Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Reading children, children reading etc.


This post is growing and taking on legs...

METAMORPHOSIS

Despite Sven Birkerts on the coming loss of reflectiveness, I didn’t quite believe that the reading of what we call literature would be lost. But now I am beginning to wonder, although for an entirely different reason than those he offers. I knew so many passionate young readers—mostly girls—that I thought this fear just a tad silly. My feeling was that there were too many children who loved books, as I loved books when I was young. The result would be as many devoted, reflective readers as ever. The population willing to read literature has always been small. Perhaps the children I knew weren’t quite so rabid as I was, but they were addicted. (I didn’t bathe without a book, and I was one of those readers into the night that made flashlight-floggers happy.)

But I’m beginning to see a very different cause at work here. Today’s young readers have a plethora of “juvenile” and “young adult” books before them, and this leads to a curious problem. Here, I think that I must be talking about girls, for the most part. The boys I encounter tend to be readers of nonfiction, when they are readers at all.

When I was a child, I was stuck with the library and the books my parents owned. I did have a subscription to a book club—now and then I received a volume by Kipling, Swift, and so on. One of my happiest days was when I was at last allowed to have my own card to the adult library in sixth grade. I read many different authors, though Dickens was very big with me in sixth grade; Faulkner began to be big in the same way in ninth. By then, I had the freedom of the university library where my mother worked, and I spent afternoons poking around the literature section, sponging up novels and poetry.

I’ve begun to notice that many high school students fed on the nigh-infinite (often wonderful but not always terribly demanding) fare of children’s and young adult books have a tremendously difficult time confronting, say, a novel like Great Expectations. They are more at home with a children’s book (or the “cut scene” narratives of a video game, or a ‘graphic novel’). This goes for children who care about words and style, too.

Young men and women no longer need to “grow up” in their reading. There’s enough out there to hold them forever in the land of “young adult.” Perhaps that’s part of the reason why so many adults read children’s books now, and do not read adult ones. A student can, these days, be an English major without doing much "heavy lifting." One can avoid diving into any canonical deeps and stay on the surface, catching the waves near shore.

Perhaps I am wrong and simply “anecdotal” in my observations of one small village. Do you think so? I do hope you think that I am wrong, silly, benighted, even odd. Yes, I hope so.

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SALON FANTASTIQUE

Dave Roy has reviewed Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's Salon Fantastique at www.curledup.com. He singles out three stories, one being mine. Somehow his comments harmonize with what I've written above. Here they are, minus the plot summary: "Finally, there is 'Concealment Shoes' by Marly Youmans. . . . Youmans writes with an easy flow to her words, making the children intelligent but not overly adult (a mistake too many authors make when they have kids as protagonists). They're inquisitive, like to play and run around a lot, but they're also well-read and they think things through. Youmans gives the idea of a haunted house a fantastic twist, and I really enjoyed reading every word of it."

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JEROME MURAT, ALSO FANTASTIQUE
Update, 10:00 a.m. 5 December and I should be working!

Poet Jeffery Beam sent me several videos today, one the famous soccer match between Greek and German philosophers (with Karl Marx warming up on the sidelines), one a marvelous piece by mime Jerome Murat. He found it at the blog of poet Dan Vera, and now I am passing it on.

That makes a 3-poet recommendation.

If you love Cirque Ingenieux and Cirque du Soleil and wonderful "new circus" magic, this little performance is for you. If you are a dreamer, it is also yours. If you are prone to metaphysical flights of fancy and are lured by the idea of doubles and mystical resemblance, it is yours.

http://www.dailymotion.com/visited/search/jerome%20murat/video/xf9oo_jerome-murat#comment_input

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MORE ON CHILDREN & READING: TEENS, SEX, & BOOKS
After this, I really am going to stop procrastinating!

Matt Cheney of The Mumpsimus has written an article about "literature and high school and sex." "What is Appropriate" appears in The Quarterly Conversation. I didn't comment on it, because I could feel a long-winded thought approaching.

