Written by on June 7, 2012

Two Relentless Readers

Interviewing Karen Lauritsen about reading last month made me want to follow up with some other staff known to be devourers of books. Not surprisingly, you can’t swing a cat in this building without hitting several highly addicted readers. I found two stellar examples without even leaving the first floor.

Kristen Thorp began here as Night Circulation Assistant, and has since been promoted to Circulation Student Supervisor, allowing her to emerge from the dark into the sunlight. Prior to working here, she worked with children and teens in several branches of the LA Public Library system, as well as volunteering at Paso Robles Public Library. Kristen has a degree in History from Chapman University, and is working on her Master of Library and Information Science at University of Washington.

Michele Wyngard works as an assistant for REK’s Digital Commons, a burgeoning online collection of scholarship by Cal Poly faculty and students which recently had its two-millionth download. Before coming to Cal Poly, she worked at the UCSD Library in Special Collections, where one of her more interesting projects involved the personal papers of Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. Michele has a BA in History from PLNU,and recently completed her MLIS at San Jose State University.

JK: What are you reading now, and what made you pick up this book (recommendation, jacket art, class requirement, etc.)?

KT: I am currently reading 1. Murder in Amsterdam by Ian Buruma. It is OK — I have to read it for school and while it is interesting I am having a hard time getting into it. 2. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. This is one of the Banned Books from my list. 3. The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock n Roll’s Best Kept Secret. I am basically in love with music from the 1960s and I love reading about its history.

(note from JK: they have split the list of 100 banned books in half; each of them is reading 50 of them).

MW: I just finished Jeanette Winterson’s Why By Happy When You Can Be Normal for my book club and I’m starting To Kill a Mockingbird for our Banned Book Week project.  I loved Winterson’s book- it’s a tribute to the power of literature wrapped up in a beautiful, sad coming-of-age story.  I’ve never read To Kill a Mockingbird so I’m excited to read it.  I had a huge crush on Gregory Peck ever since I saw Roman Holiday, so needless to say, I’ve seen the movie (this was before I found out that if a movie was in black and white, then the object of my affection was probably too old for me/dead).

JK: You two have both been involved in Banned Books week, and have made it a project to read every banned book on the list. What surprised you about these books? Were there any standouts as far as favorites, or real stinkers?

KT: So far I have only read 15 of my 50, and I have loved almost every single book on my list with the exception of the first and third books Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials series. I tend to stay away from fantasy books and both of these were too out there for my personal tastes. However the second book in the series feels more sci-fi with the element of time travel and other world dimensions so I enjoyed it more. My two favorite books off my list so far have been Stephen Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

MW: Reading the books on the Banned Books list has been a real eye opener (and I’m only 14 books in!).  I have learned the following:
1. Just because something’s banned, that does not mean it is good.  I wish objecting adults would just leave the bad literature lay, but instead they make a hullabaloo and the bad literature gets even more attention, which creates more hullabaloo and more readers.  It’s a vicious cycle.
2. Reading the books and discussing them with a kid who has read them is an enriching experience for both parties.  My 10-year-old niece recently read The Giver by Lois Lowry (#23 on the top 100 of 2000-2009), so when she saw me reading it, we were able to have a conversation about the story and what we each thought it meant.  It was a gentle reminder that a child’s mind does not interpret things the way an adult does, in this way reading is a very personal experience dependent on age, gender, experiences, outlook, etc.  At the same time, the value in reading is taking what you’ve read and sharing it with others.  A lot of times you find that even though you’re both holding the same book, you’ve read two very different things.

I’ve really enjoyed most of the banned books I’ve read, with a few glaring exceptions.  My favorites have been Whale Talk, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and My Brother Sam is Dead. I’m hesitant to name the crap books in the interview…

KT: I don’t see any problem with saying that… [a] book is terrible, but that is your choice. I think… a book can be terrible, but it still (should) be available to any who wants to read it.

MW: (relents and adds) The Caroline B Cooney book The Terrorist was just garbage- narrow-minded, myopic tripe about the war on terror.  On the other hand, My Brother Sam is Dead is a fantastic, multi-faceted view of the just how complicated war, specifically the Revolutionary War, can be.

JK: Both of you read both adult and young adult books, and Kristen, you’re largely responsible for the addition of YA titles to Good Reads, an experiment that was wildly successful. What do you like about reading in each genre? what do you miss in each?

KT: Part of the reason that I like YA fiction so much is because when I was a teen the titles available were pretty terrible. I went straight from Boxcar Children and Sweet Valley Twins to reading about Karen Carpenter’s anorexia problems and murder mysteries. (No kidding. Explains a lot doesn’t it.) So now that so many quality authors are writing quality books I am just excited to read it and more importantly I am excited to share the awesomeness with teens and young adults so they don’t miss out like I did. Here is another funny thing, I am not a huge fan of adult fiction. I will read “important” fiction that I feel is apart of the cultural dialog and I will faithfully read Michael Connelly. I prefer non-fiction 🙂

MW: Like Kristen, I jumped straight from kids’ books like the Hardy Boys and the Babysitters Club to grown-up books.  I was not actually interested in the Young Adult genre until my husband convinced me to read Harry Potter back in college (2002ish).  That series has really set the gold standard for me in that they are well-written, fantastically imagined, and appropriate for most any age.  I find that YA is still not my favorite genre; for every one thought-provoking book, there are fifty filled with melodrama and stereotypes.  The ones that I’ve enjoyed are the ones that remind me what it’s like to be at that age, knowing all these new things but not quite understanding them, and that show a character’s struggle to reconcile their own views and how they’ve been taught the way the world should work with the reality that surrounds them.  Some good examples of this that I recently read are To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye.

JK: Do either of you remember the first “adult” read of your life? What adult novel would you recommend to an exceptionally bright middle schooler, and what YA novel would you press on a jaded adult?

KT: As for my [first] adult book, I will bring up Karen Carpenter‘s biography. Since most middle school kids wouldn’t know who she is, I certainly wouldn’t recommend that book. Two of my favorite YA titles this year are John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley. They both are a little sad but somehow are full of hope and quirkiness.

MW: The first grown up book I remember reading was Mr. Murder by Dean Koontz.  I was about 13 and I remember it being a thrilling book.  Since it’s Koontz, there was violence and sexual content, but honestly all I remember is being excited by the act of reading and being proud that I had devoured a 500 page book in a couple days.

To a jaded adult, I would recommend My Brother Sam is Dead, A Wrinkle in Time or The Hunger Games.  The first because it is thoughtful and historical, the second because it’s awesome sci-fi, and the third because it is fun but still has something to think about.

I feel like sci-fi is a great bridge from youth to adulthood, so to a middle schooler I would recommend Robert Heinlein’s book of short stories The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag or funny adventure sci-fi like The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison. If they aren’t into sci-fi, I might recommend Kerouac because he captures the frenetic feelings of youth, and includes some racy bits to boot.

JK: I hope to continue this conversation after Kristen and Michele have worked their way further through the Banned Books List.

One comment on “Two Relentless Readers
  1. Karen says:

    Great interview with great suggestions! Also, the word “hullabaloo” should be used more often in the world.

    I’m very excited for BBW this fall.

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