Top Ten Tuesday: Types of Books to Hook Non-Readers

It’s That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

November 2: Books I Would Hand to Someone Who Claims to Not Like Reading

I think recommending books to anyone (especially non-readers) is personal. You want to recommend something that will appeal the the person who will be reading it, and that depends on their tastes, interests etc. So I decided to list some types of books that might appeal to people who don’t think they like to read.

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1.Middle Grade and Young Adult- These are usually fast moving, accessible and fun. You can find things to suit just about any range of tastes, and from a literary perspective it’s usually not too challenging (though you can absolutely find some challenging subjects there) Plus it’s often a little shorter than books for an adult audience. It can be intimidating to be giving a huge brick of a book when you’re just starting out!

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2. “Airport” fiction- Think authors like Dan Brown, Stephen King, James Patterson, Michael Crichton et al. In most cases these books are fast moving and easy to get into. There are also fewer heavy expectations with these. You don’t feel like it’s something “great” that you’re “supposed to” love and get a lot out of. Just a note: while these books don’t have a reputation as literary and high brow, there is some interesting stuff out there.

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3. Non-fiction about topics that interest them- I think of non-fiction as a sort of gateway drug for non-readers. It’s easiest to get people to read a book targeted at something they find interesting. Even if they don’t like to read, they’ll probably want to know more about that topic.

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4. Illustrated novels and graphic novels- Some people are a little intimidated by page after page of text. Other people are art lovers. Fortunately there are illustrated and graphic novels aimed at just about all tastes.

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5. Short books- Long books can also be intimidating. Something that gives readers a sense of completion fairly quickly can be a good idea.

6. Books by celebrities/recommended by celebrities- People like to feel like they have something in common with their favorite celebs. If a celebrity they like writes (or ghostwrites) a book, or talks it up on social media, it’s automatically of more interest to fans.

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7. Books that were the basis for popular TV series/films- No explanation needed really for this one. If they like the show/film, check out the book. Chances are it’ll have enough differences and more depth to keep them interested.

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Why Are Fairy Tale Retellings Popular With A YA Audience?

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I had a conversation about this recently, and it got me thinking: why are fairy tale retellings so popular with YA readers?

First of all, I know that fairy tale retellings have an audience within all age groups. Some of the retellings for very young children tend to be the sanitized Disney type stuff we all grew up with. But there are many, many exceptions to that with fairy tales from around the world, retellings with unique illustrations, and even some scary stuff that might give some little ones nightmares. By the time they enter the middle grade reading group, kids have access to a wide variety of retellings from authors like Gail Carson Levine, Shannon Hale, Anne Ursu, Vivian Vande Velde and many others.

But fairy tales have really exploded in popularity with a teen audience. Let’s just look at the variety of genres that have fairy tale retellings:

Sci-Fi

Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer

A Long, Long Sleep by Anne Sheehan

Stitching Snow and Spinning Starlight by RC Lewis

Contemporary

Ashley Poston’s Once Upon A Con series

Cindy Ella, Geek Charming, Wickedly Jealous, and Little Miss Red by Robin Palmer

Alex Flinn’s Kendra Chronicles

LGBT

Ash by Malinda Lo

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Historical Fantasy

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

East by Edith Pattou

Stepsister and Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly

These are just a few of many examples. And, of course, there’s plenty of crossover: books that encompass more than one of those genres. So it certainly seems like fairy tales are being aimed at teens regardless of the genres to which they gravitate. Why is that?

Well first of all, I think that fairy tales are universal. They’re made for people. That’s why we can find interesting fairy tale inspired work for all age groups. But since we’re looking specifically at teens, let’s think about it this way:

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Teens are in a liminal space. They’re between childhood and adulthood. In some ways they’re expected to handle very adult burdens and responsibilities, but they still have a lot of the needs that they had when they were younger: security, consistency, a sense of safety. Obviously the extent to which these statements are true differs from one person to another, but I’m making a broad generalization here.

Fairy tales are about liminal spaces. Think about the action of fairy tales. The main character leaves home (a safe space) and goes on some kind of a quest. They journey will take them to dangerous places (the enchanted castle, the monster’s lair) but it will also take them through transitional spaces. The real growth takes place on the journey, of course.

The way we view fairy tales is also in transition. In their older versions many tales are dark and disturbing. Marguerite Johnson, Professor of Classics, University of Newcastle says: “Originally for adults (sometimes for children), fairy tales can be brutal, violent, sexual and laden with taboo.” They deal with fears and insecurities, as well as hopes and dreams. As different people have collected and compiled these stories for different reasons, they’ve made changes to suit their intended audience. In the 20th century, Disney’s animated films shaped how a lot of people saw these stories: as brightly colored, tuneful children’s tales. And they can be that. But they can also be very dark. People are starting to recognize that fairy tales are not always the friendly childhood tales that we think about. Retellings, in all forms, are starting to recognize and resurrect some of the complexity that fairy tales once had.

