Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading Paperback – Jul 21 2009
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frequently hilarious omnibus of meditations on favorite YA novels.... Her suggestions will prove superhelpful (not to mention wildly entertaining) for educators, librarians and parents. (Publishers Weekly)
About the Author
Lizzie Skurnick has written on books and culture extensively for the New York Times Book Review, Times Sunday Styles, the LA Times, NPR.org, The Washington Post and many other publications. Her blog, Old Hag, was a Forbes Best of the Web pick. Look for Shelf Discovery on Facebook.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The teen years are incredibly important for most young readers and writers. A period of rapid physical and emotional growth mixed with a natural curiosity about the world makes for an explosive combination. Reading offers a window into other worlds otherwise inaccessible to young readers, expanding a capacity for empathy and imagination. Books are often the beginning of an education on what it means to be human.
The best essays in SHELF DISCOVERY reflect this passionate engagement with literature both on the page and out in the world. Skurnick writes about her first experiences with her favorite books and about what she has learned from them subsequently as an adult reader. Readers will find many of their favorite titles and authors here, including multiple works by Madeleine L'Engle, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary and Lois Duncan.
The book provides an inclusive sample of literature read by young people, ranging from LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE to THE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR. Most of the titles that appear here were published prior to 1990. Each essay is accompanied by a vintage picture of the book's cover, an overview of the book and its themes, and Skurnick's reflections on re-reading the book. While it can serve as a resource guide to books for young readers, it functions primarily as a collection of memoir-like essays about interacting with literature.
SHELF DISCOVERY does not stop short of addressing the more combustible aspects of literature for young people. It includes a chapter on books about puberty, a chapter on teen problem novels --- usually dealing with substance abuse or domestic violence --- and a chapter on sexuality. In her opening to a chapter called "Panty Lines: I Can't Believe They Let Us Read This," Skurnick even wryly defends banning books (a practice to which she is generally opposed). "How else would we find out which are the best ones?" she asks. While some of the titles mentioned were not originally intended for young readers, they are certainly books many people encountered for the first time in their teens.
I suspect the most appealing aspects of SHELF DISCOVERY will vary with the reader. My favorite part was Skurnick's passionate defense of heroines --- even the old-fashioned ones --- and the kind of emotional education they give to female readers. In her chapter titled "She Comes By It Supernaturally," she writes, "If we take the girls' new [supernatural] powers as a metaphor for puberty, we find that these changes...herald new insights about one's self, as well as a host of inviting developments on the horizon for friends, family, and future prospects... They are, in short, good news for the girls." The same could be said about most of the titles here, along with the (non-supernatural) skills and insights each heroine acquires.
It should be noted that almost all the books in SHELF DISCOVERY feature female protagonists. Readers are sure to question the inclusion of some books and the exclusion of others, along with the label of "classic" applied to titles now out-of-print. Some of the essays seem unnecessarily short. I would love to see Skurnick write longer essays covering all the books of a single author, or combine her insights on multiple books that share the same theme.
Reading SHELF DISCOVERY is a reintroduction to many of my favorite books and authors. It also allowed me to rediscover myself as a young reader. But the power of the book is not in the nostalgia factor of revisiting books I know and love. Instead, its strength is the dignity it brings to young adult literature and to the act of reading itself. Reading is often viewed as a solitary act. SHELF DISCOVERY is a reminder that reading connects us to other readers and writers, providing a common frame of reference through which we can share our own lives.
--- Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood
I'm going to try and encourage my book club to read this book, paired with some of the YA adult classics she talks about. I also wish so many of these books weren't out of print. Time to get away from the kindle and get to the library, I suppose!
Speaking of the kindle - the covers of the books she is writing about show up really well. I actually was pretty amazed at that bit of formatting. What is not good - you cannot really tell when the normal writing begins/ends and when places where she is quoting passages begin/end. It's a little annoying but not insurmountable.
Ha, what does a male reader do with a book whose very introduction is called "Getting my Period"? The author has been blogging about her old favorites for years, and she has recruited a number of prominent female writers to help her flesh out the world of YA literature. My favorite, Laura Lippman, begins her preface by alluding to her fondness for the "Beany Malone" novels of Lenora Mattingly Weber--that's cool, she's one of my top ten American writers (and thank goodness all of the Beany Malone books are back in print, courtesy of the high-end reprint house Image/Cascade).
Not everyone will enjoy Lizzie's own style which is heavy on the verbs and adjectives and really, really, into enthusiasm. She is continually trying to be amusing, and often succeeds, but I didn't really laugh at her allusions to the "fetish porn" of 19th century writing, the lengthy descriptions of the young heroine's costumes. It was OK, but she's reaching, however, what do I know. I'm only a guy. I came away from the book with a medium sized list of books that sort of sound good that I might look up, and then next I'll go to the Lenora Mattingly Weber website and offer to send my copy of Shelf Discovery to a deserving female reader. See ya!
Setting that aside, though, Shelf Discovery is a thoroughly enjoyable trip back through the books you may have grown up with - and the ones that helped you grow up - especially if you were growing up during the 1970's and '80's. Lizzie Skurnick has been discussing YA literature, and how it's influenced the women we've become, online for a while; those essays are expanded here, and joined by guest contributions from Laura Lippman, Meg Cabot, Jennifer Weiner, and others. The book is divided into ten genre/thematic sections, including tearjerkers, thrillers, romances, "issues" literature, and the adult, "dirty" books that we really were too young for; the essays themselves are labeled "book reports" or, for less-remembered titles, "extra credit." (By the way, "essays" is too dry a term to describe the writing here, but it fits the form.)
I re-encountered many books that have stayed with me over the years, was reminded of some I'd forgotten, and came across others that I hadn't heard of before. Some of the books in the last category came out toward the end of my own YA years (I graduated high school in 1982), and it seemed like when I checked in on that part of the bookstore a few years later, many of the books I remembered - books with some substance to them, in addition to engrossing stories and memorable characters - couldn't be found any more; it was all Sweet Valley High. (No offense.) But perhaps I was wrong back then. Many of my book-blogging, YA-lit-loving friends would tell me that I'm wrong about the YA books that are out there now. Reading Shelf Discovery has been a strong nudge in their direction.
Recommendation: For women who were avid girl readers, especially those in their 30's and 40's who enjoyed the contemporary youth literature of their time.
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