Critical Linking: August 16, 2014

But there are pleasures to be had from books beyond being lightly entertained. There is the pleasure of being challenged; the pleasure of feeling one’s range and capacities expanding; the pleasure of entering into an unfamiliar world, and being led into empathy with a consciousness very different from one’s own; the pleasure of knowing what others have already thought it worth knowing, and entering a larger conversation. Among my catalogue are some books that I am sure I was—to use an expression applied to elementary-school children—decoding rather than reading. Such, I suspect, was the case with “Ulysses,” a book I read at eighteen, without having first read “The Odyssey,” which might have deepened my appreciation of Joyce. Even so—and especially when considering adolescence—we should not underestimate the very real pleasure of being pleased with oneself. What my notebook offers me is a portrait of the reader as a young woman, or at the very least, a sketch. I wanted to read well, but I also wanted to become well read. The notebook is a small record of accomplishment, but it’s also an outline of large aspiration. There’s pleasure in ambition, too.

Few phrases are more bothersome than “guilty pleasure,” so this piece about the pleasure of reading — sans guilt — is fantastic.

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Here’s University of Georgia football player Malcolm Mitchell talking about joining a book club full of women older than his mom. It’ll make your heart swell.

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In a fair world, these critically acclaimed authors would be rocking the bestseller list. If you haven’t discovered them yet, our Books Editor has set you up for some incredibly memorable reads.

Overlook the slideshow format for this one, since it’s worth it. Reader’s Digest suggests 23 contemporary writers you should have read by now.

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So, as a market phenomenon that cashes in on a high-stakes, intensively calibrated sense of age, YA is indeed a late-20th- and 21st-century thing. But there is nothing new at all about great numbers of fully grown people reading fiction that was not written for adults. What is fairly new is the value we place on a particular sense of adulthood. There are lots of interesting arguments to have about what makes any novel bad, good, or great. Using age as shorthand for aesthetic quality is not the best way to frame these arguments. Since the ideal of adulthood is now so important, whenever another YA book tops the best-seller lists, the opinion pieces on mixed-age readership will continue to fly. But awareness of the complex history of age and reading may help to deepen the discussions we have about the place of YA in an English department’s curriculum.

Love this thoughtful, critical essay about what adult fiction is, what YA fiction is, and what these designations may even mean. Bonus points for why YA belongs in the English curriculum.

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