My Literary Achilles’ Heel

During our lunch break at the ALAN conference this past November, my friends and I were discussing which breakout session to attend.  There was quite a bit of debate, because much of our decision was based on which authors we wanted to listen to.  I was originally planning on attending the session about Chicago as a setting in YA, but I didn’t for two reasons.  One reason was that our lunch took FOREVER (that poor restaurant was packed and understaffed), but the other reason was because of something Donalyn Miller said.  She of course wanted to listen to Chris Crutcher and Matt de la Peña (and who wouldn’t?!), but her primary reason for attending was because sports fiction is her Achilles’ heel.  This  really made me think because I know which genres are my least favorite, but I never thought about putting a name to it (Thank you, Donalyn!).

I’m bringing this post up because it’s been on my mind, but now even more so after winning my Teacher of the Year award.  I received a $500 check to use in my classroom, and I’m thinking about spending it on books–real predictable, right? 😉  On Thursday I told my students about it and asked them for their input on how I should spend the money.  We all agreed that a spinning book rack would be great because we could display books according to genre.  That’s easy enough, and something I’ve wanted to purchase for a while, but then I started thinking about my literary Achilles’ heel again.  I love contemporary fiction and plenty of the paranormal fiction that’s been released, although I’ll admit I’m getting worn out trying to keep up with so many series, but that’s another post altogether.  I know I could be better about reading more sports fiction, but I think I’m doing alright, especially now that one of my YA Lit students keeps reading them before me and recommending them.  Plus I love Chris Crutcher’s novels and couldn’t get enough of Geoff Herbach’s Stupid Fast, just as a couple examples.  I’ve been beefing up my knowledge of graphic novels, and in the process I’ve found that I really enjoy them.  I love novels in verse, so that part of my library is ever expanding, even though I know that’s not a genre of YA.  My greatest Achilles’ heel is high fantasy and science fiction.

I grew up loving fantasy.  I remember reading every unicorn book I could find when I was in elementary and middle school.  The Bunnicula books, even though those aren’t exactly fantasy, were some of my favorites.  I tried reading The Hobbit in 6th grade, and even though I didn’t finish it, I remember really enjoying it.  I could picture the setting and the characters easily.  In high school my dad handed me a copy of The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart.  I couldn’t get enough of that book!  I was over the moon in 10th grade when we started our King Arthur unit.  I wrote my essay on the Lady of the Lake and actually enjoyed doing the research (I didn’t enjoy the research involved for my Oliver Wendell Holmes essay in 11th grade–I had no choice in my author assignment).  So why do I struggle now to enjoy high fantasy novels?  I read Graceling by Kristin Cashore and adored it.  I tried reading the companion, Fire, but even though I’ve tried reading it twice now, I can’t stick with it.  I am looking forward to the release of Bitterblue.  I tried the first in The Heir Chronicles by Cinda Williams Chima, but that was really a struggle.  I have no desire to finish the series, but I do have all the books in my class library.  I’ve heard great things about the Seven Realms series, so I’m thinking about trying that.  My students requested that I buy the rest of the Eragon series, which I did yesterday, but even those I don’t really care for.  I might not like Eragon because I saw the movie first, but I still don’t know if I want to read them.

 Science fiction has never been a genre that I enjoy reading.  I read Insignia by S.J. Kincaid (releases in July 2012–review coming closer to the release date) and loved it.  It’s about gaming and virtual reality, so I’d qualify it as science fiction.  I read Tempest by Julie Cross, and even though there are some plot points that I didn’t like, I enjoyed reading the novel overall.  The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness could be seen as dystopian, but I also look at it as science fiction because it takes place on a different planet, much like Beth Revis’s Across the Universe and A Million Suns.  I’m not sure what I’m missing in this genre.  I’ve obviously enjoyed a few novels that fit within in, so why don’t I find myself reading more novels in this genre?

I’m writing about all of this because I feel like I’m letting my students down, in particular the students who do enjoy reading these genres.  I have a few titles that I can discuss with them and recommend, but I don’t have enough to feel like I’m doing a good enough job.  Does anyone else feel like this?  What’s your literary Achilles’ heel?  And if you love these genres, please leave me some recommendations!  I have that money to spend, so I want to buy some worthy YA titles in each genre to provide for my students.  And since I don’t have that much going on this weekend (FINALLY!), I think I’m going to break out of my comfort zone and try reading one or two.  So please, if you have any recommendations, or if you feel the same way I do about these genres or others, leave me a comment 🙂

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