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November 14, 2008



Ooh yes, DWJ is where its at... though I haven't read nearly as much of her stuff as I'd like to. But Howl's Moving Castle and The Chronicles of Chrestomanci (Particularly the third volume) are gems.

But, of course, this is just my opinion.


It seems more worthwhile to measure its impact now, reader-by-reader.

Amen, sister! I firmly believe in finding the right book for the right reader at the right time. I used to be fairly elitist, too, looking down on genre fiction. But since I became a librarian I've come to believe that any book might be a great read to someone.


Wonderful post and so true. Especially the part about "During those years, Knuffle Bunny wasn’t the one who changed." I'm definitely in favor of any book that gets people to read. Other books affect us differently at the various stages of our lives-such as Atlas Shrugged or the Twilight Series or even Mrs.Piggle-Wiggle.


Great post! Does anyone else ever feel self conscious about the books you read? I admit to thinking twice about whatever I'm currently reading when I'm headed to the doctor's office or other public place where people might notice my book. My OB, for example, always looks at the title and asks me about it, and I confess that I want to seem intelligent and hip in my choice. So even though I read widely, I sometimes restrict certain books to my nightstand where only my husband will know what silly things I sometimes read. Is anyone else like this? I'm trying to break out, though. I don't want to feel ashamed of what I read. If I like what I'm reading, it shouldn't matter what other people will think about it.

cindy baldwin

Every few months somebody I know makes a comment about the famous advice to never read a book you'd be ashamed to be seen reading, or die in the middle of, or whatever. And every time it makes me a little irritated. Why on earth should I let what other people may or may not think of what I'm reading dictate my reading preferences?

Some days I feel like reading Dickens. Some days I feel like reading Shakespeare. Some days I feel like reading Susan Cooper. You're right: beside the quality of writing and literary merit, there is a lot to be said for the lens of personal experience and situation.


Nikki, I also sometimes feel that way about not letting others know what I'm reading, though I'm getting better. I am never without a book wherever I go, but when I first started reading YA I didn't take those around with me. Now I do. I realized that I was judging others by what they read. I always thought, "You are what you read." :-) But that's not entirely true, is it? Now that I'm less rigid about what I think is "good reading," I don't seem to care (so much) what others think of my reading either.

Just imagine if Jane Austen had confined herself to only the classics of her time. She never would have written Northhanger Abbey! She read both good and "bad" books and learned from/enjoyed both.

Now Shannon, does this apply to movies too? Because my brothers insist on watching Howard the Duck every New Year's Eve, does that make it a good movie? ;-)


Ah, but Diana Wynne Jones is Art.

There's a guy in my book group who would like nothing better than to turn every book discussion into a referendum on "what makes great literature, and does this qualify?" and I have to say I have lost interest in the question. I'd much rather discuss what the book said to ME, what it said to the other people in the group, what it made us think of, where we agree and disagree, and what I noticed the second time through that I missed on the first. Good and Bad may be useful labels or not -- I'm really not sure -- but I don't find them interesting.


The interesting thing is, while we may feel gracious and forbearing about the concept of "you like the books you like and I'll like the books I like -- they're all equal" as it applies to ourselves and other people, we start judging books fast when it comes to what our children read. Which is probably a good thing.


Excellent post. And I think Diana Wynne Jones is the perfect blend of being well written and having an exciting story. Now I'm curious: which book are you reading?


On who won:

I think Shannon Hale came in out of nowhere, hit both sides with a chair, and became the ultimate winner.


As an elementary school teacher, this is a topic I have contemplated many times. I have come to a similar conclusion as you, Shannon. I do not care how many Goosebumps books my students read. As you hinted with the fictional Nancy, sometimes that's all they need to launch themselves into other books. There is a series all my students love that I find very poorly written, but I don't care because it has captured their imaginations and is helping them become better readers. Value of a book cannot stated point-blank because it is about the experience a child or person is having at the moment. Excellent post.


Nikki and calandria, we are all in the same boat. I used to get laughed at all the time in high school, mostly just because I read at all. But then my classmates found out *gasp* I read fantasy, the ultimate sin. "You know that stuff isn't real, right?" they would say. Yes, I think I sort of grasped that.

Then I figured, just because whatever I'm reading isn't on the Great Books list, doesn't mean I have to hide it in my desk like its something forbidden. Once I brought Lord of the Rings to school, one of the best fantasies ever written (to me), and a girl in my French class sent me a not across the table. She loved it too. We started talking openly about what we liked, what we found dry about Tolkien's writing, and why it could possibly be better than The Hobbit. That girl has been my best friend for five years now and we are still influencing each other by what we read. I introduced her to Harry Potter, she made me read the Great Gatsby. And the foundation was laid for our relationship with a BOOK.

