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July 08, 2011

Steamy, lurid and downright dark: Can bad books still be good for kids?

By Leslie Crawford, Senior Editor

Kids, I've recently argued, should let their kids delve into whatever beach reads they can get their hands on because at least they're reading. What's more, they're loving what they're reading.

Then I came across a Wall Street Journal article on the trend of disturbingly dark teen lit, with a pulchritude of envelope-pushing, profanity-laced tales about kidnapping, pederasty, beatings, rape, incest, suicide, drug addiction.

Suddenly, I find myself in that uncomfortable parental territory when I question a stance that I held so confidenetly just a few days earlier, when I so easily proselytized free-reading love.

Yet on the rare occasion that I see my 13-year-old son become obsessed with a book – or more often the case – fall in love with a series like post-apocalyptic, teenager-torturing The Hunger Games, I think, "That's my boy!" As far as I see it, if he's reading, then he's not slaughtering zombies. But after reading the series, is his world-view that much drearier, that much scarier?

When agonizing over parenting, I look to my own mother, a woman with an M.A. in English for whom reading was an obsession. When it came to reading, hers was a radically laissez-faire policy. We three kids could read what we wanted. The end result? Unlike our friends, we didn't run straight for the forbidden and lurid literature. When my nine-year-old friends were hiding copies of Are you There God? It's Me, Margaret under their mattresses so their mother wouldn't confiscate the book and and punish them, I'm not even sure I bothered to read it. I remember at that age being enthralled by A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (admittedly with its own disturbing tale of sexual abuse) and The Secret Garden.

When my brother was in sixth grade, his teacher – we'll call him Mr. Smith – phoned my mother to come in for an emergency parent-teacher conference. Surely, something was gravely amiss, given that my brother was a prize student. The problem? Mr. Smith had caught my brother reading The Catcher in the Rye. He sternly told my mother that this was not appropriate. "Mr. Smith," she said in so many words, "I don't care if he's reading comic books. I let him read what he wants. How is he going to figure out what's good or bad if he doesn't?"

I get it. The Catcher in the Rye is a universe away from the 2010 Scars about a teen's obsessive self-mutilation. Where, though, do we stand with some of "the classics," serving forth grotesqueries like Ovid's Metamorphoses (cannibalism, rape), the Iliad (gruesome battle scenes of eviscerated bodies), the Oedipus myth (incest, patricide), the Orestia (cooking a brother's children and serving them for dinner)?

I'm not suggesting it's ok for kids to read, say, porn. I believe in creating safe boundaries and limits. And I want my child to have a true childhood. But in the end, if my child is swept up in a book, (almost) any book, so much the better. At least in my book, it’s far better than an equally violent video, online game, or movie – at least he’s reading.

What do you think?



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Leslie, I have two wonderful readers in my house and I pretty much let them read whatever they choose from at the library. But I do look at them every now and then just to be sure about the subject matter. I read whatever I wanted as a kid. My Mom usually read them right along with me, Born Innocent, comes to mind. But as with all other media, our kids are exposed to so much more at such younger ages. So I deem it my responsibility to shield them as long as I can. They listen when I say something is just not appropriate "yet" for them. They get it and they respect it. Now, as one of my boys is approaching Middle School, I fear it will get harder. I just hope we've laid some ground work for open communication and question asking.
Same as you, I agree that the "forbidden" makes things more desirable (candy, sugar candy, etc.). So I have always kept that open with rules - sugar cereal on vacation and weekends. My boys are quick to agree when there is a rule they understand. :)

Books are just another media that need to be loosely monitored for children, especially under the age of 16. I think if I found my son reading a book I thought was objectionable, I'd use it as a basis to open a discussion about the book with him. Obviously, if he's choosing to read it, he's interested and understands it. If it was something I found offensive or questionable, I'd just find out why and explain my religious/moral point of view on the subject. It's a good way to open a discussion with your kids rather than simply take the book away, which is what my own dad did to me.

I have a confession to make; I developed a love for reading at the age of 13 based on (what was then, in the '50's) a "lurid" novel; "The Egyptian" by Mika Waltari. The love scenes, the stories of his night adventures with "seductresses" held me to chapter after chapter. It's a book I have read several times; and the first big novel I had ever read.
Maybe if we can find books that have a touch of lust, adventure, living on the edge, we might just bring a child in to the world of reading for the rest of their lives. I know Waltari's book did.

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this is a good activity for children like these game they play and learn a lot I like your this beautiful exebation thanks for sharing it here good work man keep it up.. good luck,,,

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