Tuesday, February 7, 2012

When is 'old enough' for adult books?

Lately I've been keeping a reading journal. I picked up a little notebook for something less than a dollar at Michael's end of the year sales. I mulled over several different ideas for what purpose I could put it to, but the book journal was the most insistent.

So every time I finish a book I record the date, the title, the author, whether I've read it before, and then assign it 1-5 stars based on personal preference.

It's been interesting to note trends and habits. I tend to read the average book in less than 48 hours. Last month I read 20 different titles of an extremely varying range. On the one hand there was the adorable children's book "Palace Beautiful" and the amusing "Kat Incorrigable." Then there were the intriguing YA novels "Divergent," "White Cat," and "The Knife of Never Letting Go." There were three different Jane Austen titles in the mix. I finally decided not to count comic books because that got much too confusing.

There were also several adult titles. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." "The Time Traveler's Wife." "Atonement." These are all books that were masterfully written and powerfully moving. They are also books that I do not intend to review in depth on this blog in the foreseeable future.

Why? Because they are adult novels. Each of them has a true and moving story conveyed in an intriguing way with an excellent command of the English language (although one was of course translated from Swedish). Each one also contains language, sexual situations and violence far beyond the PG-13 rating (although 'The Time Traveler's Wife' was toned down into a PG-13 for the film adaptation). They are books with shock value but the shock is there for a reason.

"Dragon" is a heartbreaking look into domestic abuse and sexual violence against women in Sweden. It's not a book you read for entertainment, and it's a very real issue that demands greater awareness.

"Traveler" is a book on love, real love that truly transcends time. How do you marry someone who lives on a different timeline than you? When you meet him for the first time when you are just a little girl and he is already 40? Yet he doesn't meet you until he is 28 and you are 22 (forgive me if I have the years slightly mixed up, it's been a few weeks). How do you deal with knowing the future and being helpless to change it?

"Atonement" is a literary novel and at times is a bit too pretensions in its language and description. Yet for all that it is a moving story, delving into how the perception of an event changes based on the eyes you see it through, and how a false perception can wreak havoc on lives for generations.

They're good novels. They're adult novels. Some teens may read them, but I would not recommend them freely, without knowing personally who I recommended them to. How can I say "Only adults should read this?" How can I say "it's inappropriate for anyone under 20?" Those may be my opinions, but they're based on my experience. I would have been far too shocked and disturbed to appreciate any of these books when I was 20. I don't even want to imagine reading them at the age of 16.

And yet now these three novels were worthwhile novels to read. I grew from them. I was at times entertained, at other times introduced to extraordinary characters, often brokenhearted for the wrongs perpetuated, and challenged with new ideas and perspectives.

So when is 'old enough' for adult books? There's no clear cut answer and ultimately something that each reader must decide for themselves - hopefully taking input and wisdom from the trusted elders in their lives.

I am me. You are you. Your younger sister is her own person, your mother is yours. A good reader is a responsible, discerning one, who is aware of boundaries and balances growth with wisdom. Just because one can read something, does not mean that one is old enough to understand it. However just because something is 'adult' doesn't mean that it will never be worthwhile for you to read.

1 comment:

flemdamsel said...

If you enjoy Jane Austen, have you ever read the "Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman" series? It's a really insightful trilogy about Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy's point of view. I've read several sequels to Jane Austen's books, and these were the ones I enjoyed the most. I think I read all three in less than a week.

Just thought I'd share! :)