I recently attended my first book club meeting, just to see what a book club meeting entails. When you're the guest of honor, it's quite nice, actually. People treat you as if you are intelligent, as if your opinions and thoughts matter (not like here where I am regarded as something of a dumbass). And it was at this book club where a question was brought up about getting kids to read. And once again, because I was the guest of honor, I got to field the question and have people nod into their mimosas and mutter, "Mmm, yes, valid point."
Someone had brought up the idea that children need to be pushed on to the classics so that they can learn the power of literature at an early age. I'll tell you what, if I'd been forced to read the collected works of Knut Hamsun at nine, I too would have gone into the forest; only it would have been to shoot myself. I can't even imagine a young me tackling Franz Kafka... "Just get into the damn castle already!" It would have been the equivalent of me discovering pornography at that age... "This? This is what adults are so excited about? And where the hell's her penis?"
No, I think that it is much more valuable to get kids turned on to the so-called "junk books" and to comic books and to anything that encourages free thinking and production of imagination. Anyone who reads my column with any sort of regularity already knows that I was an abuser of "junk books" as a youth, and as an end result, for better or for worse, I am a writer today. Of course, I'm not saying that if your child reads literature with a less than worldly agenda he'll turn into an author too... no, your kid's an idiot -- but other children, certainly.
Now I recognize that I was even a bit of an anomaly as a child, because I so eagerly took to reading whereas other children skewed towards dating and off-track betting. So therein, lies the ultimate question, the thesis of today's column (yes, yes, if I were intelligent or even a good writer I should have addressed this question in the first paragraph, I know... but remember, you're the one with the stupid kid, not me): How to get kids to read again.
The good news is the answer has already begun to manifest itself in our consciousness. Books like Pride & Prejudice & Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter are going to be the saving grace of literature. But they're just the beginning. We need to rewrite all literature to be more ACCESSIBLE (that's my new buzzword) to modern youth. We're going through a cultural shift and the so-called "morons" that were born after my generation are the pioneers of a new sensibility. Gone are old conventions, like preservation of classic literature and art. That's grandpa stuff, dammit! It's time to put tits on the Mona Lisa and digitize Big Ben. Do modern youth want to see Stonehenge? They would if it was remodeled into a motocross track. Instead of Huckleberry Finn navigating the Mississippi with his Negro friend, Jim, you write it as Agent Huck Steel: Demon Puncher, aided by his stripper girlfriend, Trixii Delicious. What happened to his Negro friend Jim? Apparently African Americans didn't test well with the youth literary market.
No longer can our children be expected to come to us, we have to go to them. It's easier than it sounds... we've already morally outlawed spankings and giving teachers freedom in disciplining them. We already schedule our weekends around their soccer games and mall excursions; completely re-scripting literature and our society to meet their needs is the next logical step. Because if we don't, they might not think we're cool.
Follow Jeff Klima on Twitter: www.twitter.com/OhJeff