30 June 2009

Popular! I’ll Help You Be Popular!

Josie Leavitt at Shelftalker recently wrote about young customers asking for books that they know are popular, but--she suspects--won't hold any other interest for them:

School let out on Friday and since then I've had four nine-year-old girls ask for one or more books in the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. Now, don't get me wrong, I think Twilight is a fine series. I enjoyed it immensely when I read it. I am forty-four, not nine. I'm not sure what to do with this current phenomenon. I don't like to judge purchases by anyone in my store, but this troubles me.

These bouncy, pigtailed nine-year-olds seem to have no reason to read these books other than "my friends are reading it." They don't even like boys. I find asking them "Do you like boys?" is a great weeding-out question for some of the younger set. A giggle, and a sheepish "no" can usually sway them away from any book, except Twilight.
Because Twilight is so popular, and perhaps even a marker of maturity.

This reminds me of a story I read on the Child_Lit email list a coupla years ago. A school librarian had noticed that a bunch of young boys were taking out different Harry Potter books each week. She knew their reading skills weren't up to finishing those books, certainly not at the speed they circulated. The boys just wanted to have the popular books in their hands.

She heard those boys sitting around a table, discussing the books. Not what they had read, of course. No, they were comparing size: "I've got the biggest one." Girls might compete to be the most mature, but boys compete to be the biggest.

Of course, we book-lovers outgrow the need to be seen reading the popular titles, right? Mature book bloggers would never be racing to announce that they've already read Catching Fire, would they?


Jen Robinson said...

"Mature book bloggers would never be racing to announce that they've already read Catching Fire, would they?" I can only "ouch". Seriously, though, I did like Josie's article, and your story about young boys comparing sizes of HP books is very funny.

AliceB said...

I've never outgrown this. Which explains why, for years, I've been carting around several philosophy books that I've never read; and that cutting edge SF/fantasy novel; and those really popular MG books folks were raving about. . . I'm sure I'll get to them at some point. Right?

J. L. Bell said...

I wish I could find the original source for that Potter story, Jen. I know it was one of the fine librarians on Child_Lit, but the list is so old it has no useful search function.

That's my second favorite phallosymbolic school-age anecdote of the last five years.

J. L. Bell said...

Eventually, AliceB, our ebook readers will start to fill up with those books we keep meaning to read. And the worst part is, they won't show other people that we're the type of people who read those types of books!

AliceB said...

Oh I'm sure we'll be able to flash our libraries in some way. Conspicuous consumption dates back to the ancient Egyptians (and I bet the Sumerians before them). I have the utmost confidence in our marketing overlords who will figure out how to show off our reading chops, somehow.

p.s. So inquiring minds want to know: what was your favorite phallosymbolic school-age anecdote of the last five years?