Here's that thought, with a few silly embellishments along the way:

Matt,

As a writer and a mother of three, I found your essay interesting—although I am of that weird ilk with no television reception. (We have a t.v. and watch movies, but we receive no channels.) I have never been afraid to talk about sex or violence or anything else with my children. I am not in the least afraid to let them read whatever they want to read.

But I would point out that communities are living organisms and vary wildly in how quickly their children grow up and in how quickly those children want to ask more "advanced" questions about sex—and that it’s doing no real favor to young people when you encourage them to exit the realm of childhood more quickly than they would without your help. Why are we in such a dratted hurry on this issue? (Of course, the community of an elite private school like yours is its own world, and tends to develop its own character. And yes, of course, there are teens going to it like rabbits in every corner of the world.)

Plenty of teens in the current generation simply aren’t interested in exerting their freedom to have sex—in this generation, there are many who have decided it’s not what they want now or even before marriage, and that there are other things that are important and even thrilling. This is rather a shock to some parents, particularly to those in the baby-boomer-and-after generations, who must deal with the fact that today's teens are--what a surprise!--not like yesterday's. (I also think that there are a good many young people who can see through consumer culture and political mumbo-jumbo, whether from the right or the left, so get some red chalk and color that herring!)

What I’m more interested in is the teacher who is not trying to convey a message about sex or anything else but who shines with passion for books, and who can help a teenager catch a little spark of that fire. The problem isn’t that our teens don’t get enough sex in their books and so aren’t ready to talk about it when they turn 20; it’s that too many of them don’t give a hoot about reading at all, or else can’t progress from book pablum and book candy to a more elegant and satisfying meal.

*******
Credit: "Bookends 2" is courtesy of www.sxc.hu and the travel-loving Benjamin Earwicker (great last name! I must remember that one.) "Carved wooden bookends from the Phillipines hold up a few old books."

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23 comments:

  1. That's an interesting poin, Marly - and I think I have seen evidence for this here too - many adults reading Harry Potter, Pullman, Haddon and similar. But then perhaps some of these books which are labelled 'cross-over' or YA are more demanding than some of the books labelled adult fiction on the best seller lists. Would it be a step down to go from a Pullman to a Dan Brown I wonder. I've not read either, but from what I've heard I believe it would. Maybe that is another reason for the lack of progression.

    Just snuck out of my research entrenchment to get some air and landed very happily here!

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  2. Yes, I think that may well be true--you know, I've published adult books that were reviewed as crossover books for young adults, and I've had young adult books that were reviewed as crossover books for adults. And I do think that categories are created by marketing, to a great degree.

    So maybe one ends up again with the idea that there are good books and bad books, and that an adult can enjoy In the Night Kitchen or Howl's Moving Castle or The Deptford Trilogy. And perhaps that is an ideal thing. But it's not an ideal thing to stop forever part of the way to that state.

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  3. Clare mentioned Harry Potter. An essay by A.S. Byatt (New York Times, 2003) touched upon this point of "adult" reading these days, and I rather wonder what you would make of it (her opinion - and I confess that Byatt's novel "Possession" is one of my favourites - certainly was not exactly popular with the Potter fans). Here's a link to a copy: http://www.countercurrents.org/arts-byatt110703.htm

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  4. Ah, another poet. Be sure and click on the new link…

    I remember that Byatt article well: a Freudian reading of Harry Potter’s journey. I imagine that it won her a lot of hate mail. She is one of the few people to point out J. K. Rowling’s indebtedness to other writers—I think that it is most of all to Diana Wynne Jones. (I also find her strongly indebted to Dahl for the Dursley family and to P. G. Wodehouse for her prankster twins, who are borrowed from Bertie Wooster’s family circle.)

