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Old 07-30-2006, 10:55 AM
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Reading Choices


I've noticed something about the reading choices of teenage forum members. It's mostly what is called juvenile literature -- Harry Potter, LOTR, sword-and-sorcery fantasy, horror, routine sci-fi, and other escapist genres.

I see very little if any interest in serious literature, classic or modern. Which is a shame because most will outgrow the juvenile lit preference when they get older. If they want to be taken seriously as writers when they're adults, they need to start reading quality literature now -- and attempting to write it. A 15 or 16-year old is not too young to understand world-class literature and learn a great deal from it as a writer.

I read juvenile literature when I was a pre-teen because it was entertaining in a simple way. But at the age of 14 I read my first serious novel and it opened a whole new world for me -- the world of philosophical ideas, psychology, history written by the people who lived it, etc. The experience inspired me to become a real writer and changed my life for the better.

What you read shapes you as a person and as a writer. If you want to rise above "the herd" intellectually, it's necessary to read the works of great writers who paved the way. If you read their biographies, you'll discover that most started young and no better off than you are.

Next time you're looking for a fiction book to read, try a Nobel Prize winner like John Steinbeck or Albert Camus rather than Stephen King or Frank Herbert. Check out a philosophy book by Nietzsche or Thoreau or Kierkegaard. Read Kafka to gain a sense of genuine horror. If you'd like to explore exotic parts of the world through words, try the travel books of D. H. Lawrence and Bruce Chatwin or Joseph Conrad's novels. The real world of true experience is a lot more interesting than the stereotyped fantasy worlds of mediocre writers.

In other words, be very picky in what you choose to read. If you clutter your mind with inferior literature and other trivia, your chance of ever becoming a first-rate writer will be greatly diminished. Writing is like any other art form: you must learn from the masters in order to produce anything worthwhile.

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Old 07-30-2006, 11:07 AM
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Maybe the trash is just easier to talk about...

I greatly prefer the more serious and classic works. But I talk about them with my other friends rather than online..

I am so sick of seeing fantasy though.. I'm not a great fan of the genre anyway but why oh why does every "writer" under the age of 20 seem to come out with the same old stuff...

There's a real world out there... have you met it yet?
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Old 08-04-2006, 11:58 AM
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I've hardly read any fantasy or sci-fi, but I have to admit that when I was 14 I wasn't reading classics. Sure, the books I read were grounded in reality, but they weren't, for the most part, particularly philosphical. Everyone grows up at a different rate - when I first tried to read 'classics', I often didn't fully understand or get much benefit from them. Some of these books, now that I've re-read them several years later, are among my favourites.

Just because a book does not pretend to be addressing serious philosphical questions, does not mean it cannot be well written or demonstrate good plot development. There is something to be learnt from good writing whatever the subject. Don't dismiss a whole genre just because most of its material is abysmal - what little I've read of Ursula Le Guin and Arthur C. Clarke, for instance, I've admired.

Also, does what you read necessarily shape what you write? I've read a hell of a lot of action/adventure stories, yet my own writing (if you can call it that...) is as far from that genre as is possible.

I agree to a certain extent though - enough with the elves and shining daggers, already...
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Old 08-09-2006, 04:49 AM
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Wow.... You're making me feel ashamed of myself - I used to read classics, but lately I've only been looking at fantasy. Honestly, even I'm getting sick of the genre, but I don't know what to start off with.

Any help?
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Old 08-09-2006, 07:19 AM
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Originally Posted by cuteangel
Wow.... You're making me feel ashamed of myself - I used to read classics, but lately I've only been looking at fantasy. Honestly, even I'm getting sick of the genre, but I don't know what to start off with. Any help?
I have a man's taste in literature and I assume you are a young woman, so I am a bit reluctant to recommend what I enjoy.

But you might like the novels of D. H. Lawrence, Fyodor Dostoevski and F. Scott Fitzgerald and the dramatic plays of Eugene O'Neill.
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Old 08-09-2006, 08:52 AM
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Originally Posted by starrwriter
I've noticed something about the reading choices of teenage forum members. It's mostly what is called juvenile literature -- Harry Potter, LOTR, sword-and-sorcery fantasy, horror, routine sci-fi, and other escapist genres.

