Archive for January, 2009

We have a name!

You may have noticed that I’ve finally decided on a name for this blog.  “Better off Read” pretty much sums up my feelings toward any and all reading material.  Whether you agree with “it” or not, whether you love it or hate it, I believe we’re better for having read it.  Reading opens our minds to incredible new perspectives and ideas.  Reading connects us to each other and to the world around us, it encourages us to develop our own opinion and views, and it helps us to understand opinions, beliefs, and experiences that may seem contrary to our own.  And (on a less profound note) reading is just about the most enjoyable way I can think of to pass the time.  

(I was hesitant to limit the scope of this blog by referring to “reading” in the title, as if YA Materials consisted solely of textual material.  But, I think I can get away with it by suggesting a larger, more figurative sense of the word – I mean “reading” in the sense of  constructing meaning and developing an understanding of ideas that have been conveyed or communicated through some medium, whether it be a book, a piece of music, a movie, a game, a website, etc.  Fair enough?)

YA Magazines

I visited the bookstore this weekend to buy a magazine for my YA magazine review.  I have never been a devoted reader of magazines.  My experience with them is mostly limited to doctors’ offices, staff rooms, and checkout displays.  As a girl I bought the odd Tiger Beat or Big Bop.  There was never much to read inside – just a lot of glossy posters of television and movie stars, which I dutifully hung on my bedroom walls.  When I was in high-school, the covers of magazines like Seventeen, YM and even Cosmopolitan would occasionally grab me with promises of beauty, love and happiness, but they always failed to deliver anything truly meaningful.  After our discussion in class about the recent explosion of YA literature, I expected to find a similar growth and an increase in quality among teen magazines.  What I found on the shelf were the same empty products offered to my generation ten years ago.  What a disappointment.  The magazines were predominately aimed at a female audience, and focused on beauty, fashion, dating and celebrities.  There were only a handful of magazines that weren’t specifically targeting girls.  The topics included sports, video games, and toy collecting, and of these the only title I recognized was Mad.  Surely this couldn’t be it?  When I arrived home, I desperately searched the internet for alternatives.  I found a lot of the same magazines (and their close relatives) that were available at the bookstore.  It was a relief to find titles like Thrasher (a skateboarding magazine), BMX Plus! (devoted to BMX biking), and SciFi Magazine which targeted a larger audience than those aimed at ensnaring fashion and dating obsessed girls.  The London Public Library has provided links to several online magazines in the Teen section of their website, featuring topics such as music, art, games, movies, health and fitness, news and politics.  A Google search for YA Magazines produced links to libraries from all over the world that have organized lists of recommended print and online magazines for teens.  The most interesting title I found was TeenInk, an American magazine written by and for teens.  It covers every topic under the sun (entertainment, book reviews, artwork, photography, travel, school, family, friendship, politics, history, health, fitness, racism, eating disorders, etc.).  It is a fantastic resource for teens, and for anyone interested in teens’ perspectives. 

It’s a shame that the market is flooded with magazines that recycle and regurgitate the same articles, the same fashion trends, the same relationship quizzes month after month.  So many YA magazines seem to be little more than vehicles for advertising products.  In our first class we discussed the concept of YA materials as a commercial enterprise.  Teen magazines seem to me to offer overwhelming evidence in support of this argument.

Bookstore Visit:

For our first assignment, we were asked to visit the teen/young adult section of a library or bookstore and observe the space, making note of the treatment of the material, how it is accessed and by whom. I visited a large chain bookstore on a snowy Sunday afternoon. There were other customers browsing around, but the store wasn’t overly busy. This may have been because of the weather. I found the teen section at the back of the store along the main aisle, close to the “New & Hot” wall, and on the edge of the children’s section. The main aisle is filled with display tables aimed at adult readers. There were several adults browsing through the books and talking to each other. The “New & Hot” wall is an enormous display of new releases and bestsellers, and it attracted many customers who stood thumbing through books and browsing titles. The children’s section occupies an entire corner of the store, with a large open area with toys set out for children to play with, colourful cardboard shapes hanging from the ceiling, posters and displays advertising product, and low shelves and tables stacked with books. There were several families looking around the children’s section. The teen section, in comparison, consists of only three tall shelving units positioned to create a half rectangle open to the main aisle. The noise from the people in the surrounding areas was impossible to escape. The teen section was open to view, and there was very little space for teens to browse the books. I found the limited space uncomfortable and the noise of conversation distracting.

I was impressed by the amount of books available for teens. The arrangement of the material, however, makes browsing frustrating. A display table in front of the shelves is stacked with books and marked with a sign that read “Teen Titles”. These books aren’t in any kind of order (alphabetical, by genre) and although I recognized some new releases, there were older titles as well. The books on the three shelving units are divided into sections marked by signs including “Teen Essentials & Award Winners”, “Teen Fiction”, “Teen Series”, “Graphic Novels 13+”, and “Teen Life Ages 13+”. Within these divisions, the books are arranged alphabetically. Most are lined up with their spines facing outward, but many are turned so that their covers are on display. The books are not divided into genres. The only non-fiction I found is in the “Teen Life Ages 13+”, and these books are all devoted to issues relating to adolescence. I didn’t see any non-fiction books about subjects such as history or politics. Many of the “Teen Essentials & Award Winners” have the company’s “Recommended” stickers on their covers. At the end of each shelving unit there are displays with more books, many of which I recognized as current popular titles. As I scanned the shelves, I found myself overwhelmed by the amount of material available and the limited organizational scheme. I thought to myself that this would be okay if I had a specific author or title in mind because the books are arranged alphabetically. But for someone who knows the type or genre of book they want, but nothing more specific, it must be tiring to have to skim through every title on display to make a good connection. I found myself judging my interest based on the covers. This worked well for some books (a dragon on the cover usually indicates fantasy), but not all. I would have appreciated a more thoughtful arrangement.

