Thursday, April 21, 2011

Yes, I read my own books

One of the strangest questions I get when doing school visits is, "If you didn't write them, would you read your own books?"

The first time a student asked me that question, it took me a while to figure out what, exactly, he was asking me. Eventually I realized he was asking me why I, an adult, would read books written for middle grade readers. That was answered easily enough. Middle grade books are fun! At least the middle grade books I like to read are. They have plot. Things happen in them. The characters have amazing adventures.

And let's face it, a lot of books written for adults aren't anything like that.

A Philip Pullman line I often paraphrase (and I may have originally heard this from fellow Smack-Dabber Tracy Barrett--hi Tracy!) is that children's books are the last bastion of plot. I would argue that adult genre fiction like science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries are up there on the ramparts fighting the forces of plotless literary fiction alongside Sir Kidlit, but the criticism stands for most contemporary adult fiction. Too much of it seems written as an intellectual exercise, and not to entertain.

Yes, I try to put in my books all the symbols and allusions and themes that my English teachers, oh so long ago, promised me were done intentionally by authors. I try to give all my books deeper meaning beyond the straightforward plots on the surface. But ultimately, my number one goal with the books I write is the same thing I demand from the books I read: entertainment.

That's why I write--and read--middle grade fiction. Because I expect a good book to take me someplace I've never been, to do something I've never seen done, to wow me in ways I never knew I could be wowed.

A better question might be, why would anyone write anything else? :-)

3 comments:

  1. Hi Alan! My sentiments exactly. And as you said, Pullman's too (from his Carnegie Medal acceptance speech): "In adult literary fiction, stories are there on sufferance. Other things are felt to be more important: technique, style, literary knowingness. . . . The present-day would-be George Eliots take up their stories as if with a pair of tongs. They’re embarrassed by them. If they could write novels without stories in them, they would. Sometimes they do."

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  2. Yes, yes, yes! I agree with everything you've said. This is why I write - and read - middle grade, too. Beautifully written post!

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  3. I love this line, Alan: Because I expect a good book to take me someplace I've never been, to do something I've never seen done, to wow me in ways I never knew I could be wowed

    I'll keep it in mind as I work on my rewrite today. Thanks!

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