From "Reflections on the "Problem Novel," by Barbara Feinberg:
It is easy to spot Alex’s assigned reading books among his real books. His real books are worn, and cling to a driving force, namely Comedy. These books are stacked and bulging in his shelves, all the novels by Louis Sachar, Daniel Pinkwater, Barbara Park. And then thicker books—the biographies of Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Larry Gelbart; all the scripts from Our Show of Shows; the script of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; a book called 170 Years of Show Business. But mostly his library serves to illuminate and honor Mel Brooks, his hero.Anyone interested in what passes for lit in schools today (i.e, the "problem novel") will want to read the entire essay, which you can find by clicking here.
Among these worn texts, the school-issued books seem sleek and untouched in comparison. They are paperbacks moderate in length, and on their covers are drawings of slim, attractive teenagers. They look cool, defiant; they manage to look at me but not seem exposed. I never read any of these books in my own childhood (nothing in this pile was published before 1972). Who are these bold teenage protagonists? Do these books constitute a new kind of book, represent a new sensibility with regard to children? What is the nature of their grimness?