Anything to Get Them to Read …

Last night, I picked up The Hunger Games because several of my students have read it; and I was curious to know more about this book that is rapidly becoming a cultural touchstone.  Somewhere about half way through it, a thought crossed my mind, and I decided to share it with you this morning.  Take a look at this list of the best selling books from 2010.

Best Selling Books of 2010

While there are a number of different ways to look at this list, the thing that struck me last night is that I was reading a book intended for young adults.  And when that hit me, it got me to thinking about the state of publishing since the advent of the Harry Potter phenomenon that began in 1997.  If you look back on the New York Times Best Seller lists dating to that era, the only book oriented towards youth that made the list were the various books in the Potter series.

But now, in the year for which we have the most recent data, over 61% of the top 31 best selling books are written for, published and marketed to adolescents and young adults between the ages of 12 to 21.  These books include: all three entries in The Hunger Games trilogy, all five books in the Twilight series, six books in the mythologically-based Percy Jackson series, five books in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and one stand alone novel.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Maya Angelou, once said: “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”

Last night, as I was working my way through The Hunger Games, I couldn’t help but think of Ms. Angelou’s statement; and I found myself wondering: what do you think?  Do you think that any book that drives a child to read is a good thing?

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34 Responses to Anything to Get Them to Read …

  1. Mary Yager says:

    Before I answer in the affirmative – can you tell me if there is an agreed upon standard for what is considered juvenile fiction? Is any topic fair game or are there some topics that would kick the book into a category considered as “adult” subject matter?
    I struggled with this when I let Nathan and Luke read the “Captain Underpants” series when they were 7 – it was thier first “chapter books”. Totally hysterical and often promoting bad behavior – but they read voraciously! Then came the Wimpy Kids series that are certainly not the best books, but once again…they were standing in line at Borders to get the latest “hot off the press” copy. Now Nathan has finished book 4 of Narnia and absolutely loves to read. So if Twilight and Harry Potter gets kids to read, I say go for it. But if the books are dealing with adult topics, I would certainly edit my comment. I sure would not allow my kids to read a series of children’s book written by the Klan for recruiting purposes, as an example. But I also do not think that these books would find there way to the book store shelf. I still prefer classic children’s lit to anything written today.

    • I’m not sure there is an “agreed upon standard,” Mary. I simply labeled the books as they appeared on the USA Today best seller book list, and then quickly looked up the age span that such a label was used to identify. So the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books are labeled youth (under 10) and the rest are “young adult” signifying 12 to 21.

      As for content, you tell me. The Twilight series has a werewolf falling in love with a teenager. Later, the girl marries a vampire who has to chew through the umbilical cord to help her deliver the baby. After that, the werewolf character “imprints” upon the infant, which means he develops romantic/sexual feelings for this newborn. This stuff in the book was so raw that in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, the filmmakers admit to having a difficult time adapting the material to still get a PG-13 rating. So that tells me that a straight adaptation would have earned an R-rating.

      As for “The Hunger Games,” it is shockingly blunt in terms of its views on life. You have young teenage characters discussing noble deaths and the need to kill one another for the sake of survival. So some would reject a book like this, as well. But I’m not sure that this is any more or less blunt than “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Know what I mean?

      So it’s a conversation worth having, and I’m not sure the answers are quite as simple as we sometimes think. There is a fine line between protecting our kids and isolating them.

      Still thinking this through …

      • Stephanie says:

        You are mistaken Scott… the “imprinting” that happens in the Twilight series in no way suggests that any of the young men have sexual feelings for their “imprints” if the “imprintee” is not of an adult age. The writer makes it very clear that “imprinting” means that the young man/werewolf wants to be whatever his “imprint” needs. Therefore when the “imprintee” is a young child, the werewolf is a playmate, a protector. As the “imprintee” grows, his role changes to meet her needs. Never is it suggested that one of the young men/werewolves has sexual feelings for a newborn/toddler/child.

        Just a clarification as I know it is not promoting pedophilia

  2. What I’m going to say is pure opinion:

    To me, reading can do three things: 1. Entertain, 2. Inspire, 3. Educate (or all three). It’s always good to read on a daily basis, but it really all depends on the message the book is portraying. Some books today, recommended for teenagers/ young adults, contain negative content. Reading books can be just like watching movies: depending on the book, it CAN put bad images in a persons head and eventually effect their life-styles.

