March 05, 2008

...and furthermore...furthermore...and on top of that...

This WAS supposed to just be a response to Melissa and Bottle-of-Shine in the comments section of this blog, but, well, it got long. So I'm just gonna say it:

Shenanigans. Though my OED says the etymology of the word is unknown, according to Wikipedia, that bastion of factoids, 'shenanigan' possibly originates from the Irish sionnachuighim, meaning "I play the fox." Can you see that? Mr. Horn Book, setting himself as a cat among pigeons, as a fox among ...hens? Because he can? I can see it. I do believe sometimes the man simply says things to wind people up.

Even so, I felt pretty ...stung by his statements earlier today. Because I simply can't seem to find the time to read adult books, and so, I really... don't. (Of course, this begs the definition of 'adult book' and who defines 'adult' but that's a whole 'nother post. Suffice it to say that I waited my whole childhood to read what books I wanted...)

I've always felt that as a YA writer, I was making a choice, to sort of ...immerse myself in the culture, to write the best YA books I could by reading them and participating in the culture of childhood and adolescence. This doesn't mean I reject adulthood - major purchases, permanent relationships, occasional housecleaning, yep, sort of adultish. I read plenty of adultish books to get my various degrees (and gave away an armload of "how to write" books when I realized they can't help you if you can't...) but if I read YA/children's books for my recreational reading, who is to say what "recreates" me?

Comments like,
"but to say that children's literature will give a grownup all he or she needs from books suggests there is no reason to grow up in the first place."
"My problem is ... with the belief that children's literature encompasses in itself the range of human experience, that it has and can give expression to pretty much anything worth expressing. Or worth reading about"
suggest to me a fundamental -- and unsubtle -- contempt not only for the literature of children and young adults, but for... childhood. As in, Oh, it's just puppy love, you can't possibly feel anything as deeply as I do.

It seems the fundamental assumption here is that the "A" in YA has something that is of greater value than the "Y."

And I'm not thinkin' I buy that.


Anonymous said...

The problem I had with his words and subsequent inability to admit he looked like a jerk and should maybe yank his kneecap out of his esophagus was his position in this community. Apparently this dude is a Big Name in the community and culture of books for adolescents. He made an inflammatory comment that derided his community as well as the work of people in it. It wasn't tongue in cheek, it wasn't ironic, it was just rude. I can think of a lot of adjectives that describe that behavior, and they start with "wanky" and end with more words that probably will get this comment deleted.

When you're in a genre that's treated like the poor cousin in the mainstream, as if the books in it are only worth something to readers that fall into their age bracket, it's like shooting yourself in the foot. It's undermining your bottom line. If we don't take our genre seriously and stand up for it, demand it get the same respect awarded books in another genres, then we really can't complain when reviewers compare "weak" adult books to YA lit or accuse publishers of "ghettoizing" books by labeling them YA. They can just point to our own people and go, "Well, look, HE'S important and he thinks YA is second-class."

I don't get how he thought this was a good way to start a "discussion". Encourage "discussion" by making people feel like crap? That's a new one; AWESOME JOB, MAN. Thumbs way up! If members go around vomiting out wanky comments that make our job validating YA/kidlit just as rewarding as "adult" literature harder, that says something and it points to B-A-D.

Liz B said...

I have to say, I wonder -- was RS wanting comments so posted something just to get a response?

Was he being a Devils Advocate?

If someone is arguing or posting something they don't believe -- well, how ironic considering the recent fake memoirs, to now start believing that we have fake posts, if it's not what Roger believes but said more to get a response.

I'm not sure why he said it; but I do find it disturbing on a number of different levels.

Including the possibility it was done just to stir the pot;
and including the possibility that he sees himself as The Wise Old Man to us Foolish Children, and so must speak up to teach us.

tanita✿davis said...

Yeah... I'm feeling the Wise Old Man vibe. I feel it frequently, but usually think, "Ah, well, maybe I don't know anything. I can do Foolish Child."

But I'm beginning to find that role is very narrow. I guess if he's just stirring the pot, I can be grateful - it got me thinking - but it also makes me realize I have better things to do with my time than get upset that yet another person is deliberately misunderstanding young adult literature...

Liz B said...

It actually makes me feel quite YAish! Time to uprise against the established authority, especially when there appears to be no good reason that the established authority is, well, an authority.

Who is "the man" to tell me what I can or cannot read, should or should not read, in order to get granted the title "grown up"?

Andromeda Jazmon said...

"Mr. Horn Book, setting himself as a cat among pigeons, as a fox among ...hens?" I think you nailed it with that. I won't even go read what he said. It's just foolishness.

Sam said...

It's okay, anyone who uses the OED is emotionally mature, well-rounded and worthy of respect, especially if it's the unabridged.

I do understand the man's point to a point, since, after all, to pass life without reading a Dickens novel is mistake. But so is failing to read Pinkwater.

Melissa said...

Thanks, tadmack; I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one out there (I knew I wasn't, but you gave me a place to voice those feelings)... I appreciate that. (This post has helped, in an odd way, with the feeling of community, too. We're all in this together: adults who love YA books. So what if we don't want to entirely grow up?)

David T. Macknet said...

What incredibly ignorant - and unsupportable - comments Roger makes.

1) "...children's books tend to be easier and thus potentially 'fun' for adults in a way they tend not to be for children."

Really? OK, so Roger's compared the reading level of adult books to that of YA books? Or maybe he's talking about easier subject matter, in which case I'm wondering how a genre which examines things such as making right moral decisions is somehow 'easier' than things like crime novels; I'd also wonder about comparing individual segments of the genres, and whether there's any validity to such a comparison whatsoever.

This is, of course, presuming that Roger has done any study of the matter, rather than simply spouting off without any support whatsoever.

