On Girls and Books

Almost a year ago I was invited to talk about vampires in Literature in an event called “Psychoanalysis and Theater” held by the Psychology School on campus. When the organizer called me she said: we´d like you to speak a little about the Twilight phenomenon among teenagers, especially girls between ages 13 and 20.

We had a great discussion on whether Twilight was really about vampires or it was a love and coming of age story, and vampires were the selling trend. I believe the latter, although a lot of people are concerned about their children reading “those kind of books”, either because of the vampires or because it is not “high literature”.

Quite recently, in another discussion about Literature, a woman whose work I admire, said she had given The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir to her daughter, as a gift for her 13th birthday.

I´m sure she did that out of great love, given the person she is, and maybe her daughter enjoyed it more that her mother wishes her to be a free woman, than the reading itself. I don´t know, but it certainly got me thinking. The Second Sex was a great book for me, and I wish my daughter reads it one day, but I don´t think that giving it to her in her teens will make that happen. Maybe if I hide it from her then, she might be interested.

What should thirteen-year-old girls be reading, if that´s anybody´s business, other than their own? Should we really be “concerned” about what they´re reading? Should we try to intervene and provide them with liberating texts that might help shape the women they  come to be (in our vain imagination)?  Right now, my answer would be NO.

People choose to read certain books for many reasons, all of them having to do with whom they are as individuals. We need stories to take inner journeys, and depending on what´s inside each one of us, the stories will change. It might even be something temporary: a certain genre that helps us find some answers to immediate questions. Of course, we don´t realize it when we choose to read the stories. It happens naturally, if we have the opportunity to choose, that is to say, if books are available and within reach.

Should we recommend books to teenage girls? Yes, if they allow us to. If we´re able to see them as individuals full of life (and hormones), and not as empty canvases. If we´re able to establish a dialogue with them, where we should listen more than talk, then, yes, book recommendations might happen. Both ways.

I´m not very concerned about choosing the correct book to give my or anybody else´s girls as I am about listening to what they have to say, and about helping them look at their lives as their own doing. I want to help them become inquisitive, open-minded individuals.

And then they´ll be able to make their own choices.

Maybe the best thing we can do for our daughters – at any age- regarding books, is to let them read whatever they want to. There´s no experience more liberating than choosing a book with our own hands and savoring it by ourselves in a very special place. Allowing our girls to do that is to set them free. It´s love.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “On Girls and Books

  1. Rebb

    Hi Lu,
    The event you spoke at sounds so very interesting. I would have loved to have been in the audience!

    I enjoyed your essay–very thought provoking, as usual. Even though I will probably not have children, if I did, I would remember the advice you offer here. It is wise and I can see how it would be difficult for me not to want to suggest books to my daughter for my own love of books, but as you say, what better love than to allow our daughters to choose for themselves. Priceless! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Hi Rebb!
    Glad you stopped by! 🙂
    A very common mistake that we adults make is to see young people as a mass of humans with the same features. Teachers do that a lot. I know because I´ve caught myself doing that. Librarians and researchers do that too.
    You know, for many teenage girls, especially the ones at risk, the smile and the welcoming and disarmed posture of an adult woman who´s willing to listen is worth millions. It doesn´t need to be their mother´s.

  3. Hi Lu,

    In schools, I used to get a list of recommended books, and I tried to read them all which was impossible. But nothing I did or someone did I cannot say it was the best because I have nothing to compare with others’ experience. The only thing I did for my kids was to go to the local library every week and drop off our books and while there, we borrow more books. That we repeated while thery were growing up, and on out trips, we always went to the best known bookstore in touwn and bought whatever books they wanted.

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