    Let’s say I hated to read books. Didn’t even touch books. And then a series of books came out that was completely anti-biblical and I started to read it and eventually became obsessed. Now i actually READ a book, but did it necessarily do me any good? Did it help improve my moral character? It did help me form a “habit of reading”, but the habit most likely won’t turn out to be good in the future.

    • Morning Rebecca. One really simple question for you: is there middle ground between rejecting and refusing to read a book because of its “anti-biblical” content and becoming “obsessed” by a book?

  3. Ok, so there are always going to be books that have anti-biblical content in it (except maybe devotional books, etc) because it’s just reality. I was mainly focusing on books that are obviously against the Word.

    With that in mind, there is no “middle ground” when relating to those issues. You’re either all in or all out. I think this is where Matthew 5:37 comes into action, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Either you’re “yes I’m for it” or “no I’m against it.” So it’s all up to us as to whether or not we believe it will hurt or help our walk with Christ. Hope that makes sense!

    • Hmmm … Alright, take a book like “Twilight.” All things being equal, I’m pretty comfortable stating that this series has, as you put it, “anti-biblical” material in it. In your paradigm, I have two choices in front of me: (1) Refuse to read it and reject it because of it’s “anti-biblical” material, or (2) become “obsessed” by it. I can tell you that I have read the “Twilight” series, which means I didn’t refuse to read it. At the same time, I can assure you that I am far from “obsessed” with it. So I am somewhere in between your two poles. And I would suggest to you that I was not out-of-bounds for reading it. When I read “Twilight,” I read it to better understand the culture that I live in. I read it to understand all of the girls in my classes who were devouring these books. I read it because I believe that part of the Christian call is to understand the culture around us so that we can better communicate with it.

      So what do you think?

      • Ohhhh…I understand what you mean by “middle-ground” now. And i see what you’re saying… should have thought about it more before writing it down. :P. Thank you, Mr. Bryant for making me think!! 🙂

  4. fidelismama says:

    I think that you are asking a great question. I don’t believe that ANYTHING that gets a child reading is good thing. I believe that it depends on the child. I am sure that Harry Potter would entice my reluctant reader to read more, but I don’t care to sacrifice his innocence or risk him becoming obsessed with wizardry (he tends to have an obsessive sort of personality) in order to beef up his reading skills. I don’t think that it is a matter of sheltering as much as it is a matter of equipping. My job is to equip my children well. Reading is part of that equipping. Depending on the circumstances, equipping must be done BEFORE the reading.

    • Question: could it be that equipping actually happens THROUGH reading? In other words, if my hypothetical junior high girl wants to read “Twilight” (like all of her hypothetical friends), could an appropriate road forward be to read along with her and discuss things such as:

      – Doesn’t Edward have a really controlling personality? Is that what you want in a marriage?
      – Doesn’t it seem like Bella is stringing Jacob along? Why would she do that if she cared for him as a friend?
      – When Edward and Bella finally get married and have sex for the first time, why is it so painfulfor her? What is author saying about sex and violence?
      – In a society in which children are regularly victimized by predators, why would Stephenie Meyers conclude her story with the werewolf suddenly transferring his affections from a teenager to the newborn infant of that teenager?

      Again, I’m simply asking because I have seen so many teenagers reading the books on this list, and I’m not sure that many people are asking the kinds of questions that need to be asked. Thanks for chiming in.

      • fidelismama says:

        Sure! That is what I meant by reading being part of the equipping. Any book CAN be used by a skilled and involved parent/teacher to teach important life lessons, but not all books are worthy of being equipping tools for our next generation.

  5. ShortSyssa says:

    I think my family (at least I have) been struggeling with this. One of my siblings wouldn’t read anything completly through, until he/she read the Harry Potter books. Now he/she reads almost anything completly through, one of his/her latest reads, the Percy Jackson Series. I guess the point I am trying to make is that reading these books do inspire a desire to read other similar books, but I don’t necesarily think these kinds of books are the best books to read. My sibling would disagree of course. He/she has also read the Harry Potter series through several times (some specific books through a dozen times, literally) in three years. And I have no doubt he/she will read the Percy Jackson books through as many times as well. I personally don’t think these books are filled with that much good stuff as to fill your brain up that much with that stuff that often. I also don’t know if this happens with everyone, or just my sibling.

