Getting Too Old For This?

Posted: October 14, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

It seems hard to believe that at the age of 27 I may be “too old” for a book, but after a day of speculation I’m wondering if that’s the case.

Let me back track a smidgen and give some context. I woke up at roughly 3am and could not fall back asleep so I went for the standard response of, “I’ll read until I get drowsy again and God willing I will fall asleep before 4am because if I fall asleep I’d like to be asleep for over an hour before my alarm wakes me up.” Originally, the plan was to continue to read Breakers #1, which has been a really interesting read so far, but the typos that I’ve found lurking within it was only going to upset my higher brain functions. I could have reached for R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt chronicles of which I’m on book #2 but knew that I had to be in the right mindset for such an undertaking (a rant for another day). This left me with one other easily accessible option: select one of the many samples I’ve downloaded and see if the book’s good enough to put on my “To Buy” list.

The lucky winner this morning at 3am was World of Shell and Bone by S.K. Falls. As a quick synopsis: it’s a young adult novel set in a dystopian future where nuclear warfare screwed the world and that means making babies isn’t a right anymore, it’s your civic duty, and the government is going to give you this ideal mate because heaven forbid we still respect a person’s right to chose who they procreate with. It’s a premise I’ve seen done before in several incarnations: The Handmaiden’s Tale, Matched, and Wither. Okay, out of those three Matched is the odd duck because it’s a bit more like The Giver with the government assigning you someone to raise children with and they just give you a baby to raise between the two of you after you apply for such an honor. However, I added it to the list because something about Shell and Bone reminded me of it a whole ton… only more adult, but the adult part reminded me of Handmaiden’s Tale. Now I’m confusing everyone.

The point: I read through the whole free sample and at the end of it I mulled over what I’d read and realized I couldn’t decide if I wanted more. The ambivalence should have been my first clue something was up. Typically I’m the love ’em or lose ’em type. If a book hasn’t grabbed me by the third chapter I’m likely to decide I don’t need to waste my time. But that wasn’t what the problem was. It was well written, the premise was interesting, but something wasn’t right. So I did what normal people do but I typically don’t because I like to make my own decisions: I looked at reviews. I’ve found that particularly for YA books reviews can be a tricky thing to navigate because what keeps a younger reader happy isn’t what keeps me happy, and so a million glowing reviews could still mean it isn’t what I’m looking for. Case in point: Twilight. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon but in the end I felt no need to say how fantastic it was and no desire to read it ever again, but I’ve met many teens who would fight me on that point. As I felt so uneasy about whether I liked it or not I went for the low starred reviews and looked at what they had to say. Those reviews were mostly concerned with the dystopian society that had been created, which I’ll admit I found myself questioning as well before I read the reviews, but it wasn’t what was upsetting me. Another person cited that it was an impersonal story, that even the main character whose eyes we see through seems a bystander, unrelated to her surroundings or her situation. True, in the several chapters given for free she had absolutely no close relationships with anyone, not even her mother or the coworker beside her, but I didn’t think of that until later.

What bothered me, and ultimately made me decide not to buy the book was that I could see where the story was going and I didn’t feel the need to read about it. Not only was it similar to the other books previously noted, but it was reminding me of a great many YA books I’ve read in recent years. In case I haven’t already divulged this: I read a lot of YA., not only because some of them are fantastic reads but because they’re easy to pick up and put down at work when I’m in “standby mode” and my friend works in the kids and teens department of Barnes and Noble and constantly bombards me with more fantastic things to read. As such I’ve seen a lot of the trope used in recent years, used time and again. And it’s not that I’m opposed to hearing the same story just told a different way… but I’m over the whole “I’m a young lady and I just don’t know what to do with myself until an external force acts upon me”, I’m over the “well, there’s this really nice guy that’s my good friend who probably likes me but I’m going to chase after this mysterious stranger instead because it’s more exciting” and I’m over “the government tells me who I can get with but I’m going to break those rules whether it be open rebellion or just happenstance.”

I’m at a point in my life where those things aren’t enough. To put in in another context, growing up one of my favorite writers was Tamora Pierce because of her strong female characters within a fantasy setting. I mean, c’mon, she had girls becoming knights and fighting off monsters. That never happened in books. I read them over and over again, and those that I bought I hold near and dear to my heart. Only last year something happened. I read a recently published collection of her short stories and saw the same struggles again and again. The girls were always the strong, independent type and the people in charge pigeon-holed them into a role they didn’t want. So the girls would rebel, fighting whatever battle necessary in order to gain the freedom to be what they wanted to be. That’s great. It was exactly the kind of message I needed at 15 years of age… but I don’t need it now. I am my own independent self. I don’t need them to model to me anymore how to do that.

The love triangles that are so prominent in YA novels is another thing that gets me upset. You know the type: he hot, mysterious guy whom the female lead feels immediately attracted to and her quirky best friend who has been crushing on her since kindergarten. When I was young I’m sure I would have tripped all over myself to imagine a good looking guy suddenly taking notice of me and the two of us feeling those fireworks of attraction. I was the geeky chick who never got asked out in high school. Ever. So a prince charming sweeping me off my feet was right up my ally. Older and with more dating experience under my belt I’ve learned that’s not enough. I’ve swapped over to liking the quirky best friend that the girl never picks because it isn’t fantastically exciting. I don’t need books to keep telling me it’s the mysterious guy I’m supposed to go for. I’ve got my own preferences figured out on that front. I’ve grown out of them.

The Uglies is a book I wanted to read so much when I heard about it back in 2006, but by the time I finally got around to it last year I couldn’t stand it. One chapter of hearing the main character obsess over how ugly she was and how she couldn’t wait to be beautiful like everyone else was enough to make me put it down. I remember what it was like to feel ugly and awkward as a teenager. The wish to be beautiful. But beauty doesn’t seem as important now. Don’t get me wrong, I still like to dress up and look gorgeous once in awhile, to take pride in my appearance, but it isn’t as much the end-all-be-all that it seemed so long ago. And so I let that story go, knowing it still means a lot to many young people who pick it up, but it isn’t for me.

Literature classes point out time and again that good stories aren’t just stories; they hold a nugget of truth about the human condition. If this is true, then it might also be true that people seek out stories that help them put parts of their own lives into perspective. When the perspective has been achieved they stop seeking out those stories, moving on to delve into the depths of something else they have yet to process. I still enjoy reading the books of my youth as old friends who taught me so much, and gave me so much joy, but when looking for new stories I’m looking for something different. If I had to put words to what I might be seeking now, based on the most recent reads that I’ve enjoyed the most I might say I’m searching for stories of courage. For stories of loss.

What about you? Is there a type of story that you’ve picked up recently and realized it isn’t what you wanted, not because of any fault of its own but because you feel you know it all too well or that it isn’t what you need any longer? Have you found yourself drawn to stories with specific themes?

 

 

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Comments
  1. neenslewy says:

    I started to read through my bookshelves in 2012 – I have far too many unread books and I hadn’t realised just how long ago I had bought them! Some were bought 15years ago and I read the them nonetheless, the whole time thinking I would have really enjoyed this in my 20s but now, it is of little interest to me, I have lived it already.
    We grow, we change, our needs are different – our choice in literature has to feed this. The exception being research, there are some YA series that adults become fans of (The Northern Lights Philip Pullman) springs to mind and even children’s books (Harry Potter) but there comes a time (usually when you become twice the age of the target readership) that these stories are not going to do what a good book does.
    There are plenty of easy-read adult choices out there. Easy to pick up, put down and meaty enough for someone in their 20s… go for it, discover them! The time has come…

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