Friday, April 27, 2007

And a round of applause...

...for (in my opinion) the best book cover of the semester: Born to Rock. I love this cover (sigh). And -- tada! -- I figured out how to add an image all by myself!
Anyway. I enjoyed the story, too, and saw its relation to identity in multiple ways. First, and perhaps most obviously, Leo Caraway is trying to understand himself through trying to get to know his dad, King Maggot, formerly Marion McMurphy. In the beginning, he talks about "the McMurphy in me" (as a side note, I find that an interesting reference, since it made me constantly think of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) that rises up and causes problems. He sort of separates himself from these urges to do anything hurtful or distructive, even when he overcomes these urges, such as by remaining fairly calm with his avoidant mother when he wants to yell. Towards the end, he comes not only to accept these urges as his own, rather than blaming them on his birth father, he also accepts the turn off events that show his father is really Bernie, the sleazy manager. Instead of wondering if he's doomed to be like his father, Leo has already managed to accept himself pretty well, and even determines not to bring this up with his mother, a very kind act even allowing for her somewhat irrational puzzle method of avoiding uncomfortable subjects.

Another issue of identity is one that I thought of after reading "Identity Matters," in which Sarah McCarthey and Elizabeth Moje discuss their reluctance to mention certain identities, such as motherhood, in certain settings. I was reminded of the hard time a lot of people gave Leo for being part of the Young Republicans, which admittedly he was partly interested in because of a cute girl, but as he also says in the book, it was a cause he really believed in. Furthermore, some of his friends had an idea of what that identity meant, though their ideas were often different from Leo's own understanding of it. That happens a lot to both teens and adults who, as a result, become reluctant to disclose some identities for fear others will misunderstand.
Works Cited:
McCarthey, Sarah J. and Elizabeth Birr Moje. "Identity Matters." Reading Research Quarterly. 37.2 (2002): 228-238.
Korman, Gordan. Born to Rock. New York: Hyperion, 2006.

Identifying Others

"Identity Matters" by Sarah J. McCarthey and Elizabeth Birr Moje briefly mentioned a point that was especially important to me as a teen -- how others perceived me because of my identity of "teen." Describing people's reactions when she brought four teens to the mall, Elizabeth says, "Each of these interactions reveal something about how teens, in particular, are positioned on the basis of their identities: They are people who are challenging to be with (you lucky woman), people to be wary of (the wide berth), and people who are not typically sweet of nice (the ice cream treat)" (229).

When I was a teen, a local store instituted a policy of having only two teenagers inside a store at once. (If I was there with two friends, would they have kicked me out?) Recently, two local malls decided that after a certain time, teens have to be with an adult. (What should teens do if they need to buy a Christmas present for their parents and don't want them to see what it is?) It bothered me as a teen, and it bothers me now that the majority of teens gets punished by a few who cause trouble.

So what's the library's role in all this? I think it's important for librarians to avoid labels such as teens as "problem patrons." Even if we don't dislike teens as a group, we need to be aware of our own labelling, and what we expect different groups to be or act like -- the jocks, the nerds, or what have you. When someone identifies themselves as part of one of these groups, all of us have a picture in our heads of what that label means. Teens have their own ideas of the identity "librarian," and I bet it's one we want to change. Finally, by providing a variety of books and programs, we can expose teens to a variety of backgrounds and people groups, and in so doing we can work towards challenging the stereotypes they have of various identities.

Works Cited:
McCarthey, Sarah J. and Elizabeth Birr Moje. "Identity matters." Reading Research Quarterly. 77.2 (2002): 228-238.

My Identity...My Self

While reading the articles for this week, I was really struck by how complex an idea "identity" or the "self" is. I realized that another sign of my becoming an adult is that I haven't thought about my own identity in some time. Though I wouldn't have necessarily put it into these terms, as a teen I often thought about my various "identities," and how differently I acted in different settings -- for example, how I acted at work versus how I acted at home. I was very shy with co-workers and patrons when I first started as a page in my teens. On the other hand, at home I was talkative, often interrupting people without meaning to because I was used to fast-paced conversations with my friends.

