Monday, October 01, 2012

Books Told in Stuff Week

When I was in grad school, my final paper for YA lit was on "Books Told in Stuff." I've long been a fan of alternative storytelling techniques and telling a book in "stuff"-- newspaper articles, notes, conversation transcripts, and other ephemera has long been a favorite method of mine.

In my paper I looked at the how and why this technique was popular with teens. One big thing I looked at was how these books often appeal to reluctant or struggling readers, even though their structure demands a pretty high reading level.

I use some pages from Jennifer Holm's most excellent Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff as an example. One on page, we see a cut out from a magazine the recommends a bubble bath and a makeover. We see a receipt from the drugstore for hair dye and bubble bath. On the next page, we see a bill from a hair salon for corrective color, a blank check, and a bill from the plumber to repair the jacuzzi after bubble bath got in the jets.

In a traditional narrative, many of the dots are connected. It would tell us "Ginny read an article on how to feel better about herself and followed it's advice. However, it went wrong and when she tried to dye her hair, it turned out really ugly and she broke her mom's bathtub, making her feel even worse." And there'd probably be a hiliarious scene involving breaking the bathtub and just how horrible her hair looked. But, we don't need that, we can see from a few scraps of paper what happened.

So, why do readers that shy away from traditional narrative not have issues with filling in such huge plot holes? Mostly, because that's how we live our life. We overhear snatches of conversation without explaining it to ourselves. We see pieces of evidence, such as some bills and receipts and easily put together the story of our lives and the lives around us. Books told in stuff present the story that same way we live the story.

Plus, they're just really fun. SO! This week, all books in stuff, all the time.


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