    Byatt doesn’t quite say it, but I think that what she means by a lack of mystery in Rowling is not just the uncontrollable mystery (sounds like Yeats again—he is just on my mind lately) that lies just underneath human history but also the sea-deep layers that a novel can have. I think she’s absolutely right to link Harry and the gossip-sheet attacks against him to celebrity worship and the mania for celebrity “heroes.”

    And there’s no doubt that we are in an era of surface color and motion, far from the depths. We have never had our time so frittered away and chopped to pieces as in the current age; we have so little time for thoughtfulness. But a lot of people may be waiting for "something" to unlock their own little cupboard under the stairs and set them free from a limited, narrow life. Perhaps that, too, is an appeal. I also suspect that many ordinary people in Europe and North America are uneasy about the rise of a religion that they have ignored, one that would like to abolish their freedoms and replace them with something very different. And so people like to think that the solution to a world of good and evil could be merely child’s play—the exciting adventures of a boy and his friends.

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  5. Teen w/ an Opinion4:30 PM, December 05, 2006

    I would like to point out that, as a teen, I know a little something about teens and sex in books. Here is my opinion.

    Item 1: Not all teens, believe it or not, participate in, enjoy, and/or are interested in sex. In fact, most who I know don't even do more than laugh about it. (You must admit that there is a kind of humorous side to it.)

    Item 2: I for one, and I know others who agree, think that sex in any book, unless it is a central element of plot, is unnecessary and gums up the story. (And when I say "central element of the plot", I mean that the reason the story is happening is because of someone's reaction to it, and the sex could not be substituted with anything else.) I believe that a truly great author should be able to carry it off without resorting to that oh-so-stale story element. It should be obvious that sex in literature has lost all shock value by now, for people who are doing it for that reason, and has now ceased to be anything but disgusting or boring; and for people who are doing it for other reasons, perhaps that you simply want to get more readers, you can be sure that most people who read it will either skip the sex scene, or only be interested in the sex scene. Is that really what you want?

    Item 3: Teens are perfectly capable of talking about sex, with each other and with parents. We don't need it explained to us, and especially not by literature. The whole point of books is that they are just that, stories, and everything in them is either glamorized or made harsher. Very little of it is plain and simple fact, otherwise it would be quite boring. So why do we need to be exposed to this? Most people, by the time they are my age (15), have already determined what they want out of their sex life. And most (I'm sorry to crush your little bubble, Mr. Matthew Cheney) aren't the kind who go through the opposite sex like a wildfire (or even the same sex, or both). Maybe they are at that private school you teach at, but my experience with THAT is that private school kids experiment more with drugs and sex. But scientific studies have shown that teens prefer romantic relationships over purely sexual ones. And that means not having random sex, even if it is with only one partner.

    So, to end my small rant, I'll say this: Most of us have parents or guardians whom we can talk to easily, have had health classes where the most commonly uttered word was "abstinence", and live in a community where sex, while interesting, isn't necessary, or even really desirable. There is so much more to life. Recently I've been in such a cheerful mood, I wonder why the stereotypical teen is seen as angsty and hormone-driven....

    --A (Female) Teen with an Opinion.

    Note: This whole line of thought has led me back to the fact that teens are the most commonly stereotyped people on earth. Please don't paste another one on by saying that we're sexually obsessed.

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  6. Your post reminds me of Bloom’s premise in The Closing of the American Mind, a 1980’s publication, if my memory serves me well. Are fewer students reading the classics today? Are fewer reading at all? Well, we’re not in Kansas anymore, you know! If today’s youth are addicted to mediocrity, to sex, to action, and to short clips, do we have progress to thank? Video gaming, the internet, and TV provide this steady diet. Or should we blame parents who pack kids time with sports, music, dance, you-name-it lessons so that kids have little or no time or energy to read. Or maybe, it’s those who have entered the teaching profession over the past couple of decades (those college students whom Bloom wrote about) whose limited exposure to the classics was a highlighted copy of Cliff Notes. Perhaps, it’s the educational system or George W. with his “no child left behind” mandate resulting in a “prepare the kids for the test” obsession which permeates the schools with fear, creating a focus on skills and drills. Dang! I could go on with this hopeless ranting, but I can attest to my experience with middle school students who read—yes, the boys, too. In fact, I have students who read much more than most teachers I know. Yes, “there’s enough out there to hold them forever in the land of ‘young adult’”, but I doubt these kids will be satisfied there, for they think, they debate, they challenge, and they are not afraid to stretch. They may be a minority, but, nonetheless, they exist. I expect that you, too, Marly, were a minority. I can’t think of one kid I went to school with in sixth grade who read Dickens!

