Reading together…what a novel idea:)

(Note to teens: this is written for parents, but if you’ve been dying to get your parent reading books with you, pass it on to them!)

I had a great chat with a parent of teenagers and a teacher (who also has teenagers). We were discussing children’s affinity for or aversion to reading. As a child who practically inhaled books, this was intriguing for me, because I am always fascinated by the answers to this question: what impels people–especially the next generation–to read?

The teacher came up with an excellent strategy for the parent to reinvigorate her daughter’s interest in reading. I’d heard the advice before, but the teacher presented it in a simple way for any parent to tackle a child’s disinterest in reading (or even their own!).tumblr_m3xxfoMrRq1r2a2jmo1_500

1. Start simple. The teacher mentioned she had started reading The Bar Code Tattoo while her elementary class had quiet reading time. She got so immersed in the book that she eventually bought it. The book was not overly complex, and it is aimed for a 12 and up audience, so it was easy to read and get into (and be interrupted while reading). Middle grade fiction is a great place for tweens and teens to start, because the plots are engaging and characters generally relatable. More mature content is toned down. These books, which often follow middle-school protagonists, can be a perfect meeting place for both a parent and child to begin reading something together.

2. Make it a conversation. Based on the premise of having your own private book club with your child, the goal of talking about a book ensures that you engage in its elements. As you are reading a book that your child is reading at the same time, jot down questions that might start a conversation. Not only will you learn more about your children’s growing perception of the world, you will also be asking their opinion, showing that you value their thought processes and are beginning to view them as an adult. For most middle and high schoolers, this can be a thrilling and invigorating revelation.

3. Pick what interests you and your child! Leave the classics to the English teachers and hit up the new releases in Barnes and Noble. The writing business is more competitive than ever, meaning that what gets sold has been through the fire and is generally pretty awesome. If you’re worried about content, just remember that talking about the tough things a book may offer gives you an opportunity to weigh in on delicate subjects before (or at least in conjunction) with less mature peers. Also, high school media specialists (librarians) and some online articles (Google “teen and parent book clubs”) can also help you identify appropriate books to get started!

And remember, the best way to make a point is to set an example, so go forth and read!

Science Fiction – Sensationalism, or social cautioning?

Recently, I reread Russ Hodge’s The Future of Genetics. I used the book to inform my newest contemporary sci-fi trilogy, which deals with the ethics and concerns about genetically engineering the human species to be stronger. Hodge qualifies as an exceptional writer, able to discuss complex science and make it comprehendible to the more artsy-fartsy folks, like myself.

However, I will say I take issue with his slight emphasis on the problems sci-fi writers have caused. He implies that writers sensationalize much too often, stripping scientific researchers of their morals and giving in to hubris to take science beyond acceptable ethical standards. I can see where this would be a problem–always vilifying scientists/researchers and creating fear of scientific discovery.

But I do take issue.

Science fiction serves an important role in our social discourse. Just as a scientist designs an experiment to observe outcomes, a writer models social settings and advancements in science to create ethical dilemmas affecting outcomes for humanity. As writers, we do need to consider whether we are condemning the advancements in science more than celebrating them. This is an important point.

I would argue that books such as Jurassic Park help us think about the outcome of certain variables–in a sense, not learning from history, but from the possible futures we can affect. That is, we should not be afraid of scientific advancement, but realize when the pursuit of knowledge and enhancement will create vast voids between members of our species or negatively affect our fragile eco-system.

Science moves us forward. That is not to be argued against. Strides forward in genetics have led to the treatment of deadly diseases, among other advancements. (However, these treatments are still inequitable – available only to those who have access). But we must weigh the issue carefully. Things like nuclear bombs and biochemical warfare are also products of science. Technology, an amazing piece of our social fabric, comes with its own set of issues (i.e., in the Matched trilogy, people no longer handwrite things, and since computers are monitored, there is no freedom outside the government eyes. In our current society, handwriting is already on the chopping block of school curriculum!).

Science fiction and the dystopian futures it suggests have social value. Writers create the fantastical, spurring the mind to consider and weigh future decisions we must make about our pursuit of advancements and any ethical concerns that accompany those decisions. Yes, writers have social responsibility to represent science (and scientists) in a truthful light and to create rich stories that don’t draw an arbitrary line between black and white. But novels have the power to evoke great emotion, which is why they have the power to make us think and reach beyond the normal everyday.

And that human capacity, I believe, is the reason we pursue science in the first place.