    • ShortSyssa,

      I think it’s interesting that both you and Fidelismama mentioned the “Harry Potter” series in your responses. I am always very curious when Christians single this series out, but give a pass to “The Chronicles of Narnia” or “The Lord of the Rings.” Both of the latter series tread in the same magical waters that “Potter” swims in; and if anything, LOTR is far less explicit about it’s author’s messaging (beyond the struggle for good and evil).

      By contrast, Potter’s author (J.K. Rowling) has been very upfront about the Christian allegory that is present in the Potter series. In fact, the final novel is her retelling of the life, death and resurrection of The Christ. In the final battle between Harry and Voldemort, it becomes clear that Harry must die in order to defeat death. Having just visited his parents’ graves, which are engraved with 1 Corinthians 15:26 and Matthew 6:19 respectively, Harry goes to confront the “Master of Death.” The confrontation leads to Harry’s death, whereupon he is ushered into the afterlife, which is a hyper-realized version of “King’s Cross” station. After a brief conversation with his deceased mentor, Harry rises from the dead, and in doing so, defeats death in the form of Voldemort.

      I’m not saying you have to like the books. I just find it interesting that Christians continue to talk about “Potter” when I struggle to understand how it is thematically different than Lewis’ “Narnia.”

      Any thoughts?

      • fidelismama says:

        I will admit to being a Potter-phobe. I will also admit that I am not a huge fan of LOTR either. I do appreciate the Narnia series and LOVE C.S. Lewis. I guess that I trust CS Lewis and believe the Christian allegory to be so obvious that I don’t worry about my children being attracted to anything they shouldn’t because of reading it. I don’t know of what I speak, so I could be all wrong here, but my impression of HP is that the children hold the power and I appreciate that Narnia is clear about Aslan holding the power and working through the children.

      • ShortSyssa says:

        First, I wasn’t singling out Potter, only in the fact that that was the book my sibling picked up to read. Notice I also said he/she read the Percy Jackson series, Harry Potter just happened to come first.

        I do have to make a confession, I have read all seven Harry Potter books, and for a short (very brief) time I was a little oppsessed. Having read the books, I can actually see part of the parallel. I have now also read about Rowling’s claims, and I think that yes, she was trying to tell the story of the ressurection. I don’t know if she really “gets it” but i think she was trying. I don’t see a difference between Narnia and Harry Potter, though.

      • ShortSyssa says:

        @fidelismama: I just read an article where Rowling said she didn’t elude to an allegory because she thought it would blow the whole plot open too soon. (http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1572107/jk-rowling-talks-about-christian-imagery.jhtml) She knew what she was including, and she did it purposefully. I would agree though, that in Narnia, Aslan is more of a “God-figure” than Harry Potter, but the story is still there. The main theme Rowling is eluding to is sacrifice, though.

  6. Jeyna Grace says:

    A book that drives a child to read AND have good values is a good book. Unlike Twilight, im sorry to say, does not carry much values.

  7. Rich Bennema says:

    Here’s my question: is there value in reading any book, if the reader never reads anything other than “any” books?

    Is there intrinsic value in any book or is there an inference that the any book be a gateway to books of value? If it is the latter, then the sales data has proven Angelou’s statement to be false as Harry Potter has led children and adults (it’s obvious those sales figures are not driven by children alone) only to more “any” books.

  8. iholdtheline says:

    I did not read a whole lot of the ^^above^^. I did read the blog. Anywho.

    I couldn’t disagree with her statement more. If the child will read more if there are violent or sexual themes, does it automatically make those themes alright for the kid to put in his mind? Absolutely not! Now, these themes can be used tastefully, but when they are used to convince the child of something, that is a severe problem.

    I think most people are under the impression that reading itself is a good thing. It is not a good thing. Reading can be exceedingly dangerous – more dangerous than internet, video games, and movies. Paper material does not = good. Of course, I understand the attraction of falling into that sort of thinking. We live in a highly electronic age.

    I, personally, have not read the “Hunger Games.” There is a good reason for this. From what I have heard from commentators, synopses, and reviewers is that the book promotes many violent and sexual themes. I normally try to avoid criticism if I haven’t yet read the book.

    I am pretty sure there is frequent talk of suicides and “survival” in the book. Frankly, I cannot stand books that force you into a moral conundrum. That is just an opinion, though.

    I might continue with my critique if I read the book.

    • Caleb, I’m really curious about the comment you made in your second to last paragraph. “Frankly, I cannot stand books that force you into a moral conundrum.” Please understand, I am in no way trying to make a joke here. So take this question at face value. What sort of fiction doesn’t deal with a moral conundrum? When you think about what fiction is, its a conflict between man and himself, nature, other men or (in a tip of the hat to sci-fi/fanstasy), fantastical elements. But in all cases, the conflict involves moral choices, does it not?

      • iholdtheline says:

        So, are you honestly saying that every book centers around the main character choosing something that is either bad or bad? That’s what a moral conundrum is. At least, that is how I am defining it.

        Example of moral conundrum: would you eat your child to save one thousand people’s lives?

        Example of moral choice: would you sacrifice your own interests for the interests of others?

        There is a major difference.

        Hunger Games: will the girl kill herself or let others kill her?

        The addictive quality of the Hunger Games no doubt centers around the answer to this question or questions similar to it.

  9. Josh The Younger says:

    I agree with what Caleb says… up until his next to last paragraph. As long as it’s handled tactfully (emphasis on the last word), there’s nothing I enjoy more in literature than a moral conundrum. It reveals so much about the morality, motivations, and beliefs of both the character in the conundrum and the author putting him/her into the situation. And it’s not only interesting in this way, but it’s also incredibly fun to read.

  10. ShortSyssa says:

    There is one thing I have to say. The Bible talks about murder (Cain and Abel), adultry (David and Bathsheba) and other “unmoral” themes, yet we all read these stroies to our chikderen. We encourage them to read the Bible for themselves which is full of “bad” things. Why should we let childeren read the Bible if not other things?

    • This is an EXCELLENT point you make, ShortSyssa. The Bible does talk about murder and other immoral themes. I think the big difference is this. The Bible displays humanity at its worst in the hopes of pointing the reader towards seeing the need for both personal and societal redemption. On the flipside, much of the violence and immorality that is present in popular fiction exists only to excite those parts of our nature that are turned on by immorality. Does that make sense? Great question.

      • ShortSyssa says:

        Although, (as to your part about “bad things” for redemption), I have read some books that do try to do that and put bad behavior in books in hopes that it will make humanity better.

  11. Josh The Younger says:

    Two reasons, I think.
    a. It’s never glorified and it’s always taught with a biblical message behind it… obviously. 😉
    b. It’s part of the Bible.

    • I can’t agree with your first point, Josh, because violence is used throughout Scripture to glorify God. God uses violence to bring about judgement many nations, including Israel. And the culmination of The Great Story involves God bringing violence and judgment upon those that refuse the gift. So violence can bring about justice, and in doing so, glorify God.

      • Josh The Younger says:

        Actually, that’s exactly what I would say as well. I can see that I should have been a lot clearer, though. What I should have said was “Violence, sexuality, deception, etc. is never glorified for the sake of being sin, but CAN be used by God for HIS glory.” Sorry for not explaining that.

  12. Stephanie … I have approved your comment that you made above. Unfortunately, it would let me respond under that comment, so I am hoping that you find this here. First, your comment:

    “You are mistaken Scott… the “imprinting” that happens in the Twilight series in no way suggests that any of the young men have sexual feelings for their “imprints” if the “imprintee” is not of an adult age. The writer makes it very clear that “imprinting” means that the young man/werewolf wants to be whatever his “imprint” needs. Therefore when the “imprintee” is a young child, the werewolf is a playmate, a protector. As the “imprintee” grows, his role changes to meet her needs. Never is it suggested that one of the young men/werewolves has sexual feelings for a newborn/toddler/child. Just a clarification as I know it is not promoting pedophilia.”

    With all due respect, I am going to push back on your comment. For just a moment, imagine that this is a real world scenerio. Can you, under any circumstance, imagine being okay with a grown human being acting as your child’s playmate (in the early years) only to grow into whatever “meets her needs” as an adult? I don’t think you would. There a strong line between parental figure/roll model and any other kind of relationship; and we as a society, come down pretty hard on people who cross that line.

    Moreover, to suggest that this is not a romantic action is denying what Meyer has spent four books telling us: Jacob loved Bella. Meyer’s whole resolution to the Edward-Bella-Jacob triangle was to have Bella end up with Edward and to have Jacob end up with the daughter. Take a look at the imprinting article on Twilight Saga Wiki:

    “There are stages to imprinting, especially if the shape-shifter imprints on a child, or otherwise the imprintee is very young. First stage: If the person is young, the shape-shifter will act as an older sibling. Second stage: As the person gets older, the shape-shifter will also come to be their best friend. Third stage: They become intimate friends. Meaning, their feelings for each other are changing into romantic feelings. (Remember, this stage may or may not happen to the imprintee, but the imprinter will fall in love with his imprint. They will not ‘see’ any other woman or man in a romantic way, at all. Their imprintee is all he/she cares about and he/she will love her/him even if those feelings aren’t returned.) Fourth stage: When the person is old enough, the shape-shifter’s feelings grow into romantic/sexual love. The shape-shifter will be at all times very protective and loving to the imprintee.”

    What do you think?

  13. Rebecca says:

    I just finished the Hunger Games late last month. I found them totally engrossing and completely appropriate for younger readers (though I would not give them to any child younger than 12 or 13, depending on the kid) as long as we were having a discussion about some of the themes in the book.

    The author said that she was writing books about war and what war costs. I think that’s fair and I think that the exploration of what violence costs, in grief and in the toll it takes on the soul to commit, is a worthy topic.

    I am embarrassed to say I have not read Harry Potter yet, but there’s no reason for that other than I just haven’t. I find it interesting the comments above about being afraid to let your kids read them b/c of the wizardry, etc. I know that the Chronicles and LOTR books made it possible for me to keep my faith. They speak to the same part of my heart that Orthodoxy touches and I believe that our ability to understand allegory is part of what makes us such wonderful creations. Kids, teens especially, can hear and learn in allegory in a way that cold, hard facts cannot provide.

    Now, on to Twilight…I have not read that one either, but my sister(s) did. My understanding of those books is that they teach girls a.) you should have someone who finds you desirable, b.) it is completely ok if that person is bad for you, potentially fatal, c.) it is ok if you give up everything to be with that person regardless of consequences and d.) no one has a right to tell you that b and c are not perfectly acceptable.

    Potter, LOTR, and the Hunger Games are about sacrifice for a greater good. That is the exact opposite, as I understand it, of the Twilight series.

    • Just finished book one of “The Hunger Games” trilogy about 15 minutes ago. Still digesting it. More on it later.

      As for Potter, I am genuinely surprised, particularly given your appreciation of allegory. Did you know that Rowling wrote the series as an allegory of Christ’s life, death and resurrection? It’s not nearly as neat or as clean as Chronicles, but on the other hand, it’s not nearly as neat or as clean as Chronicles. Know what I mean? While I will never speak an ill-word about the genius of Lewis, his characterizations in the Chronicles series are a bit thin at points, with everyone being either black or white. Potter is far more “fleshed out” for all the good and the bad that such “fleshing out” brings.

      • Rebecca says:

        Oh I know, Scott. There’s no excuse. I actually have most of them, borrowed from someone and sitting on my bookshelf. Maybe this Advent season I will read them.

        Would love to hear what you think of the Hunger Games…one of the things that struck me about the whole series is the complete absence of faith or the mystical. It resonated with me in the same part of my soul that Battlestar Galactica did, but unlike the re-imagined series, included no such elements of any power outside of ours. I think that is, in part, what makes it so dark. There’s precious little light in that first book…

      • iholdtheline says:

        I don’t know if you know this or not, but Lewis actually did not intend to write the Chronicles of Narnia as Christian allegorical works. For example, Aslan wasn’t intended to be a Christ-like figure. That is probably why his characterizations are a “bit thin” at points. Rowling’s allegory being deliberate, the good and bad would certainly be far more “fleshed out.”

  14. Caleb … I think you might be misreading a Lewis-quote that is often cited when it comes to this sort of discussion. Lewis did not set out to write an allegory. In other words, he wasn’t looking for a way to tell the Christian story to children. Rather, he had a series of images in his mind: a faun with an umbrella, a witch on a sled, a magnificent lion, etc… But once the story began to unfold, he clearly knew what he was doing. So I can’t chalk up “thin” characterization to unintentional, accidental allegory. Just my two cents …

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