Friday, January 2, 2009

Half The Time You're Gone But You Don't Know Where, Or A Blogger's Rumination on Young Adult Literature

An evening stroll around the Oxford Square resulted in my wandering into Square Books, Jr. Perusing the shelves of young adult fiction, I came across, among other things, a handful of Tender Morsels and Spectacular Nows, as well as a couple of Terry Pratchets, a lonely Swan Maiden, and a boy caught up in the process of becoming invisible. It's only recently reoccurred to me how much I enjoy reading books purportedly written for children. I think, besides wonderful titles like The Cabinet of Wonders, my enjoyment comes somewhat from the sparseness and directness of the language, which at once leaves far more room for a reader's imagination to flit about and decorate rooms and moonscapes as they see fit, but also, on occasion, snaps the world, or a character's essence, into a sharp, painful focus without fear of "telling" the reader too much. Sometimes a simple "He loved her, and she was gone," is all that needs to be said*.

It's possible my resurrected love of children's literature comes from currently reading, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It's a tale of a little girl orphaned in a boarding school, as so many young adult books seem to be, but it is also a story about stories and the necessity of invention--the power of pretending to help us bear what otherwise couldn't be beared**. Joss Whedon lists it as one of his five desert island books, and I, to state it directly, am in love with it.

It's also dawned on me, though, that many of the "adult" writers I love, people like Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman, E.B. White or Kurt Vonnegut, all tend to write in the same concise and deceptively simple phrasings as some might associate with young adult literature. They also tend to leave large gaps for a reader's imagination to fill in. And they all have written, at one time or another, children's or young adult books.

Baudelaire said, "Genius is childhood discovered at will." So, if you get the chance today, readers, close your eyes and pretend you're something you're not, maybe a a three-footed wallaby on Mars or a glowing fish swimming deep in a dark sea. Maybe just that you're eight years old again, alone in your father's Brooklyn apartment, your nose pressed against a window and your heart full of wonder at the thought of a zombie apocalypse, of finding yourself in the enviable and perhaps terrifying position of being the only living boy in New York.

Let your honesty shine, shine, shine, readers.


*Well, not really. That would be a disappointing story, indeed, that consisted only of this one sentence.

**Which reminds me of this clip I ran across over at Ed's Rants in which Will Smith, in Gods and Monsters, finishes his speech about Catcher in the Rye by saying "that the imagination is God's gift to make the act of self-examination bearable."

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