    Now, I must tidy my house, for tomorrow evening I host my book group who last month discussed C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce and tomorrow will toss around ideas from K. Norris’ The Cloister Walk. And if we were to choose M. Youmans’ The Curse of the Ravenmocker for our next read, I’d be delighted.

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  7. You're point is well taken, Marly, and I basically agree with you, but I was trying -- perhaps without success -- to use some recent experiences with people's reactions to some books and kids to talk not so much about books, but about our (and that does, indeed, include me) attitudes, fears, prejudices, etc. about sex -- about how we discuss it, how we frame it, etc. I didn't want to advocate using literature to teach sex, but rather to raise questions about our assumptions about what to do with literature that happens to include sex -- what does the presence of sex in a book do to our perception of that book and the audience for the book.

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  8. Hmmm. I find the responses to Matthew's article here bemusing: the idea that he is earnest about making novels with sex scenes available to students, and despite his good intentions may be rushing them out of childhood.

    To me, his basic point was simply this: students are discouraged, prevented or "protected" from reading good novels that could be great for the class, merely because they contain sex. The grades in question were 9 - 12.

    It is fair to say that by grade 9 a student has had some kind of sexual thoughts, so I don't see that as an issue. Teenagers are not quite so easily molded that merely reading a novel with two pages of a sexual discussion would lead them to do it in corners everywhere like rabbits. That can't be a reasonable issue either.

    In fact I am surprised it came up here at all because I did not see Cheney mention anything about the sexual activity or lack thereof of the average American teen at his school or anywhere. (Perhaps I missed it?)

    He seemed to be addressing the students ideas and perceptions of sex. A health science class is imparting information in an entirely different manner in a different context so that cannot be seen as an equivalent. The matter of whether a student has good rapport with his/her parents about sex is hardly the point.

    The point is that his students live in a world where sex is manipulated by the mass media in a significant number of suspect ways. The classroom is one place where the matter can be dealt with in a responsible and (more intriguingly) an interesting, artistic, creative, literary manner. We can show students that sex in books doesn't have to be crass, done for shock or to merely get more readers. That a writer with skill and a good book can take that element, like any other, and give you deeper insight into the characters, into language, about the world. That a book doesn't deserve the label of "literature" any less merely because it has two characters talking about a blow job. It is about quality.

    You could change a student's mind and open them up to books. Who knows? Why lose the chance? Because it's sex? Then we're right back to square one.

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  9. Teen w/ not-so-good reply10:24 PM, December 05, 2006

    Imani--I'd like to thank you for an excellent reply to my arguments. Alas, I can't make much of a comeback (I'm new to the art of ethical debates, but I'd like to do it more often, it's sort of fun). However, I would like to add one thing--I myself can understand when sex in necessary in a story, and when it's not. Sometimes it fits in naturally, and sometimes it doesn't. (Case in point: Tamora Pierce sometimes handles it very well and sometimes botches it. I think she could've skipped much of the sexual elements in "Trickster's Queen", but they were pretty tame anyway). But what I don't like it gratuitous sex. I know Mr. Cheney mentioned this in his article, saying that if gratuitous violence is so rampant, why are we so against the same in sex? The thing is, that's a little like saying, "There's too much violence and people don't care, so why the heck can't we have too much sex as well?"

