If you thought it’s a wrench to choose clothes for a teenager, just wait till they’re bored of everything in your bookshelf.
The call for new books should actually set off alarm bells; but parents being parents, we get all excited. ‘My child wants books’, I beamed, when mine was tired of her existing set of books, and had devoured her favourites a million times. At least. So I ordered in a dozen classics, bound in various shades of maroon rexine. But of course, this wasn’t what she had in mind, and they gather dust, as we speak, in one corner of her bedroom, and I was left scratching my head.
The second time around, I got wise, and did my research on the internet, where, for some strange reason, every teenager is supposedly reading the Twilight series. Thankfully, before I clicked the ‘order’ button on Flipkart, I asked the daughter if she would like the complete set right away or would like to try one first. She was appalled… Twilight, she told me with authority, was all about a handsome vampire. And while she had qualms watching him on television (the lead actor has some of my contemporaries drooling, let alone teenage girls!) she has ‘no interest whatsoever ploughing through that sort of book, thank you’.
So, what is it you want to read, I asked her. Get some recommendations from your friends, I suggested. I regretted it when she came back with a list ranging all the way from Philippa Gregory to Dostoyevsky (I couldn’t even spell the name right! And a teenager was reading it?) Are they ‘suitable’, I asked nicely. Of course, this is what my friends are reading, she said. So after looking at the list, long and hard, I ordered her Margeret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, Erich Segal’s Love Story and Georgette Heyer’s Grand Sophy.
She was irritated I ignored her list; the husband was very upset with my list (‘what kind of books are these? Whatever happened to innocence?’ he asked me) I stood my ground, and asked her to get on with it. She did, with great reluctance at first, but once she got hooked, there was no parting her from the books.
All this is not to say that I was wise; but it’s to prove a couple of points -
1. It’s almost impossible to decide books for somebody else, given how personal the choices are.
2. And it’s harder still, when the person in question happens to be a teenager, not quite ready for full-blown adult fiction, but way too old for what the markets kindly call “young adult fiction”.
A happy middle ground, I have learnt from experience, is whatever you read at 16. Today, any 13 year old can read, understand and enjoy them. Because, believe me, times have changed.