There is a very new-looking computer terminal inside the teen section, for use by employees and customers. The computer allows access to the company’s catalogue, and gives information about product such as price, quantity in stock, reviews, and ordering information. The terminal is outfitted with a credit card slot so that customers can are able to order product not available in the store without going to the cash area. To one side of the teen section there is a rack with merchandise relating to Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series, including t-shirts, posters, buttons, stickers, and key-chains. Other than this display, there are no other kinds of media for sale in the teen section. At the front of the store there is a large area devoted to music and there are racks of movies for sale near to the cash area, but there is no teen-specific media area. In the children’s section, there is a display of c.d.’s and dvd’s for children. The computer terminal with its credit card slot and the display of Twilight merchandise was a clear reminder of the store’s main purpose: to sell product. It’s easy to ignore the fact that this company is first and foremost a commercial enterprise. Remembering this, I began to think about how and why the books in the teen section were chosen, and the many other titles that didn’t make the cut. I noticed several classic teen reads missing from the shelves, and I wondered if this was because the copies were sold out or if the company saw a bigger profit in more recently published, more massively appealing books. My intention is not to pass judgment. Rather, I think it’s important to remember that bookstores are not fully representative of the wealth of material available. The same must be said of libraries. One collection can’t house every published book. Decisions (tough ones!) about what to stock will always have to be made.

I was alone for most of the time I spent in the teen section, which was about thirty minutes. All of the other visitors to the section were adults. On a Sunday afternoon, I expected to see more teenagers browsing in the section. I did notice, however, evidence of customers having browsed the area. Books had been pulled out and not properly re-shelved, and the alphabetical order was often disrupted. Of course, I can’t say whether this was caused by teen customers. I worked at a bookstore in another city, and the teen section there was similar, if slightly more spacious. My experience there was that teens, adults, and even younger kids enjoyed browsing the teen section. Many times we would find a group of teens sitting together leafing through books, discussing them, and searching for the next title in a series. With so many books on offer, covering such a variety of topics, this never surprised me. There was always something available to interest every customer.

Welcome

This is my first post!  I am excited to have this space in which to voice my ideas and opinions about libraries and young adult/teen materials.  And, admittedly, I am a bit nervous as well.  It’s a daunting task, preparing one’s thoughts for public view.  I am sure I’ll have no difficulty, however, forming ideas about the course material.  The topics of discussion sound very promising.

A note on the name and look of my blog.  I took the picture that I’ve used as my header this afternoon.  This is how my clever brain works.  It convinced me that it was absolutely all-important to pull off of my shelves as many YA books and movies that moved with me to grad school, line them up, and take photos for use on my blog – all this instead of getting down to the gnitty-gritty & often excrutiatingly uninspiring work of writing papers (you know, the kind of thing that actually earns you your masters?).  As for the name of my blog, well, it’s lame, I know.  I confess, I am having trouble thinking of something.  It shouldn’t be this difficult.  I don’t want it to be something boring (“Holly’s YA Materials Blog”), but at the same time I really don’t want anything forced – the ghost of teen-Holly writhes with embarrassment everytime adult-Holly thinks of something she thinks might be clever and appealing to “young adults”.  So, for now, I’m stuck with quotation marks dot-dot-dot.  Nameless Blog.  The Blog with an uncertain identity.  Now that’s something teen-Holly and adult-Holly can somehow grin at each other about.  Sigh. 

I finished reading one of the assigned books: Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak.  It is actually our read for Week 5 (“Misfits, Outcasts and Criminals”).  I happened to open it first, and didn’t end up putting it down until I’d finished it.  What a fantastic book!  As I read it, I found myself wishing that I’d had it to read when I was a teen.  Melinda, the novel’s heroine, was touched by a personal tragedy I am thankful to have never suffered, but she expresses feelings I think most (if not all) of us experience to some degree as we struggle through highschool.  Terrible anxiety, fear, self-loathing, the desire to fit in, the desire to stand out, moments of joy and humour, hopefulness for our future, and a constant battle to “find” ourselves, to define our character and to speak with our own voice.  The book manages to tackle profound, dark, scary issues without sinking into off-putting morbidity.  Melinda’s opinions of her teachers, peers, parents, and the world around her are downright funny at times, so much so that I found myself laughing out loud!  I look forward to the opportunity to pass this fantastic read on.  I’ll be adding to my Reader’s Advisory arsenal.

Very soon I will be posting my first “official” report (the Library/Bookstore Visit).  An inspirational quote, then, to tide you over (bless the powers of internet reference):

[L]earn as much by writing as by reading; be not content with the best book; seek sidelights from the others.” ~ Lord Acton