Phi Beta Cons

Regarding Reading

I don’t necessarily believe that teenagers have to be reading Melville all the time, although I’d like them to read him eventually.  I understand the idea of mid-level or popular young people’s literature.  When I was a kid we read Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames and the Hardy Boys and Tarzan books.  We even read comic books, everything from Donald Duck to something called Classic Comics, which were comic book retellings of classic novels (maybe an idea worth reviving).  We even watched TV!  When my older nieces were youngsters, there was some kind of trend in mystery stories.  Even Hirsi Ali growing up in Africa was reading Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.  But she also remembers that in school it was Shakespeare, Orwell, and Jane Austen.  I think there used to be an understanding that there was a dividing line between the easier to read and more escapist kinds of things on the one hand, and on the other, the more classic children’s lit like The Prince and the Pauper (there was a wonderful film of this with Errol Flynn), and some of Melville and the like; and then again between that and the mature literature that meant you were growing to adulthood.  It was sort of a hierarchy that you aspired to climb.  Maybe some of the better books were too much to handle at certain points but there was always the idea that you’d want to get to them eventually.  Some of the things I had on my mental list I got to only years later.  But in this way you both became a reader and committed yourself to a lifetime of reading.


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