Brighton treats you to quite a few unique book shops, full of very old, many second-hand, books.
The shops, in fact, look more like underground bunkers cluttered with authentic relics from the time of yore than the glamorous Barnes&Noble-type or the more common melange ones I had written about a while ago.
It made me think that countries’ (or cities’) bookstores (or the lack of any) reflect on its inhabitants – the way they dress, their lifestyle.
No wonder Brighton looks so hippie, grungy even, and many of its inhabitants dress up like they are part of a medieval play (any play, really).
The atmosphere is fantastic!
You can come across Marry Popins’ look-alikes, hens party-goers dressed in commando gear, gays wearing Kylie Minogue’s golden panties, and lots of lonesome fellas arguing with themselves on the street.
You feel like putting your own pink glasses on and turning your pants upside down just to fit in with the merry crowd.
And to be a real seagull (if you want to resemble an old bookstore) throw in a chaise-lounge on the Pier and Green’s the Brighton Rock.
Then, there are the big WHSmith stores and Waterstones that you’ll come across in Brighton as well as across the UK.
Their respectable audience’s attire would be suits, blackberries, skinny latte to-go, and a business acquisition by workday’s end.
And because of my specialisation – media use, meanings and literacy among teenagers and young adults – I checked the titles of teen literature in both types of bookstores: the grungy second-hand hippie ones, and the big mass market money makers (are they still?).
Both types of shops – little-old-second-hand and WHSmith-type – impressed me and shocked me at the same time.
The hippie shops sold old titles by authors like Tolkien, Lewis, Dickens, and Dahl.
Some of the editions were so old that the paper was peeling, the images were pale, the binding was falling apart.
These books rested like exhausted, retired wizards on shelves, in cardboard boxes, and in one case – in a wicker basket.
I thought, how much would a Wolf Larson or an Oliver Twist mean to teenagers today, if it is not for the school systems to obligate them to pay heed.
Tastes change, as with everything in life, granted.
But, are classics long gone for young people today?
Moreover, are we witnessing the process of remaking the notion of classics?
I pondered some more over the possibility that what I am taught to call classics may become obsolete, meaningless even, to my children when they become teens.
I even felt nostalgic of some of those books I grew up with and re-read as time went by.
Will young people today read Lord of the Flies, Call of the Wild, and Huckleberry Finn?
Moreover, is it a good thing, if young people today are moving away from ‘old stuff’ to allow the ‘new stuff’ to come, in case the ‘new stuff’ might offer some new enlightenment?
Am I, as a parent, going to insist on my teenagers to read Animal Farm, Hitchhiker’s Guide, Miss Marple, or the funny Jeeves?
Will classical books and characters be démodé by the time we can offer them to those who’re still under 5 today?
Have classics become that old?
Questions poured in as I swept the dust off this classic book and the next.
The Glossy New
Then, there were the titles I came across in the big book stores.
You can see from the image above.
Everything black (and red) is vampire stories.
The rest – white, pink and variations of purple or pink – ushy-mushy love stories or how to look pretty, awesome, and fabulous.
I jotted down some of the titles from personal interest:
Noughts & Crosses
Unleashed (are you scared yet?)
Witch of Love
Night World (isn’t it for all of the above?)
Then, there were these:
A trilogy: The Luxe | Envy | Splendour (guess what’s that about)
Crazy Things Girls Do for Love
Stop in the Name of Pants: Fab New Confessions of Georgia Nicolson
My head was spinning.
And it wasn’t because of the choice of genre.
But for the fact that these titles look radically different from what I used to have as choice in my teen years (besides that the presentation was even more limited on colour, images and marketing persuasion back 20 years ago than it is today).
I left WHSmith with ever more thoughts about books in general and the teen mass market titles (mentioned above), specifically.
I wondered what each of these books were really about and how, if at all, they measured up to the language, narratives, and motives of classical literature.
I don’t mean that comparison between modern and classic literature is necessary.
It is more the researcher in me thinking of how this teen literature will affect young people and reflect onto a young person’s understanding of belonging, affection, goals, values, meanings.
Only a test could provide some answers.
Just like one of those of TV portrayal of violence and its effects on kids.
The only thing is certain: more of this literature is being typed as I speak.
At a writers’ seminar I attended recently, an agent advised, “check what’s out there in the market at the moment – see the genres, titles and even book length that sells right now. Then decide whether your novel has a chance”.
All I can see in the big stores is vampire sagas or fabulous teens and broken hearts mush.
If you were to write a book, does it mean you have to follow these trends?
Can a new trend be created?
A trend that could lead our teens back to the classics?