I'm still not completely cured of my fears of openly reading; I think peer pressure has more of an effect on reading than some people realize. Like at college a couple months ago, I was in the middle of reading Eclipse. And I hid it under my arm while leaving. I could see some guy looking at me. Please don't think I'm a girl who reads vampire romances all the time, I thought. This was a one time thing. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about the Twilight series (I still don't see it). But he just said, "That is a great book." I remember being astonished and secretly relieved. Here was another person who was unafraid to share what they read. So naturally, I took it out from under my arm, feeling more than a little foolish. :D

All of that boils down to whether people percieve that what you're reading is worthwhile. And Shannon, you've got it exactly again! Though I probably wouldn't have read either book. I'm a happy-end kinda girl. :)


I'm a teacher as well, and I agree. As long as they're reading, I'm happy. I had an argument with a lady once about Captain Underpants. Do I like them? No. But I keep a few in my classroom library. If that's what is going to get one of my kids to read, so be it.

As a teacher, I'm fighting a losing battle to keep these kids interested in reading. On a survey that was sent home, only ONE parent circled yes on "Does your child read for pleasure?". ONE! And unfortunately, with the focus on testing, reading instruction isn't too exciting. The time that they have to silent read is their chance to choose, and I won't limit that freedom at all.

As an adult, I feel very self-conscious about my reading choices, even among my book club friends and friends who love to read. Yes, I like to read a fluffy Nicholas Sparks book every now and then and have a good cry. But I also love to read classics. What makes me the most upset is when people scoff at me for reading Childrens/YA books. They're missing out on some great literature!!!

Dr. Sallie N. Cheinsteen

Self conscious about what I read. Hmmm... I don't think so. I'm the kind of person who does something just to defy somebody. Which is silly, I know. I just barely read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I thought it was fantastic (although the profanity I could have done without). I talked to my friends about it. One person hated it. I told him I loved it. And that is just the way I am. But I do not tell anybody that I love to write. BIG NO, NO. No, sir. Why is that scary? It shouldn't be. I loved this post, but I just wanted to throw something out there. The books we consider gateway books, the books that lead a reader to something better? I don't really agree with that. For me, it was probably Narnia. But does that mean that Emma by Jane Austen is better? Or Nancy Drew, for example. It's not good or bad. It's for the reader, like we've said. So should it be considered a stepping stone to something greater, or is it great in and of itself, just because the writer, and the reader loved it? Maybe there are no stepping stone books to something greater. Maybe.


Oh, yes, I totally agree. What should be the most important thing is that we're reading at all! And if it's a book that might not be considered a classic but still grabs someone's interest and resonates with that person, who cares?! My sister used to hate reading until she read Jessica Day George's Dragon Slippers. Now, she at least likes to read--she loves the Frog Princess series and I've recently started her on Donita K. Paul's DragonKeeper Chronicles! And she read B1000 too, and enjoyed it--now I've just got to make her read the goose girl!

Also on the topic of classics vs. modern books--can we start a petition and circulate it around the country saying more modern books need to be read in schools alongside the "classics"? (Who decided that they were "classics" anyway? In their day, they were "commercial" fiction....)

Thanks for another enlightening post, Shannon!


I adore Diana Wynne Jones.


I like reading Jane Austen or watching the BBC OLD CLASSICS. I'm not big on words. Just want to thankyou for sharing.


Frogster, I totally agree. I just had to write a persuasive research essay for my composition class and that was my topic. We definitely need classics with modern books.
Actually . . . Shannon's "ramblings" inspired me to write it on that topic.

E. Kristin Anderson

I really like this essay, Shannon. As a bookseller I do find myself steering readers in certain directions, but I especially like the point you made about the woman maybe deciding she liked to read. There are some books that may not be NBA winners, but they are going to give reluctant readers a shot. And I like that in a book :)

Enna Isilee

What a post!

I'd never really thought of that. The reader and what the reader is going through in his/her life has a HUGE effect on the book.

Maybe I'll try reading Twlight again after I fall madly in love with someone. ;) For now, I think I'll go read a Shannon Hale(after I finish reading Wuthering Heights for my Literature class, of course). :)


I have two daughters. They are very different readers.

My oldest daughter, whom I worked the hardest to brainwash, true, but also because of her own natural tendencies, is a very deep reader. She's 10 and her favorites are Rudyard Kipling, everything and anything by Roald Dahl, and The Complete Unabridged Grimm's Fairytales. She devours books (she loves yours too, btw!) and I have the hardest time keeping her in reading material (you can imagine how that thrills me!). Yes, she went through her puppy pals and pony tales phases, and she's currently obsessed with reading about dragons, but this girl knows Substantial when she sees it.

