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What Poe’s Publishers Could Not Imagine

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[Teacher's Note: Before my 7th grade students began reading their chosen dystopian novel, I wanted them to begin thinking about why these novels are popular. I found a “NY Times” debate on the topic with seven interesting articles from varied viewpoints. Students were assigned by groups to use Close Reading strategies and make comments. Once the groups were finished they shared their outcomes in a discussion format. This NowComment assignment was given near the end of the year. — Mary Moore]

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Andrew Clements
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Andrew Clements is the author of "Frindle," and most recently the "Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of the School" series, among many books for younger readers.

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UPDATED DECEMBER 26, 2010, 7:00 PM

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Growing up during the 1950s, I read many of the children’s books of that period — stories like Thornton Burgess’s woodland adventures, all the "Winnie the Pooh" books, "The Wind in the Willows," "The Hardy Boys," the "Tom Swift" series, the Random House Landmark books, Tom Sawyer, "Kon-Tiki" — on and on. But by grade six or so, I was becoming more aware of the world. I began to realize that all was not sweetness and light, and my literary appetite was whetted for stronger meat.

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Jack London’s "The Call of the Wild" is about as far from "The Adventures of Danny Meadow Mouse" as a young reader can get. The dog in London’s Klondike, Buck, devolves into as terrifying a creature as any vampire or werewolf would ever dare to be. And I loved that book, and went on to London’s other novels and short stories.

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I dove into Edgar Allan Poe. I read all the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and I devoured all of the seamy Perry Mason mysteries and the outrageous James Bond thrillers — a full menu of dystopia, madness, intrigue, and international mayhem. I enjoyed the sharp contrast between my safe and normal everyday life, and the horrors and the cold-bloodedness in my reading life.

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Perhaps the dystopian stories of today are darker because all of us, writers and readers alike, have become more aware of the many awful things that happen in our world. A study of world history shows that truly awful things have always happened. In our current media-saturated lives, however, every single awful thing that happens anywhere is pressed upon us in full-color, live-action images, both instantaneously and repetitively. In order for a book to seem scary today, it has to be very scary indeed.

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Aug 7
Chris Student9 (Aug 07 2013 10:35AM) : Main idea more

This is a main idea because this is actually true and it really hasn’t been thought of this way. Each year it seems like there are more and more tragic accidents. But are there? Or are we just growing up and realizing what is going on?

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Aug 7
Chris Student9 (Aug 07 2013 10:36AM) : Question #2 more

This is where the author talks about the books he read when he was young and the books today. Today there are so many more ways to kill or do anything in that matter, and many of these things were not around or were never spoken of. Today we care less and more things happen with these violent and inappropriate things. This relates to movies and are getting more violent and sexual throughout the year. As technology in life and the weapons in life advance, so do all the things in books.

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As to the hunger for today’s darker stories, I think scary tales have always had a strong appeal to people both old and young. It’s one of the ways we can put the events of our own lives into perspective. And the current popularity of dystopian tales also owes a lot to Internet-age marketing — a degree of consciousness saturation that Poe’s publishers could not have imagined.

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Hailey Student10 (Aug 07 2013 10:40AM) : question 3 more

i disagree with the author. he is saying that we have become more aware of terrible things, because of the internet age. this is true but this isn’t the reason for dystopian novels. he is also saying with that all the scary things are coming at us in full and for something to be scary it has to be extremely scary. which i find to be untrue. gym teachers and parents are constantly saying our generation is getting weaker then how can we be getting braver? but at the same time what he is saying is confusing, he is saying that young and old find this interesting so if the grew up with to different out looks do we all think the same?

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DMU Timestamp: June 16, 2013 21:32

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