free-wheeling or fearful?

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In a piece re-run from November 4, 2015, Rachel Cordasco asserts that kids should read whatever they want:

Time and again, I've come across scenes in novels where a young character is wandering around a library, whether personal or public, entranced by the endless possibilities offered by the books. These characters aren't sure where to start, so they choose a book at random, and go from there.

Scenes like this occur in such works as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Black Boy, Dirty River, and The Book Thief, suggesting that discovery through reading is a universal experience, one that enables readers to imagine other lives and other worlds. To me, it doesn't get much better than that.

This is, she explains, "why I will place no restrictions on my personal library when my kids learn how to read:"

With nearly a thousand physical books and scores of e-books, our house is almost groaning under the weight of all those words. Poetry, fiction, history, biography, drama, anthologies: they're all there on my bookshelves (and floors, and futons). They tell stories that are uplifting, disturbing, gruesome, inspiring, and hilarious. They reveal the kaleidoscopic diversity of human experience. They will show my kids that the world is an infinitely fascinating place.

But, some might say, you'd let your 8-year-old read Lolita? You'd let your 10-year-old read Lady Chatterley's Lover? And anything by Emile Zola???

Yes, yes I would. You know why? Because I believe that you connect with books that you're meant to connect with at a specific time.

"The key to having your kids' reading be free-wheelin' and unfettered but also informative," Cordasco continues, "is your availability to answer their questions and listen to them figure out what they've read:"

You won't need to schedule specific times to have "Big Talks" about various issues because those issues will naturally come up in their reading. They'll read Ralph Ellison and ask you about racism and injustice and identity; they'll read Charlotte Perkins Gilman and ask about feminism and equality; they'll read Dickens and Orwell and ask about poverty and surveillance and war. They'll read histories of World War II and plays about apartheid and poems about faith or sexuality or despair. They'll read graphic novels and comic books and libretti and screenplays. You'll realize that answering their questions is a full-time job and that your books are making them really smart and thoughtful and pretty soon they'll be outmaneuvering you in debates about when and for how long they can take the car and whether or not they can get a tattoo or dye their hair blue. But you'll be proud of them.

Taking a contrary position, Tara Isabella Burton warns readers against dark books:

While we might point to violent video games or sexually explicit films as potentially dangerous and corrupting influences on tender or vulnerable minds, the novel is treated as uplifting and salutary, regardless of its content: a kale smoothie for the soul. [...]

But it was not always thus. Throughout the 19th century, novels were regarded with the same suspicion with which we treat, say, Eli Roth's 'torture-porn' Saw movies today.

"Storytelling is inextricable from power," cautions Burton, pointing out that "the act of reading is, for better or worse, an act of submission to an external force granted the privilege of language, of narrative organizing:"

At its best, reading novels might be as salutary as recent studies allege. But at worst, novels - in all their dangerousness - can erode at our sense of self: a woman who reads Samuel Richardson's Clarissa (1748) could find herself accepting a world-narrative where rape is justifiable; a person of colour, growing up on Rudyard Kipling's Kim (1901), might internalise as normative a world of white power, just as Dorian Gray, through reading Huysmans, normalises the debauchery that is to come.

Burton's worry is as strong as Cordasco's optimism:

At its most fundamental level, to read is to put our selves at risk, to make ourselves vulnerable by welcoming the presence of an other into our psychic space. This can be a radically transformative experience, challenging us to reformulate our own self-understanding.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on January 7, 2016 9:15 AM.

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