    Also, quote Imani:
    "...That a book doesn't deserve the label of "literature" any less merely because it has two characters talking about a blow job. It is about quality."

    I find this very ironic.

    I concur that books with sex might attract an otherwise reluctant reader. But at what cost? You may find that quality, which you point out as important, may be lost or ignored by a teen unused to real writing in their search for more vivid scenes of sex and violence. That may become all they will be willing to read. Wouldn't that be sad? (See my above comment about how readers with either skip or concentrate solely on sex scenes.)

    An aside: I also think that it's sort of sad that recently, there was a fuss over the fact that the only thing that distinguished adult books from YA books was presence or absence of sex. Now, they're blending into one. Can't there ever be an adult book with no swearing, no sex, and no violence?

    --A Teen Who is Still Opinionated But Has a Mediocre Response.

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  10. This is one of the stimulating things about the web: people telling you that you are right or wrong, setting you straight, agreeing and disagreeing. Most readers fly by, dipping here and there and sailing on, but some stop to put the proverbial bug in one's ear.

    That means I can converse with Clare-the-novelist, Archbold-the-classicist-and-poet, an Opinionated Teen, and Connie-the-teacher-in-Raleigh (and that I know because she was once in a workshop in my own home place of Cullowhee, North Carolina.) Hello, Connie!

    I would say that the Opinionated Teen and the middle school teacher give me a lot of hope about joyful, opinionated, rabid readers to come. No, that wasn't "mediocre."

    And there's Matt-of-Mumpsimus, popping up like magic. And yes, I probably did gambol around what he said and embroider my own little path.

    Matt, it's all very well to talk about these things in terms of our attitudes and fears about sex (though the thought petrifies me with boredom), but what one forgets is that you were talking with colleagues about ninth-graders. My ninth-grader has classmates who are still 13. That's the year after 12. Which is the year after 11.

    In the end, I care about storytelling and words, and about children and teens finding their way to books they want to read. Actually, the Opinionated Teen deals well with the whole issue of the perception of "sex in a book" and the need for it not to be "gratuitous." I think that's probably the strongest argument against or for sex in a book: that it be essential to the story. I don't think that I have any more to say about a teen audience and sex, but maybe somebody else does. My mind is in tatters from trying to help a little boy deal with basic Algebra...

    imani,

    No, you have certainly made jolly hay of a few of my offhand silly remarks (I am incapable of invoking silliness now and then in a blog--for e-ground is not a wholly serious ground) even sillier.

    And I don't disagree with you--obviously writers have a great and delicious freedom to follow the trail of story where it leads. Far be it from me to deny any writer that power--who could do so?

    But I know a lot of ninth graders (and older teens), and I can tell you for an absolute fact (having made a small informal poll) that a good number of them just aren't interested in that hypothetical blow job. They're not squeamish, and they're not prudish (though they may roll their eyes), but they're just not interested. In addition, I'm sure that there are other ninth-graders who are simply not ready for that particular kind of storytelling.

    And so why, oh why, would we shove it down their throats?

    So to speak.

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  11. Oops.

    That was definitely not my pal Anonymous.

    That was me, Marly.

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  12. Marly I suppose I just don't understand why it's seen as "shoving it down their throats" if the book happens to contain some mild sexual content and everything else is "teaching". A great deal of students probably don't care a bit about racism, is that a compelling enough argument to stop assigning "To Kill a Mocking Bird"? There are a great deal who don't care about history, should we stop teaching "Richard III"?

    (I don't think that having sexual thoughts is an indication of someone being keen on sex. (Further there is nothing wrong with that. I don't subscribe to the view that teens are hopping to do it every corner.) It's merely a natural part of growing up, largely due to the body developing. Everyone has them. It's not a big deal.)

