BYA (Before Young Adult)

Back when I was a teenager, 'YA' hadn't been invented. There were childrens' books, and adult books, and a grey area in between.

In those days, I hadn't begun to keep my handy-dandy reading diary, and now I find it hard to remember exactly what I was reading at high school. I know I was reading a LOT; it was a rare day that I didn't make a visit to the school library, but what was I borrowing?

But every so often, I'll come across a certain book and think, 'Ah! That's what I was reading...'

One such rediscovery was Gerald Durrell's My Family And Other Animals, and its several companion volumes. Durrell's memoir of his idyllic childhood on Corfu, exploring the island's wildlife and enduring the eccentricities of his wayward older siblings (irritable writer Larry, gun-crazy Leslie, and flirtatious Margo, all kept more or less in line by long-suffering Mother and the apoplectic Spiro), is just as entertaining as I remembered it, and the later books, where his family's antics move to centre stage, are even funnier. Along similar lines (and aided by the TV series) I read my way right through James Herriot.

I also devoured quantities of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps there is something about the neat puzzle of the old-fashioned murder mystery that is particularly soothing to the troubled adolescent mind. And I got through tons* of Jean Plaidy's historical novels, from which I acquired all my knowledge of British history. Oh, and Georgette Heyer!

And then there was my Stephen Donaldson / Dune phase. More tonnage. Eventually I gave up from sheer exhaustion. Can't remember a single word of them now.

I think I can discern a theme here. I was obviously reading for quantity. I'm told that nowadays it's impossible to interest young readers in picking up a book unless they can be assured that there are plenty of sequels to follow... so maybe things haven't changed much after all.

Faithful readers of a certain age, what did you read before YA came along?

* Probably literally. They are very fat books.


  1. I just LOVE gerald durrell. Have you seen the gorgeous film, kate, with Imelda Staunton as mrs durrell? It's so lovely.
    I read barely a thing as a teenager. lord of the rings, lord of the flies, to sir with love. that's about it. jxx

  2. Oh, yes, I did enjoy that movie!
    Perhaps I should mention that adolescence was also when I acquired my Mitford addiction... it began mildly enough with Pursuit of Love, but now I am a hardened purchaser of volumes of letters and there is no hope for me.

  3. Kate i actually returned to reading when I was a nurse, all those lonely nights on night duty. that's when i found the Mitfords! xx

  4. Well, YA had kind of been invented when I was a teen - I read Forever by Judy Blume and a book called Beginner's Love by Norma Klein (for which I almost got expelled, though it was fairly tame by today's standards) and various others - I remember a series called Pan Horizons that was pedalled directly to teens. Also (squirm) Virginia Andrews (before she died and became the ominious V.C.) And I think I would count some of the Bildingsroman I read then like Little Women and Seven Little Australians and all the sequels and Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster as YA now. I read all the Hitchiker books, I became obsessed with the Xanth books by Piers Anthony (which apparently are still being published, yikes, I can't possibly catch up now).

    But I also read up...and down. I read Beverley Farmer, A.S. Byatt, Marina Warner, Donna Tartt, Amy Witting... my independent drama project in grade ten was based on the novel The Flesheaters by David Ireland, which I didn't understand at all but was utterly romanced by the language. I read poetry too, fairly broadly but mostly Australian, my tastes influenced by my parents' collection.

    And at 16 I started collecting picture books. I bought The Idle Bear by Robert Ingpen and it's spooky sequel Age of Acorns and Window by Jeannie Baker. I bought with my pocket money "antiquated" books - a 1936 copy of Hunting of the Snark and a 1925 version of Phantasmagoria by Lewis Carroll. I read fairy tales and folktales. I also reread Alice in Wonderland and many of my childhood favourites over and over again, not just quality ones. I also sought out new children's books - I remember doing an exchange of favourites with a friend, and discovering the Carbonel books (amongst others) in my mid teens.