Hey friends, I’d like to welcome Prudence Shen, author of Nothing Could Possibly Go Wrong to Good Books And Good Wine today. She’s totally awesome AND we have a book to offer you!
Confession, full disclosure, whatever you want to call it: I’m not a very good reader.
To clarify, I’ve loved reading since I was a kid, but that was with books of my own choosing: R.L. Stine novels and American Girl books, everything related to Little House on the Prairie (including the cookbook), anything about alien abduction. I’m getting buried with my dog-eared copy of the Fowlers of Sweet Valley and nobody’s convincing me otherwise.
As long as I’ve remembered, school reading lists and the type of novels that are considered Important with a capital letter have left me cold. There’re exceptions of course, but by preference, I’m far more likely to be found scoping out the nonfiction shelves of any library or bookstore versus choking down Things Fall Apart or, God forbid, The Heart of Darkness. If I had a time machine and only one round trip, zipping into the past to punch Joseph Conrad in the face is seriously on my top three potential uses.
I don’t know if it’s fair to blame school for draining me of my will to read Important Novels, but it feels true: in high school I forced myself through The Stranger and in college I sulked through Prometheus Unbound. I didn’t want to read any of these books then, and I never will now because whenever I consider revisiting the greatest hits of my English education, I have an immediate PTSD flashback to drinking bottom-shelf booze with canned pineapple juice while trying to write 20 page papers about…something. Don’t even get me started on how much I hate The Good Earth.
In contrast, whenever I think of the books I enjoyed, that I return to time and again, they’re the novels of my childhood and early teens. They were all housed in the Cameron Village Library’s kid’s section in the distant past when I was reading them for the first time, but they fall under the umbrella of YA fiction.
So while I would happily reread Leave the Cooking to Me for the eight millionth time, I don’t think I ever finished The Red Badge of Courage. Sorry I’m not sorry, Stephen Crane. I printed out a lot of copies of SparkNotes and then curled up in bed to rereadCatherine, Called Birdy, because no matter how many times I read it, I still think that she and the goat herder might run away and get married. YA novels were the stories I turned to in my moments of distress, the comfort blankets I seek out over and over again. They taught me about courage in the face of terrible danger (Redwall), the fire in the gut of every girl (The Ballad of Lucy Whipple) and how to survive World War III and hook up with my cousin (How I Live Now).
YA was closer to me and more understandable than the abstract conflicts I was trying to dissect in The Grapes of Wrath orMoby Dick. The novels were a reminder that not all books were fortresses against understanding, where I’d chip away at the meaning until someone handed me a test to verify I was fully appreciative of how clever and obscure the story had been. I remember I once got into a good-natured fight with an English teacher over why some books were just mass market paperbacks and others were mass market paperbacks that were on my curriculum. Had all the Literature professors of the English-speaking world mustered a synod to determine what was considered classic literature and what didn’t make the cut? What were their benchmarks? Why wasn’t “being enjoyable to read” one of those benchmarks? And why was it so important to convince people that the only reason they didn’t like these so-called great works was that they were too dumb to get them? The me of middle and high school English was resentful to say the least, and if the books being jammed in my gullet during class were the only ones I’d been exposed to, I would have never read a book of my own volition again.
That’s why YA is so important — they were the books that sheltered my love of books until it was no longer under attack by compulsory reading lists. They may not have been able to curate any desire in me for reading great literature, but the combined efforts of people like Bruce Coville, Louis Sachar and E. L. Konigsburg kept me reading, period. I’ve lost all of the paperbacks that made up my school reading lists, and my I think the massive purple brick of 1800s poetry I hauled around during college is somewhere in my parents’ attic, but I know exactly where my copies of Ella Enchanted and These Happy Golden Years are.
And thank God for YA. Without it, I never would have tried to write my own stories — stories I hope cleave closer toFrom the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler than The Good Earth. Because oh my God, have I mentioned how much I hate The Good Earth?
Contest Time: USA Only. Use the rafflecopter to enter. The prize will be publisher provided. Also, 13 years or older. I won’t sell your info. The prize is a copy of the graphic novel Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong.