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Our Teenage Selves and High School Libraries

May 20, 2012

It’s been about a month since I read a book where the protagonist was old enough to buy beer. In America. (Reminds me: I really need to write up a review of The Name of the Star, which I’m actually re-reading for class, and loving as much as I did earlier this year, when I read it for the first time.)

One of the questions our instructor asked the first day of class was: “what was your high school library like?” I… couldn’t entirely remember if we had a librarian in high school. I remember my elementary school library in more detail, with Mrs. Grogan, and Mr. Braunstein. But… high school library? Vague notions of doing homework there or a place to have study hall surrounded by books.

A point that came up in class and in our reading was about a sort of cutoff between middle school and high school, where reading for pleasure isn’t happening much. High school students are too busy reading assigned novels, juggling extracurriculars, squeezed for time. (A statement of the obvious, but one that gives me a nasty little sarcastic giggle every time. AP history. Urgh.) So, is it any wonder that there’s such a trend of adults reading YA? We’re catching up on what we didn’t have time to read… (also, there’s so much more out there!)

I asked friends on Facebook what they remembered reading as teens, and what they remembered about their high school libraries.  What a fun bunch of answers.

“At 14 or 15 I would have thought Young Adult books were for tweens. Would have been reading adult stuff. (Or Seventeen Magazine.) Angsty stuff was always good. And my friends and I got very into poetry – mostly our own though I had a few friends who were obsessed with e.e.cummings.”

“My friends were reading R.L. Stine while I battled my way through Don Quixote.”

” I read everything, from Young Adult fiction to biographies to swallowing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in a weekend even though we were told to read only to chapter 3. If you put a book in my hand, I read it. There were quite a few things above me but nothing beneath me. I just liked to read.”

“I read mostly adult books. I practically grew up in the Public Library, and I hardly ever used my school library. I was already reading above my grade level, anyway, so I liked to challenge myself with more mature material. My big guilty pleasure, though was romance novels, and I mean some of the more erotic stuff, and our library had plenty of it. Which I found odd at the time, but now, knowing the penchants of repressed, Southern suburbanites, doesn’t shock me at all. There was one series in particular, The Gunslinger, about, well, a western vigilante who bedded a lot of women in between shoot outs. So, you know, double entendre. All of that sultry reading even inspired my closest friend and me to start an erotica writing “competition”. We were sexually curious teenagers (both exploring what would eventually become gay identiies), and it was the nearest thing she and I had to pornography or sex.”

“At that age I read Lord of the Rings, Lord of the Rings, Lord of the Rings, Dune, Dune, Dune, Lord of the Rings, Hitchhiker’s Guide, Lord of the Rings, Lord of the Rings, Les Miserables, Lord of the Rings, Hitchhiker’s Guide, Lord of the Rings, Lord of the Rings, Lord of the Rings, Dune, Hitchhiker’s Guide, Lord of the Rings….

“Whatever I could get my hands on, which, given my mom, was generally fantasy and historical mysteries. but i’d also read the babysitters club books or something like charlotte’s web when I wanted to really hide from the world. Little Women. More fantasy. More Alcott. More fantasy.”

“I don’t remember for certain re: ages, but things I was reading young included: Scott O’Dell’s historical fiction, everything published by Louisa May Alcott that I could find, The Dragonriders of Pern by McCaffrey and the Heralds of Valdemar by Lackey, a disturbing amount of Piers Anthony, The Hitchhiker’s Guide series, humor books I took from my parents’ shelves, Dune, Sati by Christopher Pike (and also his teen horror novels). Ray Bradbury shorts and Isaac Asimov’s SF. Isaac Beshevis Singer’s stories by the boatload. Phantom of the Opera, The Scarlet Pimpernel. anything serialized in Cricket Magazine. dark historical fiction from wartime. things that made me cry. and I was probably just starting in on the family obsession with Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles.”

“At 14 and 15 I read books aimed at adults. It wasn’t until I was 17 or 18 that I started reading YA (and then never stopped). My high school library was a dismal collection of text books, assigned books, and some desks with computers. I remember the first time I ever saw it, and knew this was not the school for me. And yet I went anyway.

