I remember when my oldest boy devoured the entire “Redwall ” series. Thirteen, fourteen books. He read them two, possibly three times, all the way through. He begged me to read them too (because really, I never have enough to do) —so I picked up the first one, in solidarity. It’s a medieval-ish epic, with knights and rogues and ladies and abbeys and battlements, but the knights and ladies and abbesses and rogues are badgers and stoats and rats. And voles. I think there are voles. And not to be a wet blanket, but honestly, it was kind of hacky. I mean, not the literary feast that a mother might hope her son would be lapping up like clotted cream. But there he was, whipping through book after book, getting to the end of the entire series, and then starting over again. My younger son started up with the series by the time he was seven. Who was I to tell them the books are not all that well written? Clearly Mr. Jaques was onto something.
My boys have possibly read every book ever written involving dragons. I am betting they know more about dragons and medieval battle gear than they do about American history. They’ve torched through the Harry Potter series of course, and Christopher Paolini’s oddly-titled dragon-themed series. I thought my oldest son’s taste in writing had grown more sophisticated when he moved up to the Pullman Trilogy (well before it was a glimmer in Hollywood’s eye), juvenile fiction that can definitely hold its own with the adult kind. And his taste has developed and become more discerning, to a point. But honestly? He just likes a good ride, most of the time. A fun, juicy story, a thrilling adventure, a little romance, perhaps a few dragons and some swordplay thrown in for good measure. I’m pretty much in the “At Least They’re Reading” camp. I mean, at least they’re reading.
They’ve been doing a lot less reading in the past few years. AIM, Runescape (an online game involving—guess what? Dragons!) video chatting, and Facebook have become their preferred time-eating diversions of choice. I imagine they still read more than many of their peers, but my oldest son used to curl up on the sofa and read for five straight hours, thinking he was really getting away with something. I used to have to encourage him to stop reading, to get some fresh air and a little exercise.
Having no daughters, we were a little late coming to the “Twilight” party. My eleven-year-old would groan as he told me stories of the swoony girls at his school, and the trading back and forth of the books. My seventeen-year-old was coolly detached from the whole thing. They both seemed singularly uninterested, except for the fact that certain girlfriends had turned into rabid “Twilight” fans. There’s that dreamy vampire thing, which apparently is irrisistable, and a lot of not-quite-sex, which probably makes the dreamy vampire even dreamier.
On a lark, my oldest son saw the “Twilight” movie. My youngest borrowed the first book from a girl at school. His older brother then shamelessly snapped it up the minute he was done. Then suddenly, “Twilight” fever. Both my boys were begging, borrowing (and receiving as Christmas gifts) fat, dog-eared books, shiny hard-covered books, books I would find them reading at three in the morning, books they would devour while draped over sofas, chairs and beds.
Then I started hearing about Moms slinking into bookstores and buying up copies of the “Twilight” series, telling the booksellers they were purchasing the books “for their daughters.” (And I just read Jo Keroes’s review  in the current Mommy Track’d! So it’s true!)
But I also remember that some time ago I read about a bunch of Brits who -- cafes and on the subways – were discovered hiding their copies of some kid’s book under their London Times’ and Guardian newspapers. That book was called “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” or something like that (perhaps you’ve heard of it?) and the grown-ups felt they had to sneak-read it, because after all, it was a “children’s book.” So this is nothing new, and clearly grown-up men and women are craving the same kind of escape that middle-schoolers and teens crave. I agree with Jo Keroes in that I wish that the escapist offerings were a little more layered, subtle, nuanced and literary. But hey, at least they’re reading!