2) "...adults whose taste in recreational reading ends with the YA novel need to grow up."

Hmm. OK. So, if you read YA novels, you're not grown up. A matter of taste is now a cause for accusing a group of people of some deficiency? So, if I were to say, "people who prefer beer over wine need to grow up," I would be making just the same quality of statement Roger makes, and with about the same force: i.e., none whatsoever.

This article is simply Roger's opinion, and it stinks of course, because he doesn't have any idea how to argue a point without resorting to childish tactics such as calling names. It also stinks because he has presented things as 'facts' which are nothing of the sort, and is essentially just spouting off empty rhetoric. A first-year logic student could at least cobble together a proper argument, but not our Roger: he's a book reviewer, an arbiter of style and taste, therefore he doesn't need to be able to think.

And we listen to him ... why?

Camille said...

I had to laugh at the whole "adult lit/ya lit" thing given my experience this year in the book club I joined so I would branch out and read more "grown up" books.

So far this year we have read:

Saint Maybe, Anne Tyler -- a teen's words, uttered in anger, follow him into adulthood as he repents for his action.

A Small Rain, Madeleine L’Engle -- beginning as a small child, a young pianist comes of age.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon -- Austistic teen deals with the world.

Balzac and the Little Seamstress, Dai Sijie -- the power of literature during the cultural revolution in china and its affect on two teens undergoing "re-education."

The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler
-- the childhood and coming of age of young Ernest Pontifex in his pseudo-religious Victorian family.

Seems to me, all the "grown up" books we've read so far this year have a YA novel lurking within them.

tanita✿davis said...

Ooh, Sam, my OED *IS* unabridged, and it has that way cool word-nerd magnifying glass with which I occasionally get sidetracked by using to see closeups of bugs and fabric weave... *ahem.* But to return to adult guise:

Does one become 'authority' (or an arbiter of taste) because one is the first to say so? I accord this gentleman no such power -- his community is not mine, his taste does not inform mine, he's just a guy with a blog who happens to work in NY where there are a lot of big houses, and he's in contact with them. He's not one of "our own," to me, so I guess I'm with Leila at Bookshelves O' Doom and can say that I'm used to people thinking that YA is nothing but Gossip Girl/SweetValley-After School-Just-Say-No Special of Fumbling Pre-Adolescent Sex That Ends in STDs and Pregnancy -- People are always trying to bring me "better books." I'm over it.

I do read my Dickens and my Austen, and my Hawthorne, but I'm not about to argue about who the audience was for those books -- young, impressionable adults. I count myself among them. (Just too cranky right now to be too impressionable.)

tanita✿davis said...

P.S. Camille -- I recall the Mark Haddon book was only published as ADULT in the U.S. -- originally in the UK it was YA...

Saints and Spinners said...

I was impressed and moved by the responses to Roger's post, and the ones in here, too. The side-benefit of such a post is that I get to see in action the thoughtful, critical rebuttals I miss by not being an active part of my library profession.

You have reminded of the Gwendolyn Brooks poem "To Be Grown Up" (which probably should be saved for Poetry Friday, but here it is now):

To Be Grown Up

The whole chocolate cake can be yours.

To be grown up means
you don't get a report card.
You don't face a father, a mother.

The walls of the cage are gone.
The fortress is done and down.

To be grown up means
the Bill will be paid by you.

To be grown up means
you can get sick and stay sick.
Your legs will not love you. They'll fail.

No icy sidewalks for sliding.

No grandmother to fix you big biscuits.
No grandfather to sing you "Asleep in the Deep."

If I were to write a response poem, I'm sure something would crop up like, "I can read children's books until 2 a.m and not have to hide under the covers with a flashlight."

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

Well, Roger's post actually resonated for me in a different way. I don't think of children's/YA lit as somehow "lesser" than adult--which may be the implication that is making people bristle. I'm not bristling because that's such a common misconception that it no longer gets a rise out of me. I can't take it seriously.

What I want to focus on is the idea of readers limiting themselves to a genre--any genre. For example, people who read only mysteries are missing out on many great books, I think. But who am I to say that if they really enjoy mysteries, they HAVE to read anything else? I would encourage them to try other books from time to time, just as I would encourage children's/YA writers to read outside our genre from time to time, but it's not mandatory. Who's keeping score, anyway? The kidlit arena is rich and diverse--we have children's/YA science fiction, chicklit, mystery, historical fiction, nonfiction, literary fiction, etc., etc.--that it's not exactly limiting to stay in this world. On the other hand, why not try a peek at the other bookshelves from time to time? It's all good.

Sarah Stevenson said...

Further to that, though, liquidambar, I resent the implication in his post that people who read widely in the world of YA have necessarily limited their reading to YA books only. (It also begs the question of what it means to "grow up" or be "grownup," but that's a whole other philosophical discussion...)

I'd like to go in the opposite direction, too, and point out that for those of us who are YA writers, it's of critical importance for us to be well read in our (for lack of a better term) genre. In my opinion, it's also important for writers to be well read, period.

Ultimately, though, my complaint is this: whose right is it to say that my reading habits and preferences are a reflection of my level of taste, intellect, or maturity? Who can even accurately make that judgment?

tanita✿davis said...

I'm totally taking the whole chocolate cake thing? Literally...

Anonymous said...

Man, do I want a liquid chocolate cake right about now.

But I totally agreed with your take on Roger's comments, and with bottle-of-shine's comments about it being extra horrible coming from someone who is place as an advocate for children's literature.

Also? The writing is, in the main, better quality. I didn't get into it over at my blog because I didn't have the energy, but I almost feel as if he doesn't merit having the position he has now that he's gone and said something like that. Which is overly dramatic, but it's how I feel about it.