade something like that, and make me embarrassed about it, is to make someone else feel more alone in the world and destroys the connections and discussion that can come from books.
  7.   You take away magic when you degrade books and those who read them. The stories we believe in and the characters we love are invaluable. If someone said that your boyfriend or girlfriend was stupid or embarrassing, you would probably punch them, right? Well that’s how lots of people, including myself, feel about books and characters. We have found something to love in them, and just because others cannot see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Just because I don’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t true for you and vice versa. There may be value, even when it isn’t obvious.

8.   You’re missing out on valuable discussions. Try “I’ve never really gotten into that genre of books. What do you like about it?” or “I’m not familiar with that story.” Then share what you like to read. But don’t snub others because of their choices in books. They most likely love to talk about books, no matter what kind, and that’s a wonderful thing. They are expanding their minds. They are traveling to other places with incredible people. Maybe, if you’re nice, they’ll bring you along with them. Wouldn’t that be a treat?

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Why I believe in magic and fairytales at age 21

By Claire W. Staley

When one turns 21, as I did recently, one is expected to indulge in the “adult” practices of alcohol, practicality, and business meetings. After all, I am no longer a teenager (which brought on a brief existential crisis at 20), and I am far beyond the time when I believed fairies existed under each flower petal and mermaids swam in the oceans (although I’m still not prepared to give up the latter). I am a fully functioning college student beginning to understand financial aid, cooking, and her own bedtime…sort of. The fact is, Santa Claus isn’t real, my pet dragon is actually imaginary, and true love’s kiss won’t break any spell.

What confuses me most is that I barely noticed these changes as birthdays passed. I can’t pinpoint the moment when my dolls became plastic instead of people, when I stopped looking for faerie circles in the woods, and when creating my own elven language lost it’s thrill. They just faded away, and I miss the sense of adventure they brought to my life. I miss the way it made anything exciting and created a world that only I could see. Something I could understand.

And now I have term papers and tests and loud dorm mates that make me question my belief in not killing people. My willpower against the latter prevails.

However, as I was rereading Harry Potter for the umpteenth time, I realized something. Perhaps my way to find magic had just changed. There was certainly magic in these books, because the magic was happening inside my head and I was living it. And that is real. It is a tangible thing to be captivated by a book, to be so entrenched in the story and the characters that you cry and laugh and mourn them, to feel the real and powerful sadness that comes with a certain character dying, to love Isabella in The Pirate of Panther Bay like a sister, and to feel as in love with Augustus Waters as Hazel Grace is (in The Fault in Our Stars).

Perhaps, as an adult, magic has just changed. And who knows, really, if there are fairies underneath flower petals. They wouldn’t let us see them anyway, so does it matter? Perhaps I should just remember that not everything in the world needs or wants an answer. And perhaps I am quite happy with filling that space with this particular kind of magic.

It’s way more fun for the world to have magic in it anyway. So who cares if there is or there isn’t any. I’m happy just believing that I can be flown on a dragon to a pirate ship in another world.

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Round 2 of modern fiction for the modern classroom

By Claire W. Staley

Earlier posts have discussed why incorporating modern fiction into the modern classroom is essential for promoting reading among today’s teens and the beginning of a list of novels that every teacher should consider (starting with John Green, The Hunger Games, and Divergent).  Today’s post focuses on three more books that teachers should consider adding to their required reading lists and classroom discussions.

  1. Crank by Ellen Hopkins. A good girl gone drug addict? This is totally relevant to teenagers today. Going beyond the physical and mental effects of addiction, this book could open discussions of rape, sexual assault, and their effects on a person. Discussions of how parental influence affects children, how and why a person chooses to love the people he or she does, and how to look forward again, can be used in classrooms. This book reminds me to take a look at where I want to be in the future and really think about how each of my choices are going to get me there.
  2. Uglies by Scott Westerfield. In a universe where a medical procedure makes everyone beautiful when they turn sixteen, two teenagers will figure out their place in the world. Corrupt governments, outlaws, and insiders collide to provide a cast of characters that are inspiring and different in a world of perfection. This is a roller coast dystopian YA novel that tests the characters strengths, fortitude, and courage constantly.
  3. Maximum Ride by James Patterson. This book attacks the whole “scientists were so preoccupied with if they could they didn’t think about if they should” problem. A group of kids go on daring quests to discover their pasts, their futures, and their purposes. Since beginning to read this series, I’ve convinced myself that the main character, Max, is a wonderful role model and her qualities of compassion, courage, and never giving up are a large part of deciding who I will be in the future.

