x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Teen life: Teenagers reading. No, that is not an oxymoron

The popular image of Dubai teenagers is one of Gucci-toting, pedicured prats. But that doesn't mean they object to curling up with a book.

Whether you're strolling around a mall or dispassionately trawling through your Facebook news feed, you come across dozens of advertisements and posts promising infinite riches if only you fill out tiddly bits of paper after spending Dh1,000 or leave a comment on the Facebook status. Usually it's a car, or a tonne of gold ingots, or the promise of magically making the love of your life ask to marry you if you re-post the message on to 50 of your friends' walls. Being more of an Eeyore-not-Tigger, glass-half-empty sort of person, I rarely glance at these, having long learnt that no matter how promising the prospects, the lottery or holiday to Cyprus is always won by someone else.

But I did stop to look at a particular post because it was from the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, to which, in a rather puffed-up boffin moment a few months ago, I had subscribed. The festival was offering two books to be won if you correctly answered a question about a Darren Shan character. I'd always regarded books sporting covers resplendent with skulls, cadavers and other assorted macabre illustrations with a degree of doubt, so had absolutely no idea what the answer was.

I did, however, feel like answering the question, perhaps rightly believing that as it was books, not BMWs, on offer, fewer people would bother. It was easy enough to scroll quickly through the lit-fest page, and note that at least 20 other people had answered "Larten Crepsley". Then it was just a matter of commenting (feeling exceptionally clever) "Larten Crepsley" with a smug smiley face at the end.

It is wonderful to see that the pleasures of reading are being robustly enjoyed in the UAE, with events such as the Festival of Literature leading the way. The image Dubai teenagers often develop is one of materialistic, Gucci-toting, pedicured prats who are all too used to creature comforts. That doesn't mean, however, that we have any objection to curling up with a woody-smelling volume, or - in some cases - flopping down with a Kindle, that clever way of uniting teenage enjoyment of fiction and technology.

We teenagers are funny things, often tending to label automatically what older generations enjoy as something to be avoided at all costs. Reading - not for English homework but just because you feel like it- is sometimes perceived as such. The Kindle, though, is even younger than the iPod, which means that it isn't out of the receiving area on the teenage coolness radar, and therefore acceptable to be seen with out and about.

Lately, I have been discovering the delights of authors who have been disappearing from mainstream teen consciousness. Oscar Wilde and Jerome K Jerome never fail to make me smile. PG Wodehouse might be brimming with quotes such as "What ho, old boy!", but when you're down in the dumps after an overdose of maths homework, a couple of chapters can leave you feeling as cheerful as if you'd just swallowed one of Jeeves's famous pick-me-ups. Agatha Christie's mustachioed, stuck-up, but brilliant detective Poirot provides a refreshing break from the lovesick twaddle aimed at adolescents nowadays.

After Twilight mania had every other girl doodling "Bite me, Edward" in the margins of her notebooks, it moved on to the equally dewy House of Night, Vampire Academy and Pretty Little Liars. Fallen angels then had their moment, featuring in titles such as Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick and Lauren Kate's Fallen series, serving up pages and pages of protagonists simpering about how good looking their various love interests are. Said love interests turn out to be, predictably, immensely dangerous to the mortal girl. It all culminates in the girl fighting an intense emotional battle between what her heart says, and what would be sensible. Which would be to catch the next flight to the other side of the world, as far away as possible from the vampire or evil angel or whatever particular terrible monster has happened to catch her fancy.

That doesn't mean that there's no such thing as a good modern author aiming at teenage readers. We don't all love Harry Potter because of a herd mentality, but because of how Harry, Ron and Hermione have grown up with us, because of JK Rowling's delicious sense of humour and the immensely intricate plots that come together in such unexpected and daring ways. At the moment, I'm feeling quite inclined towards Darren Shan, too, after his books were surprisingly delivered to my doorstep with compliments from the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature - the first time I've won anything from a potluck draw. Makes you feel immensely pleased with yourself - and even up to sampling the tasteful-sounding Birth of a Killer and Ocean of Blood.


Lavanya Malhotra is a 16-year-old student in Dubai


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