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6.21.2011

YA still doesn't save. Even after all these weeks...

I really didn't think I'd be writing another blog post on the YASaves issue, now so many weeks outdated, but I started drafting a comment to one of my favorite book bloggers, and it just got waaaay too long. So I am posting it here instead.

Favorite Blogger was actually writing in response to a different article - an opinion piece in the Huffington Post - written in support of Gurdon's socially disastrous WSJ article and against the ensuing broo-ha-ha. If you can follow that at all, let me try a little better to summarize the issue. Gurdon says certain books aren't appropriate for teens because of their violence and sexuality and general too-much-like-the-underbelly-of-the-world nature. Teen writers and readers (some of them, mostly the ones with twitter accounts) unite in a social networking frenzy to say that Gurdon's attempt to ban books from their category is small-minded and quack. Huff-Po opinion piece says this isn't banning; it's good parenting. Favorite Blogger says yes, parenting is not banning; but parenting other people's children is banning. Her actual words are, "That's when the word censorship comes into play."

Banning is not the same as parenting, but neither is it the same as reshelving. A book's age group is usually determined by its publisher. Obviously I know this because I am one, but it doesn't take an industry professional to trace the determination of a book's audience to its makers. This means that publishers - not parents or booksellers or even writers - are setting the standards for age-appropriate children's literature. And seriously, who made them the judges? Why are they allowed to determine what other people's children can and cannot read, but a book reviewer isn't?

I don't see a problem with a parent (or book reviewer) claiming that publishers are categorizing things offensively. If you put Catcher in the Rye on a shelf for ten year olds, I would ask that it be removed. I am not banning, nor am I parenting; I am reshelving a book out of an inappropriate age group and into an appropriate age group. As a bookseller, I did this frequently at the Stephenie Meyer table when parents would ask me whether or not their nine year old would enjoy Twilight. "Doubtful," I would say, "on a number of levels. But the real issue is whether you want your nine year old reading about vampire sex."

A parent (or book reviewer) arguing that there should be standards for age-appropriate teen literature is no different. It isn't the same thing as banning - though it may mean requesting that a book not be placed on a shelf. Now, if I tossed it out of the library altogether, that's when the term censorship comes into play. When I deny a book any audience at all, I am banning.

I think most people are objecting to this not out of a sense of literary injustice (which banning most certainly is) but out of the same impulses that have shifted the criteria of film rating over the years. What teens are 'allowed' to watch (or read) nowadays is obviously more liberal (not in the political sense) than it used to be. And there's nothing wrong with objecting to that on a social level. It's certainly not the same thing as parenting other people's children - or teens.

I have said this before, that I'd be a lot more sympathetic with people who object to Gurdon's article if the loudest of them weren't the authors themselves. Of course they object; they want to stay shelved where they are, in one of the most lucrative book categories in the business. Less cynically, they've also developed relationships with their readers. Many writers who deal with difficult themes of body image, abuse, depression, suicide, etc. probably hear regularly from young readers who are grateful that someone out there understands them. That doesn't discount the arguments that there are less graphic ways to handle that kind of material with teens, that writers are not (necessarily) qualified therapists (which is what suicidal or anorexic or abused teens really need), and that acceptance of these issues often mysteriously tends to multiply them.

Both sides have valid arguments. But I doubt any of them will start really listening to each other any time soon.

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