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View Full Version : "Against Walter Dean Myers" & the "insipidness" of YA


maybegenius
01-08-2012, 03:18 AM
So, Walter Dean Myers (author of MONSTER, HOOPS, and many other books about urban teen life) was recently named National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, right? Well, his appointment inspired this article (http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/pageviews/2012/01/against-walter-dean-myers-and-the-dumbing-down-of-literature-those-kids-can-read-h) in which a former high school teacher and literature lover speaks against his placement and implies that YA is not and can not be the equivalent of "literature that should elevate."

But [Myers'] mission is bound to fail, I am afraid. I thought it then, as I watched boys wrestle between desks over who would read “Bad Boy” or “Hoops” next. I think it now, with Myers having ascended to the heights of the YA world. Because while his own story is inspiring, his books are insipid.

I think that because I am an unashamed, unapologetic believer that the purpose of literature is to elevate. Not to entertain, to problematize or to instruct, but to take what Hamlet called our “unweeded garden” and revel in its thorns. Not to make the world pretty, but to make it true, and by making it true, make it beautiful. All real art is high art.

Myers’ books on the other hand, are painfully mundane, with simple moral lessons built into predictable situations: the projects, prison, redemption.

Basically, the guy is saying that kids reading YA is essentially a pointless exercise that will get them nowhere and teach them nothing of value, and that they should be reading "the classics" in order to gain true value from literature. This is, of course, flawed thinking for numerous reasons, but that wasn't even what caught my eye in this article.

What caught my eye were some of the comments.

I think the phrase, "the purpose of literature is to elevate. Not to entertain, to problematize or to instruct," will be a point of contention. The reason is that the terms are broad, and you left them undefined.

...

My point is that [had you better defined your points,] you'd have covered your ass for the inevitable reaction from the consistently childish YA industry. And if they couldn't pick on that, they might have to present their own ideas for literature, for whatever goals might be considered worthwhile (or those that may be considered unworthy). It would certainly elevate the conversation.

But I get the impression from YA professionals (mostly the writers I've met, and they have been legion), that they don't like to think harder thoughts. Often, they popped over to the YA side because the community has that air of do-as-you-please carelessness. The critics mostly assess work based on whether or not they liked the protagonist. And anyone trying to grapple with the tough questions is pretentious. I get the impression that many of them haven't quite dealt with their own high school experiences, or wish to revisit them now that they're sufficiently strong enough to handle it. Much of Twitter, the blogs, etc, seems to be a population of grown-ups acting like their characters...and let's face it, kids don't like homework.

The following comment was related to me (author of the above original post) by Catherine McCredie, a senior editor of young adult fiction at Penguin Group Australia. Her response, in full:

This is (to my ears) a fresh and welcome attack on contemporary young adult literature. Those of us who produce YA literature are used to hearing that too much of it is too dark, but we don’t usually hear it’s too insipid. And I agree that most of it probably is, just as most contemporary adult novels probably are – especially compared with the ancient classics.

As someone whose job it is, in part, to look out for new talent, I search for that manuscript that has ‘the life force’ amid the reams of competent but uninspired writing that we receive, and have rarely seen it. So much of it, like so many people you encounter, is just mimicry.

...

This portion is taken out of context, so you should definitely go read the entire comment at the bottom of the comment thread, but the point made here is the one that caught my eye.

These comments naturally made me do the squinty side-eye, but I don't know that I think they're entirely unfounded. This is how people outside the YA community view it. They look at (some of) us and how we act and respond to criticism of our work or genre, and they see a tightly-knit group of grown-up children who like to stick their fingers in their ears and go "la la la" after they pat each other on the back.

This is something I think about a lot a lot a lot. I write genre fiction. I am under no illusions that I'm writing the next great work of literary nirvana or anything. Even so, I do want my work to be literary. I want it to be elevated. This is exactly why I buck so hard every time someone (usually not a writing/publishing professional) tells me they think my writing is too "high" for teenagers. No, it isn't. I wrote it that way on purpose. Because I think teenagers deserve and can handle elevated language and themes. So there.

I want to be told if my work is not as good as it could be. I want it to be better. I want to eventually write something that will shut the mouths of all these people who think literature written for youth is this immature, lesser, invaluable thing.

And because of this, the comments above make me cringe and make me angry, but I don't think they're entirely off the mark. This is why I get so upset when the YA community behaves in the way of the recent (and past) Goodreads and blog war debacles. Because that kind of stuff just proves these people right. Unless we can show them, not just tell them, but SHOW THEM, that we are capable of handling criticism like professionals and adults, then what they're saying holds water. This is why I think it's important for us to learn to think critically of ourselves and our community and not fall into the trap of isolation and surrounding ourselves with yes-men.

At the same time, I think it's dangerous to get into specifics about which books are "quality literature" and which are "insipid." Obviously, that is highly subjective and NO ONE will agree. Nor should they. Not everyone is at the same reading level or has the same reading needs. I admit I tend to fall on the side of intellectualism, but even so, I acknowledge the value and merits of what most people would call "fluff" fiction. Not everyone wants or needs a complex brain workout with their literature. Reading is reading. There should be something out there for everyone.

Okay, now I'm totally rambling and this post is WAY WAY WAY TL;DR and I apologize. But I thought it'd be an interesting discussion topic to bring to the table.

So. Thoughts?

maybegenius
01-08-2012, 03:19 AM
THAT SHOULD OF COURSE BE WALTER DEAN MYERS AND NOT WALTER DEAD MYERS I AM A NOOB I APOLOGIZE.

JUST KIDDING I FIXED IT.

Missus Akasha
01-08-2012, 03:51 AM
Let's face it, the YA genre will always be considered the rebel and not everyone will be pleased with the content that is in it. However, who are these people to say that young adult readers won't gain life values from YA fiction? There are hundreds and hundreds of books that are considered classics now when way back when, they were banned from schools and homes while criticized for the material within the pages.