As a teen, this behavior really bothered me because I felt that in some situations, I wasn't really being "myself." I think that genuineness is important to teens I know now, just as it was to me then. I wonder if they struggle, like I did, to define themselves and figure out the difference that Bronwyn Williams notes between "identity" and "self." He writes, "If my sense of self is internal and somewhat stable, my sense of identity is external, socially contingent, and performed. My identity is a shifting and contextual thing. I negotiate and adjust it depending on my social context and the social script I am expected to follow -- my identity may change from one context to the next" (179). I think one of the reasons I worred about my behavior in different social settings was because I wasn't making this distinction -- external vs. internal, social construct vs. integral to me as a person. I wonder if my stress came not so much from feeling like I was acting different from my "self," but from not knowing in which situation I was doing so. Was I really talkative and friendly, or shy and quiet? Which did I want to be? How much choice did I have?

Part of being a teenager isn't just navigating identities, such as daughter, sister, student and employee, but also discovering the self - interests, beliefs, and desires for the future. If I no longer like what interested me as a child, where do my interests lie? Why do my parents/friends/teachers believe as they do, and what do I think? What career do I want? In some ways, a library is a great place to begin such an investigation. Books, both fiction and non-fiction, explore different people, situations, and interests. But I wonder if the library could do a better job in being a place teens feel they are being themselves. Are librarians intimidating or approachable? Does "Can I help you?" sound more like "Why are you here?" Sometimes unintentionally, we give teens the idea that the library is only for serious students and readers, and if they aren't like that, they may feel they have to be someone they aren't in order to be welcomed.

Works Cited:
Williams, Bronwyn T. "The Face in the Mirror, the Person on the Page." Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. 47.2 (2003): 178-182.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Confessions of a Former English Major

I think I was reading too much into Anansi Boys. Maybe it's partly because I was an English major in undergrad (it's only been a year...), but I was reading it with many thoughts in mind:
  • Do I like this story?
  • Would a teen like this story?
  • How does this fit in with the personal identity asset?

My answers:

  • I liked the story.
  • I'm not sure. I wouldn't have read it as a teen, and I couldn't find reviews on Amazon by teens.
  • Introverts are bad?

Like I said, maybe I'm reading too much into it. I'm interested in what other people in the class thought. I liked the book, the story of two brothers, Spider and Charles, who never met and eventually have to work together to survive, and how Fat Charlie started out kind of boring and embarrassed by his dad and really took control of his life. Though it was fun to watch his character change, I couldn't help but think, the way his character is described in the beginning, it seems like shy, introverted ("boring") people need to change. Being a rather introverted, shy person myself, I find this rather troubling. I had a sort of mixed reaction towards Fat Charlie, because while I enjoyed Charlie's change (I noticed, like a good English major, that at the beginning, he had his father's nickname for him, "Fat Charlie," but as his character changed, his name changed to Charlie in the narration), I couldn't help agreeing with him quite a bit at the beginning. His dad was kind of lacksadaisical, a poor father figure. I would have been embarrassed if my dad were like that. But I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, just a personality thing. Some people don't like the limelight, and get kind of embarrassed when people pay attention to them "by default," because someone nearby, like a parent or friend, is being, well, noticeable. Does it help or hinder teens' feeling about themselves if they think they need to change to be able to like themselves? I don't know.

So now that I've been extremely critical, I should say again that I really enjoyed the story, and I really am looking forward to hearing what everyone else thought. :-)

Deep Reading or Light?

I've been thinking about last week's discussion about "literature" vs. "fluff." The debate over what books children and teens *should* read is one that's been important to me for a long time. I always cringe when I hear parents tell their kids not to read the books they like because they're afraid the books aren't good enough, because it seems to me to discourage reading in general, as well as undermining the child or teen's interests.

Not being a parent myself, I can only say what I've observed as an outsider. It seems to me that people have a variety of interests, all of which could be constructive uses of time, that are not necessarily reading. I think of my own family: I was always the huge reader, one of my brothers is a huge music fan, and the other brother loves movies. We all read, though I read the most, and each of my brothers brings a depth to their interests in music and movies that I don't share with them. Not all children and teens will develop into huge readers. Some of them will never read classics. Some of them will not be interested in books in the same way as an English major. I think that's OK.

