When I was oh, I don't know...eleven, I read The Shining for the first time.
What are kids reading today when they are eleven? Twilight.
Now I'm not above saying that I'm certainly glad kids are reading, but I've never really bought the whole idea that Twilight got kids to read again. I still think kids that are inclined to read, read. If anything got kids to read voraciously again, it was the Harry Potter series, not Twilight. Wise up, people.
A few days ago I saw a frightening little conversation taking place on Facebook (I think) somewhere regarding the Twilight movies and of course there was gushing and eternal love going on (by adults, no less) about the movies. A few of the commentors hadn't even read the Twilight books, but had only seen the films, and therefore made mention that "gee, they hoped the books were as good as Harry Potter!" - or something similar. I almost choked on my own spit.
That, my friends, scared the shit out of me.
Now I'm not saying J.K. Rowling is Jane Austen, but she's a far cry from Stephenie Meyer. Rowling's wonderful world of wizards, friendship and good overcoming evil is goddamned literary brilliance in comparison to the angsty story of handicapped vegan vampires and dependent, lusty teenagers.
And yes, I have read all four Twilight books, so YES, I have the right to my opinionated views.
Why did I read them, you ask? Hype and curiosity. Oh, and I like vampires. But the sparkly, depressing, non-fanged ones? Not so much.
I'm also not saying Stephen King is Dostoevsky, either. But he's certainly a better writer than Meyer, and I'm positive a whole load of other writers out there are as well.
Obviously though, it doesn't take talent to sell books. (Or honesty either - see James Frey if you don't believe me).
But if I were a parent in this day & age, I'd be so much more inclined to break my kids in on Rowling and then later move on to King - or perhaps Dan Simmons or Peter Straub if my offspring had my same horror-loving genes.
Leading a child towards the Young Adult section of any Borders or Barnes & Noble these days takes courage. Take a look and you'll see. 75% of all the books prominently displayed are vampire books. Now I'm not stupid - vamps sell. And I'm also not going to lie - I read almost exclusively vampire fiction in one form or another- some of it quite trashy in fact. But even trash can be well-written! So why do I complain? Because the books for teens seem to be so dumbed down. Intensely inquisitive, I've read more YA (young adult fiction) than just Twilight, and I've really not found one series yet that doesn't take an adolescent and force their reading skills down a few levels than where they ought to be at.
And many of you know I already have issues with Twilight's downer themes. At least with all the vamp books I read, no one wants to kill themselves because their vampire left them. One need only look as far as Sookie Stackhouse for an example of that. And so many books have strong female leads - not some depressed teenager who sits for three months staring out a window waiting for her true love to return. The more I think about it the madder I am.
Like I said, I was ten or eleven when I read The Shining, which for all intents and purposes is definitely well above a eleven year old's reading level. And I'm not trying to brag - I realize not everyone can read so easily. I completely suck at math. Everyone has their strengths and comfort zones. Mine was reading.
King is my favorite author, even more so when I was young and his career was just amping up - and he's a good writer. A great writer even. So is J.K. Rowling. The worlds they create are so vivid and lifelike you feel you are stepping into them, if only for a little while. But while I was pouring through Carrie, Pet Sematary and Salem's Lot in high school, I also found myself picking up my mother's gothic romantic suspense novels by Victoria Holt and the likes, and I read (by choice) Austen, Poe, Bronte, Shakespeare, Dickens, and the aforementioned Dostoevsky, among others. I'd love to find a sixteen year old that's read Crime and Punishment and shake his or her hand. I assume they're out there somewhere, but I can tell you they are no doubt sitting in the library and not texting the living hell out of their iPhone.
I've always read constantly, even now. And I still had plenty of time for activites and social events (read: partying) in high school. But there was nothing more sublime for me than reading Ghost Story by Peter Straub while jamming Pink Floyd in my headphones. And it's still my favorite book.
And what happened to books like Goosebumps? My brother read those religiously. Whereas those were before my time, I can proudly say I read every Hardy Boys & Nancy Drew book out there. At the same time I was honing my British mystery-solving skills by reading both Agatha Christie and Dick Francis (yes, I loved horse racing way back then, too!) after picking loads of them up at random garage sales back in the 70's.
It scares me, the dumbing down of our youth. And I don't even have kids. I shouldn't have to worry, right? Hell yes I have to worry! These kids will be running our country someday -yikes!!
And yes, I realize reading is essentially entertainment. I get that. But can we not forget reading is the most important life-skill you'll ever learn. Illiteracy is a huge shame, and a topic that is not addressed strongly enough, even here in the USA. In poorer parts of America, there are programs like RIF and Save the Children that provide books for kids - and you know what? It makes them HAPPY! They want to learn. And they don't need a cell phone or a computer to do it. Just someone willing to help. Now before I digress any further into the depths of the reading crisis, I'll just move on.
The fact that there are some kids actually reading just for the enjoyment of it and not sitting in front of their computers or big screen televisions playing violent video games 24/7 is a big plus. But while books like Twilight continue to dominate the shelves, the classics are slipping away. Classics we horror fans gravitate to like Dracula, Frankenstein, and the fabulous works of Lovecraft and Poe. I shudder to think of the response I'd get by asking a fifteen year old what 'The Tell Tale Heart' is. Oh, I'm sure there's a Cliff's Notes version out there, right? More's the pity. And don't get me started on the person I knew that thought Dracula was a movie first(!).
So why the bitch-fest? Because it's something that really grinds my gears and I just wanted to get it off my chest. I'm a huge fan of the (well) written word, and feel it is being extinguished slowly amidst a sea of crappy fiction being made into even crappier movies. And I know there are others out there who are equally as irritated - but some of which have kids that are sitting down right now to enjoy Gaston Leroux's (BOOK, not stage play or movie) The Phantom of the Opera as we speak. Thank God.