Teens and books

Teens are reading. Is that good news or bad?

The American Library Association this week offered a rosy assessment of teens and books. According to an ALA press release (the group is also promoting its Teen Read Week, scheduled this year for Oct. 12-18), "teen books now enjoy unprecedented critical success and popularity."

The ALA press release cites a 2008 Newsweek article that claims sales for books aimed at readers aged 12-18 have increased by more than 25%. They also state the "teen literature is in its golden age," pointing to the success of Stephenie Meyer's vampire novel "Breaking Dawn" and the fact that more adult authors are now writing for the teen market.

Whether or you agree with the ALA's positive assessment or not may depend on whether you are a glass-half-empty or glass-half-full type thinker. For the glass-half-empty types, the fact that it's a vampire novel causing so much fuss this summer is perhaps more depressing than exhilarating. (As might be the fact that this year Teen Read Week's theme is "Books with Bite @ your library"....)

And if you're a traditionalist you might seriously roll your eyes at the statement from Sarah Cornish Debraski, president of the Young Adult Library Services Association, that, "Teens just need to get their hands on the right materials, and reading now encompasses many forms: magazines, newspapers, blogs, audio books and graphic novels. It's important to provide teens with a wide variety of reading material and allow them to make their own selections."

However, if you're the glass-half-full type who wants to believe that any reading is good reading (because, hey, didn't plenty of us who eagerly snapped up Archie and Veronica comic books as kids end up reading Dostoevsky as adults?), then I direct your attention to Sara Nelson's column "Books & Son" in the Aug. 4, 2008, issue of Publisher's Weekly.

There the PW editor tells how her 14-year-old son Charley – whom she encourages to read "manga, YA, old-fashioned comic books, all are fine with me" – picked his summer reading list for school.

Given a free hand (and his mother's credit card), he trotted off to the bookstore and came home with a new translation of Camus's "The Stranger," " Scaramouche," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," and "Don Quixote." (And then he went home and spent the weekend reading "Breaking Dawn."
Admittedly, his mom works in the heart of the publishing world and the family lives in what Nelson calls (and she is undoubtedly grossly understating the case) a "book-friendly household."

But I've decided to join the half-full types on this one. As long as there are at least a handful of Charleys out there, I'm going to smile every time I see a kid buried in one of those vampire novels.

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