Links Galore

Lots of good links for (at least around here) a rainy Wednesday:

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

In honor of Mr. Rogers’ birthday today, YA author John Green shares a few cool facts about the man who helped make children’s public television a true force for learning and growth. There were lots of piece of trivia I didn’t know, so make sure to check out the video:

We should all endeavor to be as kind and thoughtful and curious as Mr. Rogers. Maybe instead of DFTBA we should say DFTBLF–Don’t Forget to Be Like Fred.

Happy birthday, Mr. Rogers!

PS–It’s also the birthday of one of my favorite children’s authors, Lois Lowry. Happy birthday, Lois! Thank you for bringing so many amazing books into the world.

You Don’t Have to Cry About It, or How I Am a Secret Cylon

The Millions has a great post about John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and how we talk about books that make an emotional impact. Janet Potter says that she and others recommend The Fault in Our Stars by saying how much they cried/their friend will cry/etc, but she recognizes that’s an incomplete shorthand for ‘This book made me feel very deep emotions, some of them being sadness and grief, but also emotions of hope and love.’ Potter says:

“What we’re trying to say is: this book mattered deeply to me, I think it could matter deeply to you too. At some point I stopped experiencing this book as fiction, and started experiencing it personally. I read fiction so that the characters’ stories, for the time that I’m reading the book, or hopefully longer, will be important to me. And for as many books as I go through, it’s rare for one to succeed. What we’re trying to say to each other is that this is one of those rare books; that you will love the characters the way you love real people, they will make you laugh and cry and want to live a better life. We’re saying, I felt something transforming. You should feel it too.”

That’s a fantastic way to describe what happens when you emotionally connect with a book. I certainly felt that with The Fault in Our Stars and have with many other books as well.

That said, Potter’s post got me thinking about a slightly different issue–the expectation of a book actually making you cry. Again, it’s very common to say, “Oh my gosh, read this, you’re totally going to cry.” But what happens when a reader doesn’t have that physical emotional reaction? Does that mean you didn’t connect with the book as much as a reader who did cry? Do we put too much focus on the act of crying?

It might be just my icy heart, but I tend to shy away from equating tears with emotional connection. I’ve certainly cried at my fair share of books (and might have spent an evening hysterical over a recent production of Our Town), but there have been a lot of times that I’ve been deeply moved by a sad story and not teared up.

For example, in fifth grade we read Where the Red Fern Grows. When my friends and I were discussing it before class, they all said “Oh my gosh, I cried so hard at the end.” I felt so awkward admitting I didn’t cry. Of course I was touched by the story and felt very sad at the ending, but that didn’t mean I needed to cry about it. Similarly, I loved The Fault in Our Stars (and will say that it gave me “all the feelings”), but I didn’t cry over it. When I think back on TFiOS, I’m most reminded of Hazel and Augustus in Amsterdam and the beauty and sadness and hope in those scenes–and these feelings don’t necessarily make me want to cry.

Does that mean I’m a cylon? No. (I know, that’s totally something a cylon would say.) But I remember being in fifth grade and worrying that I wasn’t having an appropriate emotional reaction to Where the Red Fern Grows. I was sad, so why wasn’t I crying? The thing is, you don’t have to cry about something. Emotions don’t always have to get processed in the same way for everyone. Some people cry at sad books and find catharsis in that; others process their feelings of grief and loss differently. Both responses are okay.

In eighth grade I read Night by Elie Wiesel and spent the entire book hysterical; the ending of Of Mice and Men made me tearfully throw my book across the room; but I can count the number of times a book as actually elicited tears on one hand, whereas books I’ve read and felt a deep connection with are far more numerous.

Basically, I don’t think we should fault to the shorthand of “you’re totally going to cry” when we recommend deeply moving books. It’s selling our emotions short and sets up unreasonable expectations for emotional responses. So cry, don’t cry, whatever you need to do. Just don’t feel bad about your emotional reaction.

DFTBA, America

Worlds collide when John Green was invited to appear in President Obama’s Google+ Hangout. See the results below:

Smooth move, Obama. I also love how this brings together the world of YA and the world of politics. When I was a teen, I wasn’t that involved in politics. I didn’t see it as something I could have any part in and, frankly, found it kind of boring. (Totally untrue on both counts, but there you have it.) But videos like this could make teens feel like politics is a approachable, which could lead them to finding ways to get involved and get their voices heard.

Also, I’m voting for Eleanor.

Links Galore

A few more links for today:

Critical Reading With John Green

As part of the Crash Course, a great video by John Green on why we read critically:

I know that in middle/high school, I also asked, “But did the author really mean for us to analyze all this?” I like that John points out that authors are trying to use precise and layered and interesting language to communicate deep emotions, not just to torture English students. (That’s a bonus, of course. Mwahaha!)

Can’t wait to read the see of this series!

Learn All the Things!

John Green talks about why education is awesome:

I’d also add that even though you might not love everything you learn in school, you never know what bit of awesome information will touch you or come into play in other parts of your life. Being a writer means that you need to know everything. Who knows when you character could want to build a catapult, or go to Neptune, or live in feudal Japan, or quote Shakespeare.

Books and Their Readers

Love this print:

I think this is one of the awesome things about books (and art in general). They can affect you in such a deep, personal way. And it doesn’t even have to be as direct as “I read a book about skateboarders, and I’m a skateboarder, so I felt emotionally moved.” Books and other art can have such a deep resonance that it doesn’t have to be based on anything you can put into words. But you know that the book is part of you.

(image: Perpetual Thoughts)(via eff yeah nerdfighters)

Stories That Will Never See the Light of Day: Writing from High School

In this video, YA author John Green talks about the stories he wrote when he was in high school–which, of course, made me think of my own high school attempts at fiction.

Like John says about his early work, none of mine was good. Most of it was knock-off versions of what I was reading or watching at the time. A few highlights from the past fictional files:

  • a girl who likes art and has run-ins with the popular crowd
  • a coven of high school witches
  • a Robin Hood-esque girl hero in a vague fantasy world (plus half a sequel)
  • a series of linked short stories about a group of friends; everyone took walks and thought about stuff but never did anything

Pretty sure none of this will ever see the light of day. (Actually, not sure if I could track most of this down; it might be in my parents’ basement or it might have gotten tossed when they were tossing a lot of stuff from aforementioned basement.) But I am so, so glad I wrote these horrific stories. After each one, I’d learned more about writing and was excited to move onto the next project. I got to try different genres and styles without the pressure of having to show these stories to anyone in particular.

Also, they primed me for taking writing seriously as an adult. Working on my thesis novel wasn’t so bad because I knew I’d written “novels” before and would eventually get to the end through a lot of hard work and perseverance. I know that sometimes projects don’t work out, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t keep the general idea or characters tucked away for future projects.

My theory: writing is never a waste. Maybe it won’t pay off like you think it will (somehow that girl hero never landed me on the Today Show like I imagined), but it always teaches you something. And at the very least, maybe you can tell your legion of fans about it via Youtube video.

Get Real

At TLT, the YA trend watch includes:

Reality Bites
Finally, thanks in no small part to The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, contemporary fiction is returning in popularity.  Some of the hot titles include In Honor by Jessi Kirby, The Downside of Being Charlie by Jenny Torres Sanchez, Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson and Waiting by Carol Lynch Williams.  Dying, especially death by cancer, seems to be a prevalent theme in the current crop of titles that I have been reading.

So glad to hear that contemporary realism is making a comeback! I love fantasy and dystopian novels, but I think there’s a lot to be said for realism, and for a while the buzz in the YA community was that realistic novels just weren’t selling. I hope this move toward realistic teen experiences continues.