Random thoughts.. and a question about your child-mind

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Mon Apr 30 02:28:00 EDT 2001

On Sat, 21 Apr 2001 11:04:56 +0100, Neil Ward wrote:

>Does anyone else here strip themselves of adulthood when reading DWJ's books?  I think I try not to question things too much or bring my adult cynicism into my reading of them, in an attempt to imagine the wonder of reading these books as a child or teen.  I am in the enviable position of not having read most of DWJ's work and, therefore, have the opportunity to read each of her books as a virgin reader.  I've been delighted every time.  I'm almost 40 (next month), but I think I have, somehow, reclaimed my youthful mind, in this process.  Once I've read the books with my child-mind, my adult-mind resurfaces and starts to analyse.  I can't stop it.

>Please tell me I'm not bonkers.  Am I inclined to do this, subconsciously, when I recognise a writing style aimed at children/YA? Is my brain capable of taking me back - literally - to my 11-year-old self, at will?  Or am I merely entering a state of mind, as one often does with a book, where the outside world does not exist at all unless the book mentions it?

I think that really good books contain clues as to how they should be
read--and that really good readers are able to pick up on them.  Different
books require different sets of reading techniques, after all, even when
we're talking only about adult genres.  So you're not bonkers, at least not
because of this.

My question is, what clues are we picking up on?  Is it content, or style,
or something else, or a combination of these?  Neil's mentioning Howl
reminded me of when I loaned that book to my sister-in-law.  She wanted a
book that wasn't depressing but was fun and good.  When I gave her _Howl's
Moving Castle_ she said "This is a kids' book" like that made it a bad
thing, or at least something she'd outgrown when she put on her first pair
of high-heeled shoes.  This was before she'd started reading it, so the
clues she picked up on were all superficial--the cover, the title, the
genre.  I, on the other hand, would back that book against more "adult"
humorous fantasy such as the books written by Esther Friesner or some of
Barbara Hambly.  Market that book differently, and there would be no YA
stigma, I think.

On the other hand...there's a certain logic to knowing which set of
standards to apply to a book.  I think it would be wrong to criticize
_Howl's_ for not doing things that you would expect of an "adult" book,
because however excellent a piece of fiction it is, it's still written using
the basic YA conventions.  DWJ's genius is that she takes those rules and
manipulates them to create spectacularly original stories which still fit
the genre description (insofar as there is one, because it's not like there
are Laws, just Conventions).

I never read DWJ as an 11-year-old either, and I have no idea what her books
would look like to someone that age.  I personally think I appreciate them
more because of it.  It's not like when I re-read books that I enjoyed at
that young age; then I do try to suppress my adult mind, because I don't
want to ruin (overwrite) the experience I remember from my childhood.  But
I'm usually not reading such books for pleasure, but for business.  :)

Melissa Proffitt
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