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YA Before YA: What My Parents Read

My last post covered the history of YA as a genre and a movement - from the inauguration of YALSA to the creation of the Printz award. Today, I want to talk about the history of YA as it pertains to an individual. Specifically, to my father. 

I would probably not be a reader or a writer today if it wasn't for my family. The first gift my stepfather ever gave me was the boxed set of The Chronicles of Narnia. My dad wove his stories into our bedtime rituals; the next day, we wrote down everything I remembered about the characters and the plot, while he illustrated our makeshift books with cartoonish mice and bears.

So it matters to me, and to my personal history, how my family came to love literature. My dad was reading books long before the Printz award came to be - so what were the books that shaped his teenage mind? I asked if he had time to sit down with me (on the phone) for a while and answer that question. 

Dad: Hello!

Me: Hi! Are you ready to go?

Dad: I am! I've never been interviewed by my daughter. This is a first. Please edit me with extreme prejudice.

Me: I will. I promise. Okay. So... What's the first book you can remember reading as a young teenager?

Dad: Well, we had required reading - so I remember reading A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens. I remember reading... which one had Pippin in it?

MeGreat Expectations?

Dad: Right, Great Expectations. But that was required reading - before I got into science fiction. I think mandatory reading is fine, but you have to get kids outside of the required reading. That didn't happen for me until later. The great thing about YA as a genre is that I think you're getting teenagers interested in reading sooner than you would if they didn't have it.

Me: What were some of your favorite stories, once you started reading for fun?

Dad: When I got into tenth grade I actually had a science fiction class, and that's when I really enjoyed reading. We had to read a book a week. I think that class is the reason why science fiction has impacted me so much as an adult. We didn't have lessons - we just talked about the books. "Wasn't that scene amazing?" "What do you think about the science - do you think we'll ever see that technology?" We talked so much about time travel. I think the first book I really got excited about was Ringworld (Larry Nivven).

Later on, I started reading more that wasn't "pure" science fiction, like Michael Crichton and Dean Koontz. I enjoyed them. I really got into Clancy and other war-related books. There happened to be science in there, but it was mostly the science of mass destruction. [Laughs]

Even now, the books I've most enjoyed - including the YA you've turned me onto - I gravitate toward science. Ender's Game, Hunger Games. I think it's really the way my high school professor presented that genre, the way he just loved to talk about it. For our final, we had to write a 500 word essay on what we got out of the class. It was probably one of the first As I got in high school. [Laughs]

Oh, and another favorite - back to my sci-fi roots again - a short story, True Names, by Vernor Vinge. That one's all about the persona we create in a virtual world, and how it's different from our real selves. I read that one in college, after high school - maybe '86, '87. I was just starting to work for TRW. We were learning about computers and what they could do, what they might mean - and then I read this book, all about that. Nowadays, that's nothing new; we know all about virtual worlds. But at the time, it was so interesting to me.

Me: So it was really the world-building that you gravitated toward?

Dad: Yes, future worlds - and also the science behind whatever the world was. In the case of Jurassic Park, what interested me immediately was the fact that they could bring back these dinosaurs from fossilized DNA - that was exciting! And Timeline was all about traveling back to the Middle Ages, and the fact that when they come back from the past their bodies are just slightly different, with bones that have shifted, deteriorated...

Me: All of those subtle details.

Dad: Yeah.

Me: What kind of reader were you as a young adult?

Dad: When I got into an author, I rarely moved away from them. It's probably a crutch. For four weeks straight, I read all the Bradbury I could find - his big ones, anyway. Then I started looking for award winners, and I'd read them. I never ventured too far away from the big novels, because I knew those would be good. You don't win Nebulas and Hugos unless you're a good writer.

Because I am a loving daughter, I respected my dad's requests and edited this interview mercilessly. This is not a full transcript of our conversation. But, all the same, I'm so thankful my father took the time to talk about his favorite reads, as a young adult living in a world before the YA phenomenon. 

Thanks for reading!
Kristin Briana Otts

Kristin is an aspiring YA author with an abiding love for her dog, ghost hunter tv shows, and rainy days.

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  1. Very cool interview. I always tell my students that they are so lucky to have a whole section in the library and bookstore full of books. Even when I was a teen it wasn't to the extent it is now.

    1. It's such a strange thing to question what I would've read as a kid if I didn't have the resources of YA and children's lit. I probably would have done exactly what my dad did - gravitated entirely toward sci-fi and fantasy.

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  3. This has got to be easily one of the most smile-inducing YA posts I've read in quite some time, and if I'm being perfectly honest, really inspired me to do some more writing for the night. It's a good feeling to know that people of all ages do remember the books that shaped them and excited them as a young adult, and it's just another wonderful reminder of why I love to write for this genre. Absolutely stellar post!

    1. I am so glad you enjoyed it! I had a really fun time with this "history of YA" series... but this is probably one of my favorite posts ever. :)


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Item Reviewed: YA Before YA: What My Parents Read Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Briana Otts