My second daughter's approach is not nearly so academic - she loves all those inane fairy books: the color fairies, the weather fairies, the what-flavor-gum-are-you-chewing-now fairies. And I have to admit, it drives me a little crazy. It takes some self control to let buy her these beloved, sugary books. What I would give just to get a little E.B. White in her. But I remind myself that it shouldn't really matter so long as she is reading. Right? I think that's right. To tell you the truth, I don't know. I make it a point not to make it a point of contention with her, but deep down, I worry she that she'll miss something - that great gift that reading gives us, of experiencing things we could never have experienced in our real everyday lives. I want those experiences to be deep and meaningful. I don't like it when she fills up on candy. Should I just be grateful she's not hunger striking altogether?

I guess, as much as I want to whole-heartedly agree, I do think the differences in literature vary widely enough to call the fight. But only in the extremes. Everything else is a part of the big, yummy, gray middle field, where everyone can run and play joyfully.


Cheryl, I am just barely starting to see this side of parenting, too, and like you I'm not sure how to handle it either. My oldest is four, so right now it's not a matter of classic literature but simply what I think are clever, well-written picture books and what are inane ones. And I cringe when we go to the library or the bookstore and he wants to pick out something just because of the cover or whatever and I know I'm the one who's going to have to suffer through reading it out loud. So far my conclusion is that kids'll eventually figure it out on their own. We check out a dozen books from the library but the ones we end up reading every night are usually the ones that are so clever and well worded that he wants to memorize them. As a teen, I read lots of random books even though I grew up in a house full floor to ceiling with classics, but after one year in college I came home and asked my parents to pull all their favorite classics off the shelves so I could spend the summer devouring them. Kids who grow up with the freedom to read as they please will eventually figure out what's worthwhile, I think. =)

Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)

I really enjoyed this post. I've added it to my Hubbub Around the Blogosphere feature.


Wow, I'm so glad to hear you like Diana Wynne Jones! When authors (or anyone) I admire like the same authors I do, it makes feel so happy. Books are how I relate to people, even the "junk" books my mom didn't want me reading when I was younger.


Ah, yes. Diana Wynne Jones. I'm not sure how I first stumbled across this author (wait, yes I am, it was her story Little Dot in the Firebirds anthology), but now I'm an avid fan.

Actually, while I was plundering the local Borders for her latest, a sequel to Howl's Moving Castle, titled The House of Many Ways, I saw a clerk looking at me funny. Perhaps it was because Jones' books are all kept in the Young Reader's section there, and I do not look like a Young Reader.

"The adult section is by the door," the clerk said.

I smiled and held up House of Many Ways. "No worries. This is all I needed today." (That was slightly a lie. I NEEDED just about every book on the shelf. Sadly, my bank account did not.)

Madam Clerk blinked, and then smiled back. "Your kids like that book?"

Ouch. I'm not THAT old. Still in college, as a matter of fact.

If flouncing were an Olympic sport, I would have at least taken the silver that day as I proceeded to the register. The gold was taken by the clerk, who flounced in the opposite direction after a gold-medal glare by yours truly. (That is, assuming that glares are also considered medal-worthy.)

Ms. Yingling

Is Jones' work lovely stuff? Yes. Do I like to read it? No. I prefer Rachel Hawthorne. There are some truly awful books, but they are few and far between. The rest of the classification seems to be a matter of taste. Linda Gerber's Death By Bikini was really quite good, but available only in paperback. That seemed silly to me. As for middle grade fiction, I concur that if it keeps them reading, it's GREAT!


I wish books could at least be rated like movies....G for childrens books :P; PG, PG-13 and so on. But that would be rated for the content not the writing style. :)
But there are many books where the story is good but the writing style of the author makes it quick and easy to read.
I love your books, Shannon, especially Goose Girl. Reading it is so delicious because of the words and images you use! I LOVE that book. It is a good story and amazingly written!!! :D


I love DWJ, and Patricia C. Wrede, and Cornelia Funke, and many other "children's" fantasy authors, as well as those which exist in the netherland of YA (Robin McKinley, Ursula LeGuin).

If I'm in "writing mode", I start reading a book like it's something I myself wrote, analyzing every darn word and trying to figure out what I would have said that might have fit better, rearranging commas, etc. But if I'm in the right mood, I can let go and just read for the joy of it - and I think that can be done with any book. I read "Jane Eyre" with as much enjoyment as I did John Green's "Paper Towns" or Robin McKinley's "Dragonhaven"; they aren't REMOTELY the same kind of book.