I see very little if any interest in serious literature, classic or modern. Which is a shame because most will outgrow the juvenile lit preference when they get older. If they want to be taken seriously as writers when they're adults, they need to start reading quality literature now -- and attempting to write it. A 15 or 16-year old is not too young to understand world-class literature and learn a great deal from it as a writer.

I read juvenile literature when I was a pre-teen because it was entertaining in a simple way. But at the age of 14 I read my first serious novel and it opened a whole new world for me -- the world of philosophical ideas, psychology, history written by the people who lived it, etc. The experience inspired me to become a real writer and changed my life for the better.

What you read shapes you as a person and as a writer. If you want to rise above "the herd" intellectually, it's necessary to read the works of great writers who paved the way. If you read their biographies, you'll discover that most started young and no better off than you are.

Next time you're looking for a fiction book to read, try a Nobel Prize winner like John Steinbeck or Albert Camus rather than Stephen King or Frank Herbert. Check out a philosophy book by Nietzsche or Thoreau or Kierkegaard. Read Kafka to gain a sense of genuine horror. If you'd like to explore exotic parts of the world through words, try the travel books of D. H. Lawrence and Bruce Chatwin or Joseph Conrad's novels. The real world of true experience is a lot more interesting than the stereotyped fantasy worlds of mediocre writers.

In other words, be very picky in what you choose to read. If you clutter your mind with inferior literature and other trivia, your chance of ever becoming a first-rate writer will be greatly diminished. Writing is like any other art form: you must learn from the masters in order to produce anything worthwhile.
I disagree with most of what you've said, but first and foremost your claim that reading fantasy, horror and sci-fi at 15- and 16-years-old will somehow significantly reduce your chances of ever becoming a first-rate writer. I'm not against reading classics, but they don't guarantee anything in terms of your own writing career. As for inferior literature, that sounds like literary snobbery. Not everyone seeks to win the Nobel prize. Literature is such a broad field that success can be achieved in many different forms. For all we know one of the 15- or 16-year-olds reading this might turn out to be the next big thing in science fiction ten years from now, and what would be wrong with that? I do think that to develop as a writer you should read outside of your own preferred genre, but if you do write genre you have to read that genre extensively and know it thoroughly. At 15 or 16 you're not under any pressure to produce. Enjoy that. You have plenty of time ahead of you. Read good literature, read bad literature, and read plenty. Most of all, read for pleasure. Don't reduce it to being a make-or-break chore at such a young age.

Cheers,
Rob
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Old 08-09-2006, 09:17 AM
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Originally Posted by Rob
I'm not against reading classics, but they don't guarantee anything in terms of your own writing career. As for inferior literature, that sounds like literary snobbery ... Read good literature, read bad literature, and read plenty. Most of all, read for pleasure ...
It's not literary snobbery to appreciate great literature and you won't learn how to write like that from mediocre authors. Reading bad writing tends to corrupt the potential talents of novice writers. It's nonsense to imply you can't derive pleasure from reading classic literature. The books I have enjoyed the most were classics that have withstood the test of time because of brilliant writing style, psychological insights, etc.
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Old 08-09-2006, 09:41 AM
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What drug are you on, man!
If success is what makes a writer good, most of the "inferior literature" you speak of is significantly better then some of the authors you are suggesting.

Potter and LOTR are BILLION dollar franchise's. Tell me, how much money has Nietzsche made recently?

Besides, when it comes down to it, Art is an expression of one's feelings and thoughts. When you've established something as Art, you can't claim something is better or worse, it's all up to the viewer's preferances.


I suggest you stick to what you write best, and stop making presumtions that your style is better then anything elses.

