If you were to name the last five books you read, would any of them be written by Meg Cabot, or would they more likely be written by Kafka? Did you place a value judgement on that question? If so, why? What about The Princess Diaries makes it seem like a lesser choice if compared to, let’s say, Frankenstein? Both are epistolary works, and both have had a lasting effect on popular culture.
I posed the initial question because I’ve noticed when readers and writers reach a certain age, they no longer wish to associate with the YA genre. Some people even refuse to ever having read such “fluff.” Those people are liars, or just really missing out. What’s wrong with having read The Golden Compass at age fourteen or age twenty-seven? Why put a time stamp on books that talk to our younger selves when these are the books, more likely than not, to have a lasting effect on who we love to read now and how we write. I’d hazard a guess Harry Potter has influenced some graduate students’ leanings toward twentieth-century magical realism or post-modernism. I wouldn’t have found Ismael Reed if not for J.K. Rowling—and I reread both works with equal pleasure.
There’s this tendency in literary circles to look down on contemporary writers or readers of YA, as if a book is not of high value if it is too easy to read. As if these books that spoke to our fledgling identities or gave us wonderment outside our homes or in a very real sense shaped our understanding of the world don’t count now that we writers strive to create our own worlds. What about these books means they can’t continue to shape our understanding of the world? I’ll be the first to admit to still cruise through the YA section at the local Barnes and Nobles; not only do I find such books enjoyable, but it’s enlightening to know both what lives are represented on mainstream shelves, and which are not. As writers, we should be aware of what gaps still need to be filled in within that genre, and to where such books can lead outside of the genre.
When I get stuck writing, I don’t always turn to Brontë or Murakami (though I love them both) as I didn’t find them until later in my reading; they don’t carry the same weight as those writers I relied on when growing up. More often I turn to Francesca Lia Block, as her works have a very direct relation to what my voice is on the page.
I think we should ask ourselves ‘Who’s influenced me to read who’s influenced me?’ as a question without a finished answer, for such reflection of our younger selves may open up new ideas towards the writing process. It offers unexpected insight, to be sure—oh, and full disclosure, my answer to the first question included Megan McCafferty and Clarice Lispector.
Makensi Ceriani is a first year writer at Virginia Tech and poetry reader for the minnesota review.