So I agree...most literature is good literature. I'm not going to go the whole way because I've googled "Harry Potter fan fiction" and it's not a pretty sight. ;) Drivel is published, sure, but SOMEONE enjoys it and that's really what matters, hmm?


Howl's Moving Castle has a permanent residency next to my bed, The Homeward Bounders moved me to tears, and Dark Lord of Derkholm was one of the funniest books i've ever read. Diana Wynne Jones is my hero.
I LOVED this post. Thank you shannon, you are also my hero. I think its about time to read GG and EB again.

JH Vance

I think of books like food: Some of them are bubble gum, some of them are steak. Bubble gum may not be the best for you, but it makes your jaw stronger (good prep for that steak) and it sure is fun for a little while. Just like food groups, writers need a balanced diet of books to survive, even if that includes some cotton candy reading like Hunger Bay to keep your sanity.

Emily M.

Okay, I get what you're saying: if a book has value to a reader, it is therefore a good book, no matter how many adverbs it has. And I agree to a point; I'm fine with my son's love of the Magic Tree House series. It's been a big help to his reading. Great writing? No. Good books? Absolutely.

But here's my question, and I'm not sure I know the answer. If any book is a good book, as long as it has an audience, what's the point of craftsmanship? Why wrestle with every word? Why bother to take a red pen to the adverbs? Why not be satisfied with the first or even the fifth draft, instead of the twentieth?

On a personal note, your writing is tight, lucid, clear, and lovely. You've spent a long time learning your craft, and you've got endearing characters, frightening villains, engaging plots, and all of it is told in this lyrical language. Your books read (and re-read) very well.

So, again: why do you write the way you do, if your books, by your own standard, would be good no matter how they were written, as long as they had a reader who loved them?


I was wondering some of the same things as Emily M. seems to be. Doesn't there have to be a reason to choose one book over another as worth our very limited reading time.

If the question is whether every book has equal inherent value, I would have to say no. If the question is whether every genre has books that excell and are worth reading, I think that is a seperate question.

Perhaps the question is who should decide whether the books we read have value, ourselves or some external governing body of experts (or book store clerks or mothers-in-law). Then I agree that we should not worry about whether someone else thinks a book is good or bad.

Shannon's books are lovely and superior examples of young adult fantasy, humorous romance, and graphic novels. I pick them to read over less excellent examples in each of these genres.


I agree that the reader is a big part of how good a book is. I suppose in a way that's what I try to express when in reply to the question "Is that book good." I usually reply "I enjoyed it"

shannon hale

Great thoughts, Emily M. and JessieAnn. And a good topic for a future post!


I completely agree. Sometimes, it depends so much on mood, mindset, what other books I've read recently, etc. Every book has a place. If the writing is well done, and the plot sounds interesting, I'll pick it up and hope it takes me away for a while.


This is something I really struggle with. I've always been rather an elitist when it comes to books. That feeling has only increased as I've started working at an independent children's bookstore. I've asked myself, from time to time, if it really matters what children read so long as they are reading and I honestly don't have an answer. Some days, especially the days when people buy Junie B. Jones and Goosebumps books, I would say a wholehearted "Yes! It does matter!" I've even pondered whether or not it might not be better if children didn't read at all if all they were going to read is Junie B. Jones. Most days, I must admit (however grudgingly) that I'm simply a snob (which is generally not a good thing) and that while some terrible books are bought (in my opinion) at least children are reading. And who knows, maybe those books will be launching off points for readers who will in turn discover better written books.

I've heard all sides of whether or not the Harry Potter books are good literature. I am a huge fan but can understand why people would not be and why they would even go so far as to be disgusted with the series. I try to remember this as I disparage certain books. Isn't the goal to get kids (or adults) reading? If it takes a book that is poorly written to do that isn't that a good thing? I wish this idea would stay with me more often and would make me a more accepting person towards certain types of books. However, I think a little part of me will always be sad whenever a grandmother comes into the store insisting that she needs the next Goosebumps for her grandchild or when a co-worker encourages a potential buyer to buy a book that
I think is truly terrible. However, I also know that it's OK to feel this way as long as I don't vocalize my opinion. And frankly, I think it's hard not to be an elitist when you grow up in a family that values reading and good literature, when you are an English major, and when you are planning to be a librarian.

Emily V.

That (in my opinion) is a really good way to look at books... there are some books that I might say was a bad book just because I didn't enjoy it for some reason.while really as you said it's all about your age, your current circumstances, mood, etc. Thanks for providing an interesting outlook!

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