Maybe they thought they were searching for their guilty pleasures in private, those adults at Monona Public Library combing the shelves for young adult novels.
But they didn’t go unnoticed by librarian Toni Streckert.
She welcomed them in, recommended titles and now has created a book club just for them: Grown-ups who know there is not a more sparkling, compelling short read than a well-written teen novel.
“I’m a book pusher. So I’m always recommending” teen lit, said Streckert, outreach and teen services coordinator for the library and an out-of-the-closet fan of young adult books.
“They have some of the most exciting, concise writing,” she said. “Teens don’t have a long attention span, so your writing has to be so crisp, so polished.”
A dozen people showed up for the first meeting of the library’s new teen-book club, most in their 30s to 60s. Only a couple were parents of a teenager, Streckert said.
For Val Edwards, the librarian at Monona Grove High School, joining the group was a way to show her support and hear new perspectives.
“I hear a lot of what my teachers and students think about teen lit,” she said, “but I thought it would be really interesting to hear what people I’m less directly connected with in the community think about teen lit.”
Like Streckert, Edwards says the quality of young adult books has soared in the past decade, making the genre attractive for more than teens. And today it offers a wider variety of tales — not just of the “Twilight” sort, either.
“I think it’s changed from being really children’s literature” aimed at the 9- to 12-year-old, to appeal “to that upper end of the teenage years a lot more directly, things that reflect their life experiences,” she said.
“I do think publishers have realized this is a huge untapped market and a lot of the stuff that’s been published in the last 10 years has a ton of appeal for adults. I think it’s been a huge win for publishers.”
Part of Strecker’s inspiration for her book club came from the long-running “Not Just for Kids” group at the Borders West bookstore.
Laurie Rosengren, a children’s bookseller at Borders for 13 years, said the book club pre-dates her tenure there and she’ll keep it going at a new location now that the store has closed.
“Not Just for Kids” members range in age from 25 to 75 and include “teachers, former librarians, former booksellers and people who just like to read,” she said.
Fast-paced and rich, teen lit has an immediate gratification factor and taps into a period of life that has some of the most intense memories for people, said Rosengren, who’s currently writing her own book for the young adult market. “I like to say it keeps me young,” she said.
The Internet component also fascinates Kirstin Carlson-Dakes, a longtime reader of teen lit who joined the book club at Monona Public Library.
“There’s a really big online community — lots of bloggers, but also the authors themselves all have websites and blogs,” said Carlson-Dakes, a pediatric nurse and the mother of two teens. “I follow some of them and that has been very interesting for me, because they’re always posting new stuff about books and about the process, but also about things that are going on in the literary world. It just seems like it’s a new way to learn about the world of reading and the world of books.”