I'll write what I want to write and read what I want to read. You'll do the same. Let's leave it to the viewer to decide who's better.
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Old 08-09-2006, 09:47 AM
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Originally Posted by kalibantre
There's a real world out there... have you met it yet?
I think I speak for all of those writers under twenty when I say, we have met it and we have shunned it.
Average life is just too boring.
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Old 08-09-2006, 10:22 AM
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Originally Posted by starrwriter
It's not literary snobbery to appreciate great literature and you won't learn how to write like that from mediocre authors. Reading bad writing tends to corrupt the potential talents of novice writers.
Reading bad literature is essential if you want to recognise good literature. I haven't advocated reading only bad literature. But literature isn't bad simply because it's genre or isn't one of the classics. If you want to write good science fiction, reading Camus or Kafka - as good as they are - will probably do less for you than reading contemporary science fiction authors.

Originally Posted by starrwriter
It's nonsense to imply you can't derive pleasure from reading classic literature.
I neither said nor implied it, so feel no need to defend such a statement.

Originally Posted by starrwriter
The books I have enjoyed the most were classics that have withstood the test of time because of brilliant writing style, psychological insights, etc.
That's fine, but doesn't contradict the points I made.

Cheers,
Rob
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Old 08-09-2006, 10:47 AM
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Originally Posted by Occasionalpoet
...Potter and LOTR are BILLION dollar franchise's. Tell me, how much money has Nietzsche made recently?
Good writing is not about money. If you don't know that, you're in the wrong business IMO.
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Old 08-09-2006, 11:14 AM
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Excuse me, I thought that's what you were equating a good writer too. After rereading your post I can see I was mistaken.

Now, I think the reason that many young people aren't reading them is becase, not that many young people are interested. Perhaps we will be someday, but not now.
I also don't see how reading some of the more 'serious' literature would help me with what I'm writing. I write fiction, and, therefore, I read fiction.
Read the best of what genre you want to write in, and you'll probably write decently in that genre.

Not all writer's have to read these books to be considered as writers. What about the writer's who became famous before these books came into existence?

Perhaps these two opposite ways of writing form a type of symmetry? Perhaps one could not exist without the other. People will need both, but one by itself is too much.
The serious thought gives them revelations and extends their mental capacity, and the writing of Tolkein and Rowling gives them a break from all that, and lets them relax within their pages.
That seems more likely to me then one being better then the other.
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Old 08-09-2006, 11:53 AM
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I believe this is the first real debate I've read in n this board yet.

*applause*

Anyway, my opinion is that everyone, no matter what genre they choose to write, should try and read as much of everything as possible. The more different the kinds of books you read, the more styles you've been exposed to, the better. I stopped reading fantasy when I was 13, got into pulp horror, moved to more serious contemporary books and now I read graphic novels, and all the while I've read classics here and there. I move from subject to subject depending on my current mood and I always feel better after having read a book that's entirely new to me.

Yes, I do think it's a shame younger people aren't choosing to read (or write) new kinds of books, however I also know that this isn't reserved for young people only. It's a shame that we get the blame for things just as often practiced by adults, even adults who write. My point is that I don't think fingers need to be pointed. You have to realize that most teenagers aren't exposed to classics, and most aren't even encouraged to read regularly so perhaps it the fault of society in general.
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Old 08-09-2006, 04:17 PM
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Fantasy has its place, and I do think it's dangerous to dismiss fantasy as an entire genre simply due to the over-clichéd and admittedly juvenile elements of some of its work. That said I can hardly read fantasy anymore (I never restricted my reading choices entirely to fantasy but it did used to be the majority), but then the quantity that I am reading, regardless of genre, has decreased sharply in the past few years (I'm 16). There is something to be said for simply reading a book for enjoyment - no matter how horrible the writing is, how uncreative the plotline, etc. there's no harm in it - so I guess I agree with Hobo's reference to variety. It's important to read a bit of everything, maybe, just to understand the different genres and be able to effectively realize where your writing might fit in.

Again, what bothers me is really any and all fantasy being dismissed as non-serious literature. There are fantasy stories that have intellectual, thoughtful implications as far as philosophy, etc. - not many, admittedly, but they do exist. The fact that a novel takes place in an unreal, fantastic setting does not necessarily mean that it cannot convey important philosophical ideas; human nature is generally still evident and insights can be found in unexpected places.