Yet in spite of this dark content, there is a lot of simplicity in fairy tales. Characters tend to be good or evil. They teach moral lessons. Those lessons are absolutely good for children to learn, yes. But as they venture into the world, teens are confronted (many for the first time) with ambiguity, with doubt, with ethical dilemmas. Psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim says:

The child needs ideas on how to put his inner house in order and, on this basis, to be able to establish an order to life in general. The child needs – and this hardly requires emphasis at this moment in our present history – a moral education that subtly conveys the advantages of moral conduct, not through abstract ethical concepts, but through what seems tangibly correct and, therefore, meaningful for the child.

This is just as true for teens as it is for young children, if not more so.

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But despite the clear lines between good and evil that’s typical of the form, fairy tales also have a sense of moral ambiguity to them. That’s something that starts to emerge as our thinking matures. Sometimes we do sympathize with the wicked queen who is so afraid of aging and losing the beauty that defines her, that she lashes out at her innocent step-daughter. We can also find fault with the heroes. When the prince kisses the sleeping princess (usually a stranger to him) we might not think about it much as children. But as we grow and learn and mature, that can becoming very troubling.

Therefore fairy tales have an “in betweenness” to them that makes them great for people in a transitional point of life. Goddard Blythe, a child psychologist, says: “Fairy tales are important not because they show children how life is, but because they give form to deep fears and dreams about life through fantasy. Life is looming for teens even more than younger children. The transition from child to adult is more immediate, and it’s natural to have some anxiety about that. Fairy tales can act as a canvas on which that anxiety can play out. Naturally teens have a wide range of interests. Different kinds of settings and genres appeal to different people. Therefore YA fairy tale retellings are giving teens the stories they need in the styles (whatever those may be) that they enjoy.

What’s your opinion? Agree? Disagree? Have the fairy tales that appeal to you changed from childhood to adolescence to adulthood?

Book Thoughts: Hazards of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates

41gsbp8s2vl._ac_ul436_I’m hesitant to call this a “review” because I don’t usually post reviews on my blog. But I recently read this book and found it fairly interesting. When I looked on goodreads and amazon I saw that it had earned a lot of negative reviews. So I suppose that what I’m doing is laying out the reasons that I disagreed with those reviewers and found this book to be worth reading.

For the first third of the book I felt like I was reading a YA dystopia in the vein of Divergent,  Delirium, Matched, etc. The heroine, Adriane, is graduating from high school sometime in the 2040s (or thereabouts). The United States is now the North American States and is controlled by one political party. While lip service is paid to democracy it’s an autocratic state that’s downright Big Brother-ish. Adriane is her high school’s valedictorian and her speech asks questions of the audience that the state claims are subversive and treasonous. Adriane is sentenced to Exile. For four years she will be sent to Zone 9, otherwise known as Wainscotta Falls, Wisconsin circa 1959. She will live on a state university campus as student Mary Ellen Enright. She’s not allowed to tell anyone her real identity, she’s not allowed to leave a 10 mile radius from campus.

But once the plot is set up Oates diverges from the YA formula significantly. Because this isn’t really a YA book and I think that’s where a lot of other readers run into problems. I think the reader of Hazards of Time Travel is not expected to read it from a teenage point of view. We’re supposed to recognize that Adriane/Mary Ellen is naive and immature. When she falls in pure insta-love with Dr. Ira Wolfman, a young Assistant Professor and fellow Exile, we’re supposed to roll our eyes and cringe a bit. In fact I think the reason that it mimics the YA genre so closely at times is that we’re supposed to question our desire to classify and categorize.

The future, in this book, is chilling and based on total lockstep social control. The past of the 1950’s is also repressive in its sexism, racism, and Cold War paranoia. Oates draws parallels between the Cold War era and post 9/11 paranoia. She also looks at the rise of fascism, and the role of the self, and nature vs. nurture. It actually becomes rather heavy in the middle as an isolated Adriane/Mary Ellen explores these issues in her psychology class, and uses her knowledge of the future to complicate the questions.

The book ends somewhere ambiguous. We’re never told if the time travel really took place, or if it was all a dream, or if Adriane/Mary Ellen will stay where she is or return to the future. It’s unsettling. We’re left wondering if it’s a happy ending or a chilling one.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone. I would actually suggest that the reader is at least somewhat familiar with one or two of Oates previous works before reading this one. I think an understanding of how she sometimes plays with genre is helpful in understanding what she was doing with this book. But also, I would hesitate to recommend it to people who like to know exactly what’s happening all the time. I think that expecting and appreciating ambiguity is important here.