I've had a hankering recently to reread The Bell Jar by Silvia Plath. Chalk it up to shorter sunlight hours but I like to revisit that one every so often. However, searching "Plath" in my system brings up no results. Alright, I thought, maybe Plath is a little too out there for a small public high school. So I tried Dorothy Parker, Jack Kerouac, and Jeffrey Eugenides. Zip, zilch, and nada. I tried Sybil and Girl, Interrupted and came up empty on both fronts. Ditto Flannery O'Connor, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Virginia Woolf, and Kate Chopin. I apologize for all the name-dropping here; if you knew just how much searching I did, you would be impressed with my restraint. I would conservatively guess that I spent half an hour searching in my catalog before locating one measly copy of J.D. Salinger's Nine Stories.
How is this possible? How can it be that a library that can't keep enough copies of Go Ask Alice and Looking for Alaska doesn't have a single copy of Ariel? I can pardon the lack of Plath's poetry since we never circulate anything from that area. I don't even think most of my students know that we even have poetry in the library and I was probably the same in high school. I was more interested in writing my own saccharine and sappy little sonnets than I was in reading the ones that other people had deigned worthy of publication. But what about The Bell Jar? It isn't like my kids aren't willing to read older works. Like I mentioned before, Go Ask Alice flies off the shelves as fast as Ellen Hopkins.
In my very first readers advisory interview, the girl I was talking to told me she liked "abused kid stories." I thought that was an apt, if blunt, way to summarize the stories that my students can't get enough of. They're hungry for the dark, dangerous stories that let them experience life beyond this small Midwestern city. What better story than that of Esther Greenwood, who moves to New York City and subsequently from normalcy to chilling insanity, to satisfy that desire?
There are plenty of new titles out there that fall in to the "gritty realistic fiction" genre but as any voracious reader knows, plenty still isn't enough. One particular reader who came in to the library today had already read everything I could suggest and I found myself at a loss. We finally unearthed a copy of Flowers for Algernon but that can only keep her at bay for so long. In my experience, about a day and a half. I love that she's reading so much but it breaks my heart a little to have to turn her away without something she's excited to read.
So here's my plea to parents, teachers, librarians, and anyone else who knows a reader like this: a reader who devours every title in a genre--any genre--and is ravenous for more. Give them the new titles, sure. Let them work through every new release and bestseller. But do not--do not--neglect the classics. The Harry Potter fan might be happily chugging through the Percy Jackson series and that's fine, just be sure to slip some Lord of the Rings in their bag, too.