I suppose you could say that when I write fantasy, which I still do, it's that sort of fantasy - philosophical and I assure you very much serious - that I hope to write. A fact that undoubtedly explains why I felt so compelled to become defensive about this issue.

And for the record, the latest thing I read was Jostein Gaarder's the Solitaire Mystery, which given it's philosophical implications I would certainly hesitate to call juvenile literature.
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Old 08-09-2006, 04:36 PM
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OFF-TOPIC: Queenie, I read Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder, when I was 15, or rather I was a page away from the twist reading it in class cause, well the class was dull and that teacher had reccomended it to me so he let me. And he told me the huge twist, the point of the book. I'm still trying to find the will to read it again knowing what I know.


Back on the topic, I know that a lot of fantasy is good, but the shelves of the bookstores are filled with the bad. I have to search and I mean search for something that makes me go "ooh thats interesting" in fantasy section, I don't have to try so hard in fiction, thats not sci-fi, crime, romance.. the random stuff. But maybe that's just me.

I do disagree with however said you have to read bad literature to know the good. No you don't, like you don't have to watch "Scream" to know that after watching "Schindler's List" it was a good film. That's insane..

And I think this may be a personal thing, I can't enjoy reading bad books. I just can't. I enjoy bits of LOTR, I know they're not bad books though, just not always my thing. I can't read point horrors and things like that (except one because honestly "Freeze Tag" has one of the best storylines I've seen i a long time.. freaky as hell a teen version of "Sleepyhead" really and that books changed my life. I don't enjoy reading things I know I can do better, or books when I see mistakes or can predict the huge twists. I need good or even great literature to enjoy it, though even then its not a guarantee...
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Old 08-10-2006, 12:16 AM
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Originally Posted by kalibantre
I do disagree with however said you have to read bad literature to know the good. No you don't, like you don't have to watch "Scream" to know that after watching "Schindler's List" it was a good film. That's insane.
Taking Scream/Schindler's first, it's subjective as to whether either of those films is good or bad. They both aim to please different audiences and probably both succeed in doing so.

Reading bad literature is a good thing to do. When you experience a glaring plot hole, when you recognise shallow, stereotypical characters, when you see how a couple of typos on a page can knock you out of a story, when you read something that doesn't invoke any emotion, when you crawl through something that doesn't engage you as a reader ... you get the idea. Reading and posting crits on forums like WB is good for you too because a lot of it is 'bad literature'. (Of course it is, we're still learning). Spotting the weaknesses in the writing of others is good for us.

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Old 08-10-2006, 05:48 AM
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I'm not learning! Ho ho ho!

No, I realize that what Rob says is true. If you read bad writing, you'll notice just how good good writing really is. If you spend a week eating just oatmeal, a steak tates a lot better ( I should know this). If you debate with bad arguers, you'll appreciate good ones a lot more. And so on and so forth.

Now, there is a difference between Schindler's List and Scream. This would apply to any comparisons. Putting aside their differences, the actual skill, dedication and time put into both of these film is hugely different. Steven Speilberg truly put his hart into that movie, as did anyone else who had a part to play in the making of that movie. Scream was made purely to sell, as are most movies nowadays. The same goes for books.
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Old 05-22-2007, 04:30 AM
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I know this was posted last year, but I happened to come upon it and was interested in reading it. I read a lot of classic books when i was younger. I read David Copperfield in the 6th grade and to this very day is still my favorite book of all time. I also read philosophers and such. Noiw, I read YA and fantasy.
Reading the YA novels, no matter what they are about, helped me get started writing. I use those as my bouncing board, not the classics. Not becasue they aren't important, but becuase that is not how I write or how I want to write.
ANd not everyone that is young that reads have dreams of being an author or a writer, some just read to read. My girlfriend reads anything and I mean anything and she always has, but she has no interest in writing. I think it shouldn't matter what kids read as long as they read.
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Old 05-25-2007, 06:12 PM
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I will admit that I was a juvenile fiction junkie (mindless fantasy, sci-fi, etc.) throughout my elementary school years. And then I got into trashy girl-teen novels.

