Just read the @&$%#*! book

I represent a lot of children’s and young adult authors, which puts me into contact with more children and young adults than I have in my real life. I don’t know much about children. I understand that they start out as cute, sweet-smelling bundles of joy that never let you sleep, morph into walking, talking time bombs, then get cute again for a few years, then get an influx of hormones and only communicate via text message. Correct me if I’m wrong.

I set Google alerts for my clients so that I can keep up with what the internet is saying about them, which is like a great, free news clipping service (if anyone remembers those). But the internet doesn’t just have news, and I get a lot of junk links, too. But my favorite links are the ones that pop up at least weekly on Yahoo! Answers, that go about like this: “What is the theme of X novel? Who are the main characters and what are their motivations in Y? I need to write a book report; what happens at the end of Z?” This is Cliff’s Notes for the 21st Century. Sadly, it gets worse. Sometimes these same poor souls email the authors directly, begging for help on a paper. They really can’t figure out the central conflict of the book, but you can surely help, author! Amazingly, I have even gotten such emails from students, imploring me for help getting the answer from my author. I’ll give this to teenagers: they’re ballsy!

So, I was tickled today to find this link (via PW Daily) about author D.C. Pierson’s answer to a similar question about his book. I’ve been dying to find the appropriate response (please see title for what I’m tempted to say) for students who ask me such questions, and now I have an answer I can point them to. It won’t be the one they’re looking for, but it just might be the one they need.

What do you think was the theme of this post? Can you identify the central conflict? Let me know if the comments, or just find out on Yahoo! Answers.

6 Responses to Just read the @&$%#*! book

  1. Dale Basye says:

    It is funny, in that “wanting to weep uncontrollably” kind of way, how many teens will spend hours of anguished and complicated avoiding, rather than a comparable amount of time simply reading the frickin’ book. See? I honestly can’t come up with a stronger curse word than “frickin” after five years of writing middle-grade fantasy. I have seen my books discussed in such a way online only sporadically, as my books are seldom the kind seriously considered for book reports. I have, though, been approached about a dozen times to help with book reports where the student wanted to supplement with an interview. It’s interesting that these requests all happened at once, so there must be some national curriculum-based initiative that strikes at a specific time, forcing teens to suck it up, roll up their sleeves, and do the dirty work that is sending an email, so that an author will spend a few hours of unbillable work doing their reports for them. I actually don’t mind this. It’s a lot of fun. And I use the little buggers work in my presentations, so it all works out in the wash. At the risk of sounding as old as I am, but it is amazing to me how hard things are for Generation Entitled. Michael mentions how ballsy they are, and this is true, but it smacks of expectation—that everything and everyone should be at their beck and call with just a click—than true courage. Anyway, I won’t malign my base, but let’s just say it’s a different world with different challenges. While doing reports might have been harder and more time intensive for me, it’s probably at least as hard for teens today to produce reports that are thoughtful and unique, with all of the media and devices available to them. Sometimes you can have too many tools.

  2. Awesome response!

    I have another creative hobby that involves making a physical product, and I can’t even count the number of times I’ve gotten emails from people (usually teenagers or very young adults) wanting a complete step-by-step tutorial. The questions aren’t just “How did you tackle this specific aspect I’m having trouble with?”, which would be delightful. They’re “Tell me how to do everything from start to finish so I don’t have to figure it out on my own.”

    I either don’t respond or, more often, give some very general guidelines and urge them to experiment with different methods until they figure out something that works for them. I’m usually resisting the urge to, like you, shout at them to do some #@*#($* research. It’ll help them out more in the long run, and maybe they’ll even enjoy the process.

    It seems even worse to ask for a book report, though I’m not surprised. Boohoo, school is for learning, and that takes work!

  3. Joelle says:

    This reminds me of one of the funniest scenes from my favourite books, the Betsy-Tacy series. In one of the high school books, they are all assigned to read Ivanhoe over the summer. Betsy has read it half a dozen times, but doesn’t admit to her friends how much she loves it because they’re all struggling to read it at the last minute. In the moments before school starts, she ends up recapping all the highlights for them. When it’s time to write the essay test, they write the highlights, and she starts at the beginning and barely gets through the first part of the book before time is up. They all pass with praise, she fails for clearly not reading the book.

    My first book has made it on to at least one summer reading list this year, but so far no one’s asked me for help. Of course, school doesn’t start for another two weeks. We’ll see if I get those emails from Alberta teens in about ten days or not! I’ll keep this link handy.

  4. K Callard says:

    I really think that most kids today (and even as old as college age) don’t have a grasp of what cheating is. I went back to school as a mature student and was aghast when someone turned in a report that was just printed out pages from a website. It still had the url at the bottom of each page! But the teacher didn’t care, did’t punish her – in fact she got a better grade than I did.

    Looking up the answers online, reading Coles Notes, or asking the author all amounts to the same thing – cheating.

    That being said, I hated trying to answer those English class questions about theme and conflict and whatnot. And, while I never would have cheated, I could certainly see myself contacting the author one of the many times I was frustrated by an English teacher reading way too much into a novel. Sometimes I think that’s why we only read books written by dead people – so no one could confirm (or refute) the teacher’s theories :)

  5. Kellie Lovegrove says:

    I wish I could say that I am surprised at the news that a teenage student wanted someone else to do their work for them, but unfortunately I’m not. I actually spent the last school year completing my internship for school psychology (for those of you that don’t know, it’s a non-teaching position in the education system specifically for psychological, academic, and IQ testing as well as planning academic and behavioral interventions and working as a lesion between the school and parents). The things my kids would refuse to do astounded me sometimes and it wasn’t that they couldn’t do it, it was because they didn’t want to take the time.

    My two favorites were on an achievement test. One was where I basically read the story to them, told them where they needed to insert their own sentence, and then they take ten minutes to summarize the story. On average I would get grips and complains the whole time and then three minutes into their summary they would say they were done, having only written two or three sentences. The other was the math calculation worksheet. Did you know that starting at middle school kids can’t do simple addition and subtraction problems that have more than two digit numbers in them? Apparently they don’t know how to work them without a calculator. I had one girl almost throw her pencil at me when I tried to encourage her to work a few more problems.

    Honestly though, I think what may be more sad is that all these lazy kids are giving the kids that really do try a bad name. They are out there and were always a pleasure to work with, even the ones that genuinely don’t always get it, because they truly want to learn and retain the information.

  6. Kaz says:

    DC Pierson is also the hippie in the Allstate commercial where a hippie rear-ends an older guy and tells him they’re connected.

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