For the Love of Reading: Classic vs. Contemporary

I always thought I was a slow reader.

In school, I learned to comprehend and analyze great literature. I also learned that reading was tedious. It took me all summer to make it through the assigned lists and hours upon hours after school during the year.

My ‘slow reader’ identity stuck with me all through grad school and into my professional life. It wasn’t until I took a real vacation and went to the beach that I discovered the amazing pleasure of reading. Apparently, I read quite fast—when I love the book.

I realized that The Babysitters Club was the last piece of fiction I chose for myself until adulthood. I missed out on so much joy. I wish I had graduated middle school or high school with the love of reading in addition to my literary analysis skills. I wish I had found books that held my heart and kept me company as I grew up.

Profound works that stand the test of time are critical for a solid education. I don’t want kids to lose Shakespeare or Fitzgerald. And I wonder if helping kids learn to love reading might be more foundational, since if they love reading they might pick up even more great novels on their own.

Looking into the history of young adult literature, I discovered that there was a bit of a dip in the genre around the 90s, right when I would have been looking for this content. Since then, YA lit experienced a golden age and blossomed across categories. There are books about basketball playing poets, cancer patients falling in love, best friend spies and pilots in World War Two. I can’t thank all of the YA authors enough for writing and writing and writing.

Unlike the classics, these books are contemporary, and, maybe more importantly, they center on characters much closer to the age of a YA reader. They still embody the great themes—death, betrayal, atrocity, love—but they might be more relatable to the reader. In addition, the authors of exemplar texts are predominantly old white men. While there is still an aching need for diversity in YA, kids have a much better shot of finding a character or an author that looks like them. And when the book lines up with the reader just right, it might spark that magical, mystical, incredible spark that sets her or him up for a lifetime of reading.

I am making up for lost time now. I devour a book a week. I proudly read all the coming of age stories and high school romances that I missed out on. And I don’t think I’m alone. I know so many adults who fell back in love with the written word after reading Harry Potter or Twilight or The Hunger Games.

Teachers, librarians, administrators, and parents—keep making space for your kids to discover a book that might light them up. Thank you for pointing the way. YA authors—keep filling the bookshelves with words that reach deep into our hearts. Contributing a book to the world that may help people come to love reading is an invaluable gift. Young Adults—let me know if you need a good book to rip through.

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