Friday, August 12, 2005

My First Adult Book, or, everything about sex I needed to know I learned from Robertson Davies

Have you ever read a book and thought, "Gosh, this isn't appropriate for me right now"? Probably not, but you may have picked up a book and thought, "Yech!" and put it back down. Recently on a teen library listserv, we've been discussion the options of trying to match books with readers, and how easy methods like placing age labels on books could actually inhibit reading in certain cases. Everyone has a slightly different opinion on when to give a reader a certain book. For me, I think the person giving the book is half the story of whether or not the book is "appropriate."

I remember that when I was just coming into my teens, I was always padding around my father's office library, looking for old classics or the coffee table books he collected from National Geographic and museums. One day he handed me a book, The Lyre of Orpheus by Robertson Davies and told me it was really good and I might enjoy it. I started reading it, and discovered it was about many adult issues such as adultery and sex!

Of course I had read trashy romances on the sly before, but no one had actually "given" me a book with sex in it. After my moment of surprise I went back to reading, overjoyed that my father thought I was adult enough to handle a book with mature themes. I think I read if more carefully simply because I wanted to live up to my father's expectations; to be able to talk about the book with him afterwards like we were in a book group. I did end up liking the book(lots of coy humor), and went on to read other "adult" titles like The Quiet American and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

And yet, here I am working with teens and youth worrying about what to give the kids that might not be too mature for them, fearing what their parents will say when I send them home with a book that's not about a twelve year old boy and his dog. Early in my work I sent a high school girl home with Charles Baxter's Feast of Love, and I wonder if I would hesitate to do that now.

Do we as librarians underestimate kids? Perhaps we infantilize them, fear that they might, horror of horrors, come to know and understand the adult world and all of its hazards before they embark upon the journey to college. We forget that teens can and do have the imaginative capacity to read about people many years older doing things they might not necessarily do and enjoy it. Reading Robertson Davies and other authors who dealt with sex did not change my personal habits, but it did enlarge the capacity of my mind, and invite me to see the world as a larger place than my own narrow experience.


Anonymous erica said...

Robertson Davies!

That's all.

1:09 PM  

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