I don't think the point of having lighter reads is so that, eventually, a teen will move on to more in-depth literature. I don't have a problem with suggesting a classic I think someone will like based on their other reading choices, or offering it as one of many choices. But at the same time, I think that light reads should be enjoyed for themselves, not as bridges to the award winners. Personally, I do not think that award winners are always the best books. They often seem to me to be written, whether through subject matter or in-jokes, for adults. This doesn't mean that kids will never like them or read them, just that they won't understand the depth that seems to mean so much to those who hand out the awards. One example that comes to my mind is The Tale of Despereaux, a recent Newbery Award winner. One of the chapter names is a play on "The sandman cometh," and a rat is named Chiarascuro (in art, the interplay of light and dark). And yet, the cover of the audiobook says "For ages 7 and up"? It was a cute enough story, but...I don't know. I think adults have a tough time reading like kids.

Works cited:
DiCamillo, Kate. The Tale of Despereax. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2003.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Insert "Drama" Here

I said at the beginning of the semester that the one word I would use to describe my teenage years was "drama." The Hookup Artist by Tucker Shaw perfectly captures the sort of drama I was remembering. Who likes who, who might like who, who can't you talk to for a week because they're mad at you? For me, this was one of the most painful and awkward parts of being a teenager. For the most part, I really enjoyed my teenage years, but this whole aspect of it, the painfully conscious social interactions, especially those related to relationships...even as a teen, I really wanted to leave this behind.

So, as you may expect, The Hookup Artist would not have been on the top of my reading list as a teen. I would have preferred something like Avalon High, which I could relate to my own life in some ways, but could still feel like I was separated, like I wasn't reliving my own uncomfortable experiences. In class, we've talked about why certain teen shows didn't fly...I think it's because they were too real for most teens and adults that wanted to forget the more painful and awkward social interactions.

That being said, I can see why some teens would like a book like The Hookup Artist. As a teen, I really wouldn't have wanted to relive the emotions I was going through. I wanted to read about other worlds, other times, and experiences different from my own. But for some teens, just knowing that someone is going through the same thing, that these awkward circumstances and complicated feels are normal is a huge boost. Just knowing that someone else -- even in a fictional story -- went through it and survived is really supportive and empowering.

Figuring Yourself Out

That's actually what comes to mind when I think of social competencies. As a teenager, I had to figure out my role at home, at work, and in my group of friends. I had to get used to the questions every adult seems bound to ask a teenager --Where are you going to college? What are you going to major in? -- and learn how to answer "I don't know; how should I know what I want to do with my life now?" in a socially acceptable way. I had to figure out what my role was, what I wanted it to be, and how to articulate that.

In Avalon High, Ellie has to do the same. I think it's no accident that readers can figure out who everyone "is" by page 30. Ellie (Elaine), after all, has to be Lady of Shalott. It only makes sense. It's who her mother named her after, and what Mr. Morton -- and, to some extent, the reader -- expects. "Everything" seems to point there. The role is ready for her. She just has to step up and do it. The only problem is that she doesn't want it. She refuses to accept that she really is the Lady of Shalott, and in the end, that's why she succeeds. Because of her empathy for Will, she refuses to stay out of the way like she "should." As a result, history isn't repeated. I also loved that she refused to believe that she had to play a role. Even after handing the sword to Will and being revealed as the Lady of the Lake, she refuses to be defined by that: " 'I'm not the Lady of the Lake,' I said firmly....Besides, what if it is true? If you really are Arthur; and I really am Lady of the Lake. . .well, then this isn't how the story's supposed to go, is it? With us, I mean. Together. Like this" (287-288).* Elaine was a pretty independent character to begin with, but what she and the reader learn is that you don't have to accept the role that everyone thinks is designed for you. You need to make your own way.

A lot of what I've said so far can really be said for the next asset we're going to discuss, "Positive Identity," but I think that, especially as a teenager, these two are linked. Much of the way I figured out who I was and what I wanted to be was in my interractions with my friends. What did they expect of me? Is that what I wanted? Decision-making was partially wrapped up in what I wanted, partially in what everyone else wanted or expected. Resisting peer pressure is easier when you know who you are, or as in Elaine's case, who you aren't.

*Works Cited:
Cabot, Meg. Avalon High. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.