I like to pick the first book in a series because if a student loves the first book they immediately know where to go for another one like it. If we would like children and teenagers to read more, perhaps starting them off with a first book in a series will help. If they liked the first, they have more to read, and from those books they can look for more. The domino effect is powerful, and in this case it might lead to a revolution in reading. For someone to read a complicated piece of literature, they must first enjoy the act of reading itself.

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Modern fiction for the modern classroom: Round 1

By Claire W. Staley

In an earlier post, I discussed why today’s students have a distaste for reading and why incorporating more modern fiction into the classroom would be a tremendous step forward in promoting reading among teens. Today’s post includes a few of my suggestions for modern books that can be used in the classroom. Perhaps, if more teachers took into account these next books, kids and teenagers would have a new outlook on books.

  1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Even teenagers who hate reading are reading this book. The Fault in Our Stars is a story about overcoming the vastness of the universe, finding your place in an unpredictable and unfair world, and finding happiness for those around you despite the horrible things that happen in the world. It’s modern, edgy, clever, and filled to the brim with enough symbolism and discussion points to keep teachers happy for weeks, if not entire semester. Plus, it’s well written, thoughtful, and has a good story with likable characters.

Positive role models: Hazel Grace, Gus, Hazel’s parents, Gus’s parents, Isaac, and etc…

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. A brilliant work of literature that delves into the worst parts of humanity with hope, inspiration, and intelligence. Unlike The Road, which is also post-apocalyptic and shows the worst of humanity, this story has hope in it. Collins, despite the horrific lives these people lead, infuses her words with a chance at a better future. She writes to illuminate and change, while creating compelling characters we can root for.

Positive role models: Peeta, Finnick, Rue, Prim, and Katniss (though I’m not convinced her literary job is to be a role model)

  1. Divergent by Veronica Roth. Tris, the main character, taught me to be strong, courageous, to make a change, to believe in oneself, and to never give up. She battles rivals close to her and far above her, the entire time with kindness, compassion, and a clever head that is capable of making tough choices as well as loving her family and friends. I aspire to have some of her strength and her ability to adapt quickly and positively.

Positive role models: Tris, Four, most of the Dauntless initiates minus Peter, Uriah, and etc…

 

Next post? Round 2 in my suggestions for incorporating modern fiction into the classroom!

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The case for modern teen & YA fiction in school classrooms

by Claire W. Staley

Some people tell me that they wish they read as much as I do, but they either don’t have the time, or they don’t enjoy it. The way teenagers or college students see reading confounds me, especially when their faces are like most children’s when they are told to eat vegetables. Most students look at reading as a requirement for class, and most don’t even read those books. And yet, they want to read.

My friends believe they should read, and even have a desire to do so, but they haven’t had an experience with reading that makes them act upon this.

To enjoy reading, teenagers think they must enjoy all types of books, or, even worse, that they must enjoy the classic literature they are force fed from eighth grade onward. If students are not getting good books at home, the only experience with literature comes from school. I’m sorry to say that A Christmas Carol—or any other book by Charles Dickens for that matter—has done nothing to inspire me to pick up books and read them. And it has not inspired anyone else I know, either. If teachers honestly expect students to be avid readers after reading Shakespeare I think they are quite mistaken. I am not saying to this cut Shakespeare (or Dickens) out of the curriculum (I, for one, adore Shakespeare), but perhaps infusing it with modern YA books would create a new generation of readers.

Harry Potter got me started on books in fourth grade. The books taught me about the values of kindness, courage, intelligence, wit, reflection, loss, love, fortitude, standing up for my beliefs, and the power of a single individual. This is only a fraction of what I could say about Harry Potter, but there are a multitude of books that students love and are usable in the classroom. Divergent, Eragon, Artemis Foul, anything by Tamora Pierce, The Hunger Games, and countless others have created powerful role models that changed my life. When I have a problem I look to them. I look to Hermione, I look to Tris, I look to Peeta, I look to Percy Jackson, and I look to Hazel Grace. They always provide me with answers and support. They have never let me down, and I wonder why these characters aren’t a part of my education experience at school.

To pretend that John Green (The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns) is just teen fiction and has no basis in a classroom because his books are not “old” or about certain subjects is to deny every student and what they love. It reinforces the idea that there are good books to read and bad books to read, and that only one kind has value. Once teenagers find books with relevance to their lives and are well written, then they will read.

My next blog post will explore this concept even more as I discuss different books that I recommend for classrooms.

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