Now, I suppose you can call me a historical fiction-junkie. I love historical fiction. Of course, I do read other genres (various branches of realistic fiction). I have also read a few classics, although I would like to add more to the list.

I also agree with Titania--some fantasy writings have their merits and meanings.
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Old 05-26-2007, 05:22 PM
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Now I know I'm a Noob here and all, but I just want to add a bit to this topic.

While I believe the classics and real literature are important, and should be tought and encouraged for young people to read on their own, not just in classrooms, is great, and important.

But I whole heartedly disagree with someone saying Fantasy/Sci-fi liturature/authors basically don't hold a candle when compared to other more "real" liturature.

I think there are plenty of great peices of Sci-fi/Fantasy liturature, as well as many talented writers who stick to that genre.

I think it's mainly a matter of taste or better, a matter of opinion.

Obviously some people prefer romance, or mystery, classics, fiction, and Non-Fiction...but each has their own right to read and wright what they want, without being looked down upon by someone who beleives classics are the best, and that Fantasy/Sci-Fi genre is rubbish.

I tend to like all genres, and most of my stories, while having roots in Sci-Fi and Fantasy, almost always will take place in a real world invironment.

It's my taste, while I like those genre's, but I think putting the story and characters ina real time setting is better.

Does that make a me a terrible writer? I hope not, lol.
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Old 05-26-2007, 05:23 PM
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Originally Posted by xiaocaca View Post
I will admit that I was a juvenile fiction junkie (mindless fantasy, sci-fi, etc.) throughout my elementary school years. And then I got into trashy girl-teen novels.

Now, I suppose you can call me a historical fiction-junkie. I love historical fiction. Of course, I do read other genres (various branches of realistic fiction). I have also read a few classics, although I would like to add more to the list.

I also agree with Titania--some fantasy writings have their merits and meanings.
I absolutely LOVE Historical Fiction...it's my favorite Niche genre under Non Fiction.

I too, think all genres have the merits and meanings...not just realistic writing or classics.
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Old 05-27-2007, 03:21 AM
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Good point, Marvin. People interested in writing SHOULD read classics if they want to learn to write well, but even so, not all of us are going to be able to get into Silas Marner just for fun. I'm tackling Faulkner right now - it's just a collection of his short stories, but trust me, they're not an easy read. Kafka was easier... It's an education, to say the least. But then, when I'm done, I'll read a cheesy horror novel just to reestablish my equilibrium.
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Old 06-01-2007, 06:13 PM
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Geez, There is so much that I can agree with each and every post. Perhaps because I feel so strongly that everyone is entitled to their opnion.
I can see different aspects on this little debate if we can call it that.
As a reader, I enjoy fantasy first and foremost, and yes I do agree there is a lot of crap filling this genre, because the mush sells right now. But I also find a lot of good in it too, you may have to delve deeper into the older publications, but they are out there. Also when I come across the crappy stuff I feel better knowing that if tweedle dum made I have a shot too.
As a mother of a YA reader, My son is also attracted to the mushy Fantasy, and I let him read it beacuse he is still learning something from it. No matter what you read i believe you learn more about the world, if it is real, current events or history, if it is fake, then your imagination grows to accept more abstract thinking. Plus with all the work he does in school, it is just nice to see him asking to read a book than play a video game.
As a writer, I write mainly fantasy. I can make my stories basic for young readers or I can ante up the story line to appeal to an older audience. Does that make me think my writing is crap, just because it is not classic style. I should hope not.
Saying one genre over another is more beneficial is shooting down authors who really have the heart behind their stories. Would I like to be published on day, yes. Do I write for that publication, no. I write in this genre, because it is what I feel, what I breathe and dream. It is a part of me and anyone, however incidental, saying that it is not good literature has not delved deep enough into the topic.
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JC Paloma
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