    If the books in question are filled with gratuitous sex scenes then I could perfectly understand where you're coming from, and of course that's a turn off. But these are not the kind of novels Cheney was talking about, as far as I can tell from the article. It was two pages of conversation. Why is any discussion about the possible merit of the novel overshadowed by a sexual conversation? If it were two pages of conversation about anything else, would one generally say the idea was being "shoved" down their throats?

    I guess this is the point where I have problems in understanding your position. I don't think Matthew was pushing for a nation-wide curriculum where every 9th grade class should have at least one novel with some sex. No doubt there are classes where the book would not fit. Neither of these valid points negate the probability that there are classes and students who can, with teachers who would be able to teach it well, but the idea is never even legitimately considered because it's sex. That seems unfair and unreasonable.

    Teen you're doing quite well and I hope I haven't given any other impression. Debate is good. :)

    I must disagree with your interpretation of Cheney's gratuitous violence point. I don't think he was supporting the assignment of novels with gratuitous sex to compete with the violence. To me he meant that, generally, society is illogically selective about what it wishes to protect children from. As a milder example no one blinks at "For Whom The Bell Tolls" which has shooting and a very vivid description of mob brutality. It's "literature" and about "war" you know, which are important, look at Hemingway's style, how he presents them etc. Yet present a book where there's a bit of sexual convo (and no action) and people squirm uncomfortably and become alarmed.

    Or look at "To Kill a Mockingbird". I read that when I was in grade 8, only 12. There's a book with mature subject matter. The racism, for one thing; the fact that there is a trial for rape; the treat of mob justice and, of course, the violent ending for one of the main characters. But, by and large, it is taught in schools everywhere and I don't believe it is held off until senior year.

    As to my point about sexual content not preventing a book from becoming literature, I did not make it clearly. It's not that I think that the mere presence of sex will get students excited about books. It is the way it's handled by the author, what it means to the different characters, and how it ultimately helps the theme, the ideas and so on of the novel that may get students looking at it anew. Of course the teacher would help in guiding the discussion.

    Oh dear, I am very long-winded. My apologies. If I am missing out on the humour or silliness in your arguments, please forgive me.

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  13. imani,

    I don't think we disagree so very much, and I always find fervor attractive. How very silly, if a writer should put any holds on what people may think. How could I possibly disagree about what you say about To Kill a Mockingbird, for example?

    We may have some disagreement about literature, I suppose. You seem to suggest that we read because of message, to some degree. I don't think that message is what literature is for--schools tend to be devoted to that idea of literature's supposed "usefulness," but I disagree.

    I am interested in a child or teen having the experience of a book--the chance to be genuinely lost in a book. The abolition of the self through reading is far more transforming that a thousand discussion groups on correct topics chosen by teachers who "know best."

    I care more that readers should find their own way in books, and not be governed by others. School is often a very blunt instrument. No doubt you have noticed this.

    And I have a keen sense that childhood is very brief, that adulthood can be long in comparison. There is time for many things. There is time for discussions of attitudes to many things, of which sex is merely one. Not all has to be examined for attitudes, scrutinized, and nailed down at 13 or 14.

    *******

    Let all writers follow the thread of story until they reach the heart of the labyrinth, whatever it contains.

    That's where I stand on writing.

    Get rid of age divisions for books created by marketers. (My little fantasy!) If a child or a teen is ready for adult fare, fine. If he or she is not ready for adult fare, fine.

    That's where I stand on children, teens, and reading.

    "What I’m more interested in is the teacher who is not trying to convey a message about sex or anything else but who shines with passion for books, and who can help a teenager catch a little spark of that fire."

    I stand by this.

    ******

    And now I am going to be lost in Clare Dudman's 98 Reasons for Being.

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  14. I never had kids -- and never meet them -- but as I remember my own youth (back in another millenium) I first liked adventure books in some exotic setting (Ivanhoe, Count of Monte Cristo) and I remember Michener's Hawaii as being the most sex I'd ever encountered (inside or outside of books) -- but even then -- as I recall -- the author set up a tantalizing scene (the ship's captain ordering up two play-girls, one fat and one thin) -- but he didn't take you into bed with them.
    And even now -- forty years later -- I don't ever remember an author who took me into a bedroom -- unless the book was in the distinct genre of pornographic fantasy.

