Books You Needed

I Needed A Good Book As A Kid

When we talk about Literary Citizenship, it seems like we say a lot about making the world a better place for writers, and getting people interested in books. Which they definitely should be. But maybe we should start talking about how to make the world a better place for readers too. Let me explain. As a kid, reading was such an important part of my life. I read on the toilet, at recess, when I should have been sleeping, during church.

ImageOne series that I loved with all of my heart was A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. What made it so great was that Violet Baudelaire, the oldest, was a girl like me and she was the one who was generally in charge, saving the day, fixing everything. As a kid who was also, incidentally, a girl, and someone not very in control of the events in her life, this was the coolest of the cool to me. I gobbled by way through the entire series and then started looking for others like it.

What I found was a little disappointing. Most other books had male protagonists or were about things that didn’t interest me. I found one book with a woman in high heels, one leg cocked, holding shopping bags and decided to give it a shot. In one of my classes, some guys behind me saw the cover and started snickering. I was so embarrassed that I walked back to the library with it tucked under my arm, cover hidden, and turned it back in before I’d finished it. Laurel Snyder really does a better job of talking about this in her article than I do, but more or less the problem was that, despite the wonderful worlds that books could offer me, the culture surrounding them was making it hard for me as a reader.

We All Needed A Good Book

That was a really roundabout way to get to my point. What I mean to say is that books shape us. The things we read growing up teach us how to think and feel about ourselves and those around us. The books that we read now can open our minds to new ideas or teach us about things we might otherwise have never encountered. Why then couldn’t I find more books about women that didn’t make me feel ashamed to be seen with, or why did they have to be something I should have felt ashamed of in the first place? I know that those books are out there, and that people are out there who wouldn’t laugh or turn their noses up at certain genres. I think it’s our duties as readers and writers to help people find those books, and to recognize how important they are.

Image
Completely fabricated. Sorry.

When I suggest books to my little brother or younger relatives, I try to think, “Which books would have been great for teaching me about gender roles and what a load of malarkey they are? Which books would have eased some of my confusion about liking boys and girls? Which books would have encouraged me to never let a romantic partner mistreat me instead of romanticizing it?” I want to promote books that I needed growing up. Or books that I read today and think, “Hey, yeah. That stuff.”

So what are some books that you needed and didn’t know about? What are some books that you had that helped you figure things out? And how are you making sure that other people know how great they are? Feel free to share your suggestions either in the comments or on Twitter with the hashtags #litcitizen and #THATbook, or follow @litcitizen (on tumblr too) where we will be posting ideas of our own.

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7 thoughts on “Books You Needed

  1. Reblogged this on Literary Citizenship and commented:
    These are excellent questions: What are some books that you needed and didn’t know about? What are some books that you had that helped you figure things out? And how are you making sure that other people know how great they are?

  2. One book I just read was “How to be a Woman” by Caitlin Moran. I wish I’d read things about women who were kicked ass in the world before college. I wish I hadn’t read Twilight and found strong female role models instead. It’s important to realize that everything we read really does have an effect on how we see the world, for better or worse. If someone had sat me down and talked to me about the gender roles in certain books and the normalization of violence against women and minorities in a lot of the books I read I would have come to my realizations about who I want to be as a woman and who I want to be as a writer a lot sooner. Let kids read what they will but have conversations about it. Why things are a certain way and why they should change. Great post Brittany!

  3. I just purchased the entire Series of Unfortunate Events. I read 1 through 5 when I was little, but then stopped for some unknown reason. I am irrationally excited to reread and finish the series.

    Anyway, I think you get to a really big question. How can we help readers? I think the biggest way we can help other readers is to know what is good and tell them. As a reader myself, I struggle to know what books are “good” if they are not the books everyone is talking about. Books need voices to get others to read them. That’s what literary citizens are for.

  4. The one book that will forever be my “that book” is Watchers by Dean Koontz. It’s hard to explain without giving away a ton of plot details, but I connected so deeply with all the protagonists that when the climax of the book happened, I was literally screaming and crying because their well-being was in danger. I’ve never had such a strong reaction to a book before and I cherish that book over any other. I’ve read it like, six times and I never get tired of it. It taught me that there is love to be had out in such a cruel world. That we are all to watch out for each other because in such a turbulent, chaotic world, we need all the help we can get. I don’t know, all I can say is that book is at my core and changed me forever. I owe so much to that book.

  5. I do get tired of reading books where the female characters aren’t much of a role model, but their actually pretty boring. I’m just not finding books that captivate me with complex female characters. They just seem to be falling into stereotypes that have been done to death like “snarky girl that’s good with weapons.” Maybe I’m just not looking in the right place, but certainly in popular literature we aren’t finding people to look up to. The best we’ve got, and she is amazing so don’t get me wrong, is Hermonie. I identified with the most. We have a similar character arch, starting out as the social awkward, sensitive book worm to slowly growing into ourselves. Even so, I wouldn’t say I’m quiet at her level, but we always have to have that goal to reach for, right? But why is she the only one I can really think of? Why do all the “strong” female characters we have these days have to be BA and emotionally dead?

  6. I really like this idea of creating a place for readers! If I had to narrow down to a series that really helped me figure things out it would have to be the Strange Angels series by Lili St. Crow. It always comes back to that series that made me want to become a book editor and ultimately an English major. I actually made a Weebly website on how Lili has influenced me (http://hoodeng104023.weebly.com/) a few years ago. And a lot of it still applies to me today. This series, I believe, is what sky rocketed my reading more often and why people in high school always expected me to have a book at hand. For me honestly I think I will always be interested in YA books like these.

  7. Brittany I’m so gad you have the passion for young readers that you do. It’s such an important ‘market’ that gets completely bombarded with messages that are sometimes just not the right ones. I think you have a great future ahead of you 🙂

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