Teen research trending: Margaret Mackey and the problem of finding your next read

This is the first of a series of monthly posts that the YALSA Research Committee would like to share with the YA LIS community. These posts will reflect some of the many publications that we encounter in the process of updating YALSA’s Research Bibliography for the 2013-2015 period. The emphasis of the bibliography will be LIS research, but some of these posts will also share research from other disciplines such as Education, Media, Urban Studies etc., where teens are also protagonists. Posts will briefly summarize the article and highlight some important points for LIS practice, but each of the authors will bring a different flavor. Hopefully you will find them useful to inspire and support your work and knowledge about teens!!

Mackey, Margaret. “Finding the Next Book to Read in a Universe of Bestsellers, Blockbusters, and Spin-Offs.”  Academic Quarter (Akademisk Kvarter):  The Academic Journal for Research from the Humanities, 7 (2013): 216-236. http://www.akademiskkvarter.hum.aau.dk/pdf/vol7/15a_MargaretMackey_Finding%20The%20Next.pdf

Respecting mass choices but not being confined to them requires walking a fine line, but it is an important space to find. (p.133)

Margaret Mackey is a Canadian scholar who has been writing about reading and literacies in a broad sense for the past 25 years. If you are familiar or enjoyed the work of Eliza Dresang, I think you might also enjoy this. Yes, this is a blatant attempt to do reader’s advisory about research.

The quote that introduces this post reflects a struggle with which many librarians must contend everyday. We would like to see that important space of reading selection not only found, but also clearly occupied by libraries and librarians. In exploring how to take over this space, Mackey examines the role that bestsellers play, especially when they are becoming increasingly adapted into diverse types of media.

Before digging in, it is important to note that her analysis is framed around an important issue: if you cannot find your next book to read, you will likely become a dormant reader or a non-reader. Mackey situates her discussion with a description of the different ways that readers might choose to tackle this adaptation issue. Some prefer to read the original first (p.318). Others would rather consume reviews, people’s opinions, and other paratexts (see Gray, 2010) to the point that they can feel like they have committed to a text they have not even yet read or watched. The myriad of official and unofficial booktrailers or booktubers makes this process manageable for books, not just movies. An important topic that is just briefly mentioned is that of the effect of technology in this ocean of paratextual works, especially in the case of blockbuster franchises (for more see Rushkoff’s last Frontline documentary). It is also important to mention that the paratextual approach is intimately related to the culture of unfinish, (p.220) a contemporary phenomenon where narratives never actually end, but are kept alive in a never-ending loop of texts, including adaptations, prequels, fanfiction etc…

But let’s come back to Mackey. For her analysis, she explores two texts, one clearly for youth, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and another one which is also popular with the YA population, Fifty Shades of Grey. As case studies, she examines their similar origins and the paratextual explosion around them to exemplify the complexity (or easiness) of choosing/committing to a text in a world where, potentially, a favorite text never ends. For example, Wimpy Wonderland was an on-line paratext marketing the movie version of the book that was created out of the online story (p.225). This analysis makes evident the (potential) complexity of the contemporary reading experience. The following rather lengthy quote exemplifies this complexity, especially if we situate it in a discussion that would involve teen librarians:

In part, the mind-blowing numbers associated with The Wimpy Kid and Fifty Shades of Grey are a reflection of the fact that many people do not have more subtle selection skills than to read what everyone else is reading. In making this comment, I am not saying that these novels and other number 1 titles do not have something to offer to a very wide range of readers; clearly they do. But I think it is also true that many people enjoy reading bestsellers in part because they do actually like to read and a headline hitting title that is being read by all their friends and relations provides a shortcut to finding the next book that will offer genuine reading pleasure. (p.229)

Mackey points to the impact the works emerging in this culture of unfinish might have in reading practices, such as traditional understandings of intensive and extensive readings (p.230). She wraps up with a brief comment on 4 (attention, participation, collaboration, and network awareness) of 17 items for 21st literacies from Education scholars Cathy Davidson and Howard Rheingold and how these items have potential roles in a reader’s selection process. In the end, we cannot shy away from these complexities but must instead try to understand them in order to be able to find the space where we respect mass choices while also creating tools to expand the media universes of our patrons.

To keep thinking about teen media and reading, you can browse Mackey’s publications or read the recently published article about Dresang’s work and Harry Potter at YALSA’s Journal of Research in Libraries and Young Adults.

 

Lucia Cedeira Serantes, Assistant Professor at Queens College (CUNY). Recent member of the YALSA Research Committee.

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