    But then -- I admit -- I'm one of those adults who hasn't read much fiction -- until recently -- when I've been on a tear with novels from China and Japan -- and here, two of the most popular classics,
    "Dream of Red Chamber" (17th C. China) and "Tale of Genji" (11th C. Japan) are ALL about teenage (or young adult) romance -- but again -- the reader is never invited into the bedroom. In DRC, the young male hero is the only boy in a garden full of very attractive young women --- and for all the flirting and broken hearts, nothing happens except for an occasional poem -- while in TOG, the young hero is a sex maniac -- running about a dozen relationships simultaneously -- and seems to have slept with every woman who's ever seen him (he's very handsome - elegant -- smart --poetic -- and the favorite son of the emperor) -- but again --the author bids her characters farewell as soon as they go behind the screen -- and naked flesh is never described.

    So I guess I'm in no position to make any recommendations regarding a high school curriculum -- but what kid feels restricted to a curriculum anyway ? That's what I find especially fascinating about the popular literature of China --- there are a few books that EVERYONE can be expected to have read -- but at least until very recently, never within a schoolroom.

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  15. And perhaps that is a good thing, Chris--that some books escape the great pressing mill of school!

    You know the way that Picasso tilted paintings askew--because he felt that they "vanished" on the wall after a while? I feel the same thing about literature 'hanging on the school walls.'

    Chris: I'll be by to get my museum fix, if I make it through my horrible 'To Do' list. I'll have to take a look at your Asian books blog some time, too. I'll put it on a list!

    All: Going to visit the museum blog of Chris Miller is sheer fun--in a few minutes, you can see something you've never seen and get a bug in your ear from an opinionated guy. And there are plenty of museum outings packed in one web page.

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  16. My word for it is "innoculation" -- the required reading of schooling innoculates children against being infected by the subversive literature it presents.

    For example -- for me -- the "Scarlet Letter" -- which kept me away from Hawthorne for at least another 30 years.

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  17. Ah, yes. Very good. Rather like the way that putting great works of visual art on watches and umbrellas and card cases innoculates us against seeing.

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  18. I think the inclusion of sex in a book is rather like the inclusion of defecation. Both are necessary, we all know both occur, we all know some people really enjoy each, but it is seldom vital for the progression of the story line. When mentioned the reader is inclined to suspect it as a literary crutch to support weak writing. Unless the point of the work is directly gastroenterologic or pornographic, in which case the more graphic and complete the description the better.

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  19. "directly gastroenterologic"

    I especially liked that bit!

    Very pithy summation, my friend Anonymous--the amorphous fellow with such varied voices.

    In theory, I admit that writers have the right to natter on about sex acts as much as they like. In actuality, I find such episodes tend to be dull or poorly handled. And if characters are nattering, they often seem to be grinding their wee axes.

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  20. Thanks for the gracious answer, Marly. I'd just like to say that I am not personally for the "message" purpose of reading, but have found that most schools--and the questions asked of students--do go for the "message" and the social and political aspects over aesthetics or experience. (And if sex were in any novel for school the parents and board would insist it's taught given the right message.)

    (I was schooled under the British system, others may be more enlightened.)

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  21. Yes, I think that's true.

    I must say that I've experienced (via my children) everything from Let's Make Silly Posters to wisdom. I've seen teachers who couldn't even recognize a child in love with books, and teachers who had the heart to see and understand and not hold children back but encourage them on.

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  22. Just come back to this - what a fascinating discussion. Sometimes I feel so privileged to be on-line. Tis a wondrous thing.

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  23. It is, isn't it? Especially for those of us in tiny places, far from cities.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.