A few weeks ago I saw a post on GroupThink where someone made a post complaining about a "BookBro" being disappointed by the quality of fiction that's being put out now and especially the type of fiction that's being taught in schools. Unfortunately that post seems to have been removed but it was a pretty interesting post. In fact, it's this kind of thing I more or less live for. Trying to counter-act the elitism that exists in academic circles towards many aspects of fiction (genre fiction, multi-media, etc) is one of the reasons why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place, perhaps even the reason.
Two years ago - September/October 2012 - I spent most of my days sitting at home staring at the ceiling, or at the TV, or the computer, or outside, or into a book during my chemotherapy. I watched a lot of TV, and wasted a lot of time on websites, but I also read a lot of books. Most of the books I read reflected both my general mood and my TV viewing habits (also reflecting my general mood) - young adult novels, often serving as adaptation fodder for Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. As I was laying sick and weakened, I felt as if my entire psyche had trouble stomaching certain stuff - CSI, Criminal Minds and other gritty and gory procedural were ruled out and for the first time since well before I even aged out of the intended demographic I was watching Nickelodeon and Disney Channel Original Movies, classics like Halloweentown and High School Musical along with YAL adaptations like Geek Charming. Reading the original material these movies were derived from soon lead to The Hunger Games and The Fault In Our Stars. The experience, especially the reading experience, was very therapeutic but it was no replacement for human interaction. I started to wonder if maybe I could bring my experiences into the classroom and start up a serious conversation of the power of books, using not only the classics but the type of modern, contemporary, still-new-enough-to-apply-to-copyright-law novels that kids were actually reading today.
After my chemo I re-enrolled in school to get my teaching license, and immediately I took a course in children's literature, a course that turned out to be one of the most influential and important courses I've ever taken. In fact, perhaps only second to a course I took exactly a year after my chemotherapy and a year ago - September/October 2013 - the Young Adult Literature Course. My thoughts and theories on the therapeutic power of fiction especially towards teens and pre-teens, were pretty much confirmed, and for that matter beyond just strict application to their intended demographics. As the slogan emblazoned on the YAL shelves of my local library says, "go ahead and read them - we won't judge you. In fact, we've read them all too!"
At the same time, I encountered for the first time exposure to fierce academic resistance to "popular fiction." It stems from a number of misguided assumptions - that somehow the ability of the human mind to produce great works has been "dumbed down" to the point where I honestly believe many of these people would equate even great contemporary YAL works to Idiocracy (itself a pretty good cultural work as it turns out, now that I've finally seen it and if I may say). I'm being completely serious - many academics see the "problem novel" structure being far too teen-centric, too self-centered and lacking empathy or characters capable of teaching empathy, and ultimately just a few notches above seeing someone being continuously kicked in the crotch or 90 minutes of a man's bare ass occasionally interrupted by farting noises.