Into the past. What books would current V recommend to younger, cuter, and only slightly more immature V at 5, 11, 16, and 20?A strange disclaimer: This is perhaps the hardest guest post I've had to write.
It seems like it should be the easiest, especially what with the wealth of incredible books. But the difficulty is two-fold. 1. I wasn't a big reader. Honestly. I started in poetry, and aside from the classics I read for school, and a string of overly ambitious adult tomes, I was awful about actually reading for pleasure. 2. My teen years lined up almost perfectly with Harry Potter. This meant that while I devoured the magic of HP, I still fell before the big YA craze. Not to say there wasn't amazing YA, but it didn't have anything like the level of exposure today, and thus it simply wasn't on my radar.
SO. With those two things in mind...
At 5: Shel Silverstein. "If you are a dreamer, come in..." I'm actually very lucky because my parents HAD the Shel Silverstein books ready. He shaped who I am as a writer, from the whimsy to the flow of prose. Something about his rhyme and rhythm just kind of bled through my skin and into somewhere deeper.
At 11 and at 16: (Here's where the disclaimer kicks in) I went through A PHASE. Pretentious little teen that I was, HP aside, I didn't read any YA. Like, any. It never occurred to me. It is my big regret, that I missed the exposure to all the wonderful writing for teens coming onto the scene. So if I could look at the YA out NOW and give the wealth of wonderful books to myself, it would go like this.
At 11, I would have forced The Graveyard Book into my hands, along with anything written by Kate DeCamillo, to show myself that poetry could be woven right into fiction, that the two need not be mutually exclusive, and that whimsy had a place right alongside worldbuilding.
At 16, I would have told myself to binge on commercial, plot-driven books, ones that knew how to pack punches in few words, to constantly keep the book in motion (Hunger Games, Mortal Instruments, etc). My primary regret by the time I signed an agent was that I was still building a fundamental understanding of plot and pacing and structure. I think, had I gotten a foundation earlier, it would have made my first experiences with editing much less painful. I simply didn't know what I was doing. I watch my learning curve between my very first book, and my current one (my fourth) and my confidence and comprehension have come so far. I dream of how much farther I'd be had I devoured those books then.
At 20, the road splits (now mind you, by 20 I was querying, and I signed the week of my 21st birthday). I would, again, have wished myself a stronger reader (I didn't know my first book was YA until agents told me). But I would also have given myself books on "Mindfulness," or the act of being PRESENT. At 20 I was so eager, so impatient, always looking forward and grasping...I wish I had been able to slow down, to pay attention to what was happening around me as much as I did what I wanted to happen next.
I'm nearly 24 (I will be by the time this posts!) and I feel I'm making up for lost time, lost books. I've spent the last 3-4 years DEVOURING as I should have a decade ago. I still need the books on mindfulness, though.
Thanks, Victoria! I still haven't read The Graveyard Book (*slaps wrist*), but I heard it was an awesome audiobook, so maybe I'll have to go that route!
Victoria's highly original and beautifully written debut book, The Near Witch comes out August 2! Make sure you snag a copy!
You can find Victoria on her website here, or her blog here, but if you really want to find her...your best bet is probably here: http://twitter.com/#!/veschwab :D