We all have life changing days. For me they tend to come subtly, and I’m left at the end of it feeling like something really significant happened but exactly what I can’t be sure. But I know something in my thinking, in my view of myself and the world, has changed. Generally it’s not really an event that causes the change, but more me thinking about things said or read and my own interpretations of what I live through. Sunday was one of these changing days.
I went to two events yesterday (said Sunday) as part of The Press Writers’ Festival.
The first was called Why YA? and had an awesome panel of authors talking: Helen Lowe, Jane Higgins and John Boyne. Now while, for me, there was nothing particularly astounding discussed, it was fascinating to hear about their experiences with the marketing world and the use of this “young adult” ‘genre’. I certainly agreed with Jane’s point that if we use this phrase on young people we are limiting what they’re allowed to read, and, in the end, discouraging them to be exploratory in their reading. However I do think some censorship is required. I read Jean Auel’s The Valley of Horses when I was about eleven, and probably would have been better off not reading that when I was so young, though that’s what you get when you choose to read a book because it has horses on the cover. Just a word of warning by a parent or other appropriate adult, or an ability to self-edit past the “ookie” parts, as Helen so wonderfully put it, would potentially help prevent young people falling into reading books with more R rated type material. Perhaps a kind of PG reading environment could be helpful, and it does really fall on the parents to know what their children are reading, and what they have access to.
But, is reading so dangerous that we need to box our adolescents into a ‘genre’ of their own? And more than that, are we so free in what we let our children read that the market needs to take control? John posed the question of “why wouldn’t you let a child read it if you enjoyed it?” talking in particular about The Boy in Striped Pajamas, which certainly made me think about that in terms of Jake for when he grows up. There are books that I would be really apprehensive about him reading such as The Lovely Bones or Eleven Hours, although I’m sure these would never be considered YA. But then, the YA age group goes right up to at least 18, and by the time Jake’s reached that age I’m sure he’d be well capable of dealing with the gruesome topics these books explore. There are other books similar that I myself have not read, such as A Clockwork Orange, and I think I’d have the same point of view about them. I would probably be far more concerned if I found him sitting down to read Twilight! One of the things pointed out by the panel is that when you are 12 you are interested in reading, and capable of reading, completely different things that when you are 16 and the same again for 18 year olds. If my son is interested enough in reading to be prepared to read novels when he is a teenager, then I think we’re winning, and if he’s interested in reading adult fiction then would I be doing any favours in stopping him? But I am determined to be more aware of what he’s reading than my own parents ever were. I’m also thinking perhaps I’ll keep the more adult books such as The Lovely Bones off the main bookshelf. My parents bookshelf had no such censoring, so children’s novels like The Hobbit and the Narnia books sat alongside adult fiction and fantasy. But I take the responsibility upon myself, and do not expect the market to attempt this job for me and agree that they are doing us no favours by trying to separate the age ranges for these novels so thoroughly. What’s really wrong with just having “children” then “adult” after all, and let the young adults move between the two groups as they want to, especially if they have the maturity to deal with, or skip over, any “ookie” bits.
The other event I went to was The Stuff of Life. This one was pretty amazing, but then with Nicky Pellegrino and Joanne Harris on the panel there was no doubt that it would be pretty interesting. One thing that really struck me was the real passion they have for writing. I think I really felt a kinship with both of them because of that passion, one that I share. While Felicity Price had a couple of hard acts to follow, even she made me realise a few things about myself as a writer and my writerly ethos. I struggled to relate to her on any level; her system of collecting stories and writing them are so completely different to my own. I was especially ruffled by her overly insistent dislike of fantasy, mainly I think because it wasn’t relevant and because Joanne Harris had just talked about how she’s written fantasy novels (books I didn’t know existed and are now on my very long ‘to read’ list), and I felt the way she kept mentioning the fact that she doesn’t like it was disrespectful to her fellow panelist. But, people like that tend to be somewhat self-focused, and her tendency to base her stories so thoroughly on her own life emphasise that personality streak. After the talk I shared a few words with Nicky while she signed my book, which was so cool, and for me really reflected how far I’ve come with managing my social anxieties. Even a year ago I probably wouldn’t have been able to get books signed let alone talk to the author!
So I got home yesterday with a lot to contemplate, and with a slightly stronger sense of self, which is really coming out in my ability to write what I enjoy writing, and do it well! (it’s still an internal battle to say things like that, but for now I’ll leave it on the page). My brain was whirring, my head hurt from lack of tea, and I felt totally exhausted from a day of socialising. Then, as I relaxed, I made the mistake of starting Chocolat, which I’d never read, so it was destined to be an adventure. So much for an early night; I finished it at 1am. There was a pause here to eat dinner, another to tuck the boy into bed. Other than that I was drowning in the deliciousness of decadence and descriptions of chocolates that rivaled the joy of eating it, and beautiful words, carefully picked, mixed with a sprinkling of French (both words and cuisine), all folded together into a finely crafted whole, which I am so glad was a book, not a meal, as I will definitely be re-reading. A particular phrase that has stuck with me is when Vianne says, “what do I believe right now? ‘I believe that being happy is the only important thing.'” This really helped lift a burden off my shoulders. I certainly haven’t considered myself as Christian since I hit adolescence really, and nowadays I was finding it difficult being unconcerned with religion and yet being comfortable with my current spirituality. And now I know that my current belief of happy being the most important thing, my discovering of ‘happy’ and learning to live with it in my life, is a perfectly acceptable state of spirituality. Seeing a protagonist who is so giving and self-less have and live by that belief makes me realise it’s not as self-indulgent a belief as I thought it was. Therefore it’s not a ‘bad’ belief, therefore I’m not a ‘bad’ person for being so concerned about attaining happiness. Anyway, spiritualism aside, I am now a fan of Joanne Harris’s writing, and when I popped into the second-hand bookshop this afternoon I was delighted to find a copy of Blackberry Wine (the cover of which I love. It’s so trippy. It seems so normal, and then, hang on a second…. Awesome). Another book on the ‘to read’ list.
I am holding off on reading Nicky Pallegrino’s book I bought (and got signed!), When in Rome, as I really want to buy some Mario Lanza to listen to first. Otherwise it would be like reading Chocolat without having ever eaten chocolate! After payday you may not be able to get hold of me for a day while I indulge in some wonderful vocals (from what people say) and some wonderful writing (I hope).
I also got two John Boyne books signed for Jake, to sit along side Skulduggery Pleasant (his Irish authors collection?) for when he’s old enough. I’m really looking forward to sharing the world of novels with him.