adulthood’s take on childhood, or extension of immaturity?

My latest hobby is to jot down notes and ideas when I’m reading books, especially books of literary theory. I write down interesting quotes, or points I want to think about, or things I want to look up. Mostly I use my notes to ask myself lots of questions.

It strikes me that I think this is what they call “studying.” And I’ve honestly never really done it before in my life. It’s quite rewarding and interesting, and I am enjoying it. Maybe I will do decently in graduate school, then.

Anyway, my main reading at the moment is the textbook The Pleasures of Children’s Literature, and what I was thinking about is how children’s series tend to make comebacks in the guise of being for “adults”–generally those adults who grew up reading the series in the first place. There is a mirror of this in other media, like superhero movies, contemporary remakes of things like Yogi Bear and Transformers, etc., but it just so happens that there haven’t really been any films that are particularly linked to my childhood memories.

There are, however, books that are trying to capitalize on the series I read as a child. Two books I’ve read this summer, Archie: A Celebration of America’s Favorite Teenagers and Sweet Valley Confidential, do just that. The Archie one is actually just a retrospective, but it clued me in to the fact that there are now Archie graphic novels to go with the comics, and there is also a new magazine about Archie’s adult life, and I think it’s presented as dual universes so that he can be married to both Betty and Veronica. The Sweet Valley one is a kind of high school reunion, whatever-happened-to kind of book, and in reading it I realized that I never actually read the Sweet Valley High books. I read Sweet Valley Kids and Sweet Valley Middle School (though I think that series had a different name) and then got bored with the whole thing.

My parents were forever telling me not to read crap like that. I was especially fond of the Babysitters’ Club, which they despised. And that’s another subject the textbook touches on–is there value in so-called “trash” lit for kids? Should they be allowed to read it? At this stage in my life, I do agree that those books are kind of trash, but probably not for the reasons my parents did. My parents told me I shouldn’t read them because they were written with a formula. I would say now that they were a waste of time for me to read, at least in the excess that I read them, in that, at a developmental time in my life, they were telling me that normal life was blonde, upper class, etc. So in that sense maybe it would have been good for me to read less of them and search out more “difficult” books and more books that acknowledged my identity and experience a little more.

But I think there is some value in reading “trash” series as a child, whatever your choice–Goosebumps, Babysitters’ Club, and whatever is out now, like Junie B. Jones or Diary of a Wimpy Kid. That’s because formulaic books are a good primer for life and later study or enjoyment of literature. Also, everyone, even children, needs escapist media for entertainment/winding down/mindless time. Kids can do that with Goosebumps or cartoons, just as adults do that with Dan Brown or “CSI.”

My father is forever bemoaning his freshman English students who “hate” reading and cannot understand how to function in a language arts class, and I keep telling him that high school teachers need to incorporate television series into the curriculum. Nothing teaches you the basic functions of story and plot better than a formulaic television show or horror movie. Nowhere would it be easier to get high school students to learn to point out common tropes, cliches, predictable plot turns, and stock characters than in a couple episodes of “Gossip Girl” or “America’s Next Top Model.” I think starting a year of English class with television or movies and then moving into literature would be a much better way to engage reluctant students and reluctant readers.

I digress. Is it good for me to be reading these updates? Or is it a waste of time? Sure, I could read Life With Archie in probably about ten minutes, and I could count it as my mindless entertainment quota. Epilogues are always fun. That’s why everyone keeps adding old friends to their Facebook so they can check up on them, that’s why we’re intrigued by “adult” conclusions to teen series, that’s why authors’ FAQ pages annoyingly include the “who married so-and-so” or “will you ever write another one?” questions. But I can’t decide if it’s healthy, when these books perpetuate both my parents’ idea of trash (low quality writing, formulaic plots) and mine (continues the same hegemonic ideas or presents the same cis-everything). Is this just an adult take on childhood? Or is it the extension of immaturity? I’m inclined to think the latter, because I think even adults should allow their trashy, throwaway media evolve with time just as their quality media does (i.e. my idea of silly music to listen to is still “better” than the music I thought of as awesome when I was younger; as I now pick up lit theory for pleasure, even current, literary, intelligent novels are more of a chill-out-and-relax reading choice). Then again, it makes me a better person (at least in my own eyes) if I say that it’s just a way of bringing back some of the fun of childhood, and chalk the rest of it up to capitalism and author comebacks.


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