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6.25.2011

Pinterest!!

Thanks to my brilliant sister, I finally have a link to my Pinterest boards up on this blog. Go ahead and click through the button on the left to view all the pretty pictures I've been collecting this year. Here's a sampling. You can find all their sources by clicking through the images on their respective boards:





6.23.2011

Michael Blake

Michael Blake, author of Dances With Wolves and The Holy Road (currently pictured in my sidebar), will be chatting on blogtalkradio this evening at 7PM, about his books, his ranch, and his life. Click on the link to listen in.

6.22.2011

Cereus

The cereus is blooming twice over tonight. We are huddled round the plant, which is some sort of cactus, watching the buds turn from tightly woven pods to starry trumpets and at last to beautiful white flowers. This plant has a special history. It was my grandmother's, and my mother inherited it upon her death some fifteen years ago. It bloomed for the first time only a year ago, and now has a miraculous six buds gracing its succulent stems. Two of them are opening right now, and we are watching the petals move before our eyes, ever so slowly, from cocoon to flower.

It's a lesson from nature in waiting, perseverance, silence, patience, and doubtless a dozen other things the Puritans would better understand than I do.

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I really didn't think I'd be writing another blog post on the YASaves issue, now so many weeks outdated, but I started drafting a comment to one of my favorite book bloggers, and it just got waaaay too long.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

6.09.2011

Since when does YA save?

I have waited to blog about this. I considered not mentioning it at all, but there's something about the hashtag YASaves that requires reasonably-minded people to stand up and say "Who made you God?"

For those of you who haven't been following it, here's the short version of the most recent young adult literature internet squawk:
1. Meghan Cox Gurdon, a seasoned children's and young adult book reviewer, wrote an article criticizing the increasingly dark subject matter of YA literature.
2. YA authors protested her criticism on Twitter, grouping their comments under the subject heading #YASaves.

I know. This sort of thing happens all the time. It's not really news. Except it bothers me.

Plenty of people are in uproar about Gurdon's criticism, but few who object to the article have said anything very helpful, at least that I've noticed. Most, in fact, are more defensive about their own work than anything else. Because a large body of those protesting the criticism are writers themselves.

They seem to have forgotten their days in creative writing workshops when criticism was to be taken with grace and absolute silence. In the end, they're going to write whatever they want. That's their prerogative, after all. They're writers. And every writer has to learn to be able to take all kinds of criticism because they get to write whatever they want.

Readers react. That's their prerogative. When other readers come to the defense of the author, constructive conversation occurs. But when the authors start to defend their own work from the likes of audacious readers . . . to be honest, I can't think of any other genre that functions this way. And I don't think it's healthy or fair.

In the last few years, though, YA fiction has risen to a place of power in the book industry. This isn't hyperbole. YA fiction is by far one of the best selling markets. Both teens and adults (myself included) pluck reading material from YA shelves. A category that used to be defined by a certain maturity level (in the same way that juvenile literature is literally defined by reading level) is now being driven by its sellability. It's a subtle shift, but it's significant. Not to mention that "maturity level" is now such a loosely determined category that publishers, editors, book reviewers, parents . . . okay, anyone would be hard-pressed to identify what it means. Just how mature are teens these days? Should teen literature reflect or influence that maturity? Is there a literary purpose to YA beyond just telling a good story? Are there criteria - or should there be - for addressing the darker side of things in YA lit? Is there a standard? Who sets it? How is it monitored? What is its purpose?

Most YA reviewers I've read object to the limitations of maturity restrictions. But if there are no restrictions, why is it considered YA? What differentiates YA from adult fiction? Because there are adult novels that feature teens as their protagonists (though I don't think there are any the other way around), so it's difficult to say the only identifier is the age of the characters.

These questions are old and tiresome, but they exist because no one has answered them yet and without answers we find ourselves in #YASaves arguments. I don't foresee an end to this. It's kind of like the dress code protests in high school. Every generation has them. There are always parents who say it's too lenient, and there are always teens who say it's too strict.

Unfortunately, like the dress code protests, the issue usually reflects the current cultural trends. And Gurdon's most significant observation is that the trends have become darker and more harmful than ever before. The best responses to the debate that I've read so far have been from Alan Jacobs at Text Patterns and Veronica Roth, author of the New York Times bestselling novel Divergent. Veronica observes something important: that the issue is less about the inappropriate nature of young adult fiction than it is the world it represents. 

The best way to improve our YA fiction isn't to make it less like the world, but to make the world a better thing to represent. Idealistic and impossible. But seriously, probably the only option. In the meantime, it might serve everyone well for YA authors to acknowledge that words are powerful, readers are varied, and writers are accountable for the effects of their writing. What is cathartic and encouraging for one reader may very well be harmful and disturbing to another. And writers are responsible for that.

They are.

6.01.2011

I don't have anything to say, really. Just wanted to give a little hello to you readers, to let you know I am grateful for you and have not forgotten you.
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