“At that age my brother was reading military biographies, Ayn Rand, the collected works of Alexandre Dumas, historical fiction, especially war stories and mysteries, also by the boatload. We overlap with humor, Hitchhikers Guide, Dune, classic SF. And comics. We read a few comics.”

“Enormous quantities of science fiction and fantasy novels. A frightening number of tie-in/franchise books (Star Trek, Star Wars, D&D). In retrospect, some of what I was reading was really dire stuff. There were a few gems though.”\

“I hardly remember there being such a thing as Young Adult Fiction. Am I too old and it hadn’t been invented yet? Or did I just ignore it? The only example I can think of is A Wrinkle in Time. Otherwise I mostly remembering reading adult science fiction and fantasy (somewhat obsessively – eg had a copy of The Silmarillion in which I had calligraphied my name in Elvish or whatever.) I also attempted a lot of serious literature – although I remember that a book by Kafka (I think The Castle?) was the first book I ever checked out from the library and didn’t finish, and I felt very guilty about it.”

“In eighth grade I read a lot of nineteenth and early twentieth century novels. The Brontes, Austen, Dickens, Wharton. I was particularly fond of Jane Eyre. I think I identified particularly with Jane’s angst at that age. I read Pride and Prejudice whenever I was depressed for its combination of humor and a happy ending. I read a lot of Agatha Christie novels. I liked the tamer romance novels that generally involved kissing and becoming engaged. I was particularly fond of Mary Stewart, whom my mother recommended to me. She is best known for her Merlin novels, I think, but I never actually read those. Her other books weren’t in print at the time, but I got them from second-hand stores. Another out-of-print recommendation from my mother that I absolutely adored was Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals. It is hysterically funny. I liked his other books as well, but the ones that cover his early life are the best. He is actually Lawrence Durrell’s younger brother and his depiction of his pompous older brother is just delightful. I read a lot of Shakespeare’s comedies that year. My favorite was always As You Like It. Ack, I forgot the rest of the question. I didn’t read much new YA fiction at that age, though I did re-read old favorites. We had stopped reading it in school around sixth grade I think. I also read a lot of fairy tales, but was mostly unaware that there was fantasy meant for adults.”

“You know, I don’t really remember any of my school libraries, but I remember very systematically working through the “kids’ room” at my local branch, then the SFF shelves of the library downtown. Fun times.”

“My school library was all about what you needed to study. Fiction not on the curriculum was to be obtained elsewhere. But the best part of all was that it had rugs that allowed one to collect an electrostatic charge and shock the unsuspecting ( until one was caught).”

” Oh, but I do remember my Elementary School library. Vividly. I also remember the day the librarian handed me a copy of Little House in the Big Woods. And Island of the Blue Dolphins. Wow.’

“I suspect that at 14 or 15 ( 9th and 10 grades) I was reading a lot of sci fi ( Robert Heinlein,etc.”

“Young adult fantasy novels. Also, realistic fiction, but mostly fantasy. I was VERY into Tamora Pierce at that age.”

“I’ll contribute Choose Your Own Romance mass market paperbacks, along with V. C. Andrews, and then a classics phase that included lots of Dickens which I thought would make me literary. I feel like I’m airing dirty laundry!”

“A great age for reading: The C. S. Lewis Space Trilogy, John Christopher, William of Ockham, Le Morte de Arthur, Roger Zelanzny AND a bunch of authors who were popular in the ’70s but are not read so much now: Richard Brautigan, Kurt Vonnegut, and Fritz Perls’ Be Here Now. Oh, and Dickens and R.L. Stevenson and Thomas Hardy. Truly a great age for reading.oooh, lest I forget the Bhagavad Gita. But that might have been a little later, 16? 17? PS. Never found this stuff at school, excellent local branch library, my parents had several thousand volumes before they went into dealing, and my sister was a literate hippie!”

“in my Catholic school library I got my hands on I Never Loved Your Mind in the 7th grade. Was almost too embarrassed to take it back.”

“Mercedes Lackey, Tanya Huff, Charles de Lint, Hawthorne (we went to Salem one weekend), Shakespeare, lots of bios on Elizabeth I and the rest of the Tudors. The Jr High library was small and I rarely spent time there.”

“I spent a lot of time in our neighborhood branch library and they had a really well-stocked YA section. My high school library was good too, but I mostly used it for research.”

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