August 24, 2006

Dispatches from Portland, YA for Adults

Got a funny email from our erstwhile classmate, J.R., who reports that she's practically gone into debt at the bookstore this last month. High on her list of things to go into debt over next month is newbie Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl.

Pessl, just twenty-seven, has had her own cross to bear. Bookslut last March made mention that she is one of several new authors who have been outed as just 'pretty faces,' that create a buzz that has little or nothing to do with their work, but has everything to do with their huge advances and media attention. (Pessl incidentally also lists 'model,' 'dancer' and 'actress' on her CV .) The fact that nowadays sex sells, even in publishing had a lot of bloggers - justifiably - growling. It could be that Pessl's comparisons as a 'wunderkind' with Dave Eggers will do her good -- or not, but these days, it does make you wonder, just a little, exactly what is creating such hugely money-driven opportunities for certain writers. Is it really just their talent? The NY Times says yes, looking toward the fact that after two weeks on the market, the book is in its fifth printing.

Because of the buzz? Because of Pessl's talent in writing? Is this really a YA novel, or ...what? The description in various industry rags of Special Topics being "Nabokovian" and "Hitchcokian" make me "Chundernauseam," but that just may be my snark speakin'. Click on the link and read the excerpt... I'd be very interested in your opinion.

Via Jen Robinson's Book Page, I found a nifty article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about how more and more adults are looking to YA books as good reading. Of course, the unfortunate tagline is that "Harry Potter changed the rules," but we have to give ol' Harry his props -- the novel did much for allowing adults to see that what is marketed toward their children is solidly written, entertaining, satisfying and thought-provoking. I think the level of sophistication found in YA literature is helping bridge age-gaps in other ways as well. After reading something challenging, who can say that the average 11-18 year old is limited, bored, boring or listless ever again? And after reading a great YA novel, don't you have the urge to thrust it into the hands of the nearest young reader and say, "Oh, you've got to read this!"

Ah, the power of great literature.


David T. Macknet said...

OK, excuse me? Did you just say that Harry Freaking Potter was Solidly Written? Yeah - about as solid as a brick, and about as interesting, once you get past the tricks cheesy authors use to keep you wrapped into the stupid plot and ignoring the lack of, oh, character development.

Moving on.

The physics thing?

Firstly, in the excerpt, there's a big black woman calling somebody 'honey.'

Secondly, who really cares to have everything related to the animal world when you're talking about relationships? Totally ruins anything like flow.

Thirdly ... punctuation? I'm all for it! Loved the Panda book & all that, but even I feel a little ... well, bashed in the head with a brick, when somebody throws in not just four commas, but four pair of parentheses!

(Note the lovely four commas in the previous sentence, sitting there letting you know when strategic pauses take place; also note that there were no parentheses to confuse you & throw you off of your stride, so you probably didn't even notice them ... or the lovely elipse.)

It's all about marketing, that's all. If you're The Fonz, you've already got the marketeers all hot & bothered, so hawking a book's oh so much easier. Now, if you're actually a writer? Not so fast ... unless you've got something personally that they think they could sell (oh, say, a little sex appeal, a little black-boots-and-miniskirt tramp appeal ... and some words you put together well enough to call a book ... yeah, that'd work).

Sarah Stevenson said...

I have to admit, the excerpt could have done with a little Solid Editing.

It didn't really hold my attention; only enough for me to note the heavy preponderance of metaphor after metaphor. My personal favorite was the woman "whose perfume hung in the air like a battered piƱata." I had to stop to think about that (and then I kind of wished I hadn't bothered).

It wasn't bad, but...honestly? There's a lot of better stuff out there. It didn't move quickly along for me, but instead kind of did a herky-jerky dance in place and ended up belaboring a point which could have been made in just a few paragraphs.

tanita✿davis said...

All right, all RIGHT! No, I didn't mean HP was solidly written - not so much anymore. And I tend to agree with both of you about the novel excerpt. I... didn't... like it. And I felt bad because this writer has already gotten so much flack and fluttering from the blogsphere. But yeah - there's better out there, even if this is brand-spanking-new-run-go-get-it-now marketing.

Solid Editing. Yeah. Should get back to that.