It is important to read classics, but to dismiss YA fiction as a childish genre that doesn't want to dive into the deeper topics of life is rather bold statement.

thothguard51
01-08-2012, 04:09 AM
Please show me the section of my writers contract with readers where I have to elevate them. I seem to have missed that clause...

I think it was in the movie Finding Forrester, where Forrester note that writers write well get published and those who can't teach. I wonder what Mr Alexander Nazaryan record is ????

lvae
01-08-2012, 04:10 AM
And because of this, the comments above make me cringe and make me angry, but I don't think they're entirely off the mark. This is why I get so upset when the YA community behaves in the way of the recent (and past) Goodreads and blog war debacles. Because that kind of stuff just proves these people right. Unless we can show them, not just tell them, but SHOW THEM, that we are capable of handling criticism like professionals and adults, then what they're saying holds water. This is why I think it's important for us to learn to think critically of ourselves and our community and not fall into the trap of isolation and surrounding ourselves with yes-men.

Authors behaving badly isn't a phenomenom exclusively demonstrated by YA authors - and it isn't even especially apparent in YA authors either. As aspiring writers, we're just particularly sensitive to any drama that happens to this specific niche of the industry.

But I have noticed the YA lit industry does seem to have much more of a visible online presence than other genres (bar romance). YA publishers also seem to use the Internet to market their books more than most other genres, as opposed to traditional print sources such as magazines. But this again might be just me being more aware of YA marketing strategies, as an aspiring writer.

I need more time with the 'literature that should elevate' statement. My thoughts on this topic are very confused.

thothguard51
01-08-2012, 04:13 AM
I really need to learn to google search first...

I little something about the author of the article. Here's the link...

http://www.thedailybeast.com/contributors/alexander-nazaryan.html

Emberchyld
01-08-2012, 04:14 AM
*sigh* And those attacks on YA completely contradict the discussions that I've been seeing lately that laud YA for empowering teen girls... or how "bestselling adult" authors are jumping into the genre (some may say for monetary reasons, some because they feel the need to explore their YA voice.)

I (still) remember being in high school. I take dance classes with high schoolers and skate with middle/high schoolers. And, while I was the geek who loved Austen and Shakepeare and I know that teens like that do exist, what I hear these teens discussing are books that people like those self-professed "literature lovers" consider the equivalent of junk food. But in these books, the girls that I know see themselves fighting against a dystopian society or winning the boy or saving the world. As their lives get more and more difficult, they can escape into these worlds. Those books that they have to read for high school because they're classics? Yeah, not so much. Also, ask a bunch of teens who are fans of the Infernal Devices series how many of them have read "A Tale of Two Cities" as a result... and you'll find that YA novels have more success in getting teens to read a classic than any English teacher just pushing the novel.

Are most of these the next Great American Novel? No. But there's a TON of junk (sometimes, I"m AMAZED at what gets published) in the standard Fiction section as well.

(Sorry for the rant. I'm just... annoyed at these people trying to take away something that I believe gives teens an escape into their own world.)

missesdash
01-08-2012, 04:21 AM
This is a great discussion. I definitely disagree that literature shouldn't be written to entertain. That's a philosophical debate for another day.

But really, all people know of YA authors is what they see on twitter and blogs. As with any group, the worst behaved are usually the loudest. There are certainly tons of immature and petty writers who write adult lit. And adult lit has just as much trash as YA.

In a way it feels self fulfilling because people read these articles about how YA is crap, and YA is easier to write so they rush forward and think they'll make a quick buck or that they can write YA instead of "real books" since they don't have a wriing background.

As long as it's presented as a place for idiots, idiots will flock to it. The YA community gets a lot more scrutiny than the others because we're so present online and accessible. Our audience expects that because it's how they lead their lives.

It's easy for people to bitch about the behavior of writers now that it's out in the open. But anyone who has worked with artists knows that in general, we're touchy about what we do and can be very poorly behaved when it isn't received well. This isn't new or confined to YA. it goes back further than Van Gogh chopping off his ear and giving it to a prostitute.

We've always been crazy people, but we were crazy alone, in the dark, hunched over type writers or crazy and drunk in a cafe with other crazy artists. So really, yes we should try to do better and encourage maturity. But at the same time we shouldn't necessarily feel that this is a YA thing.

thothguard51
01-08-2012, 04:34 AM
Crazy is what one is/does alone.

But crazy in a group of like minded people is a movement...

maybegenius
01-08-2012, 04:46 AM
Completely agreed that the "authors behaving badly" thing is not exclusive to YA. Unfortunately, I also agree that because we are so active and accessible to the public via the Internet, it opens us up to a lot more scrutiny, especially because of WHAT we write. Because we're writing for and about teenagers, it is very, very easy for people to jump in with the "you're behaving like you're audience because you never grew up you big baby etc etc etc" argument.

It sadly true that the few loudest individuals often influence the perception of the whole. It sucks. I'm not sure what to do about that. Still, I think there's some merit in the idea that we, as a community, are occasionally unwilling to be critical. It's a really convoluted mess. First, we're encouraged not to speak ill of our contemporaries as new or aspiring authors, which is fair to an extent. Next, the YA community as a whole is very supportive of its members, which sometimes bleeds into going too far in defending our friends and colleagues, which in turn makes us look like we can't handle criticism. AND THEN, there are instances where we really CAN'T handle criticism and we start crying foul when someone says our work is too silly or fluffy or ignorant or whatever.

SO MANY ISSUES TO WORRY ABOUT, UGH.

missesdash
01-08-2012, 04:55 AM
Well I'm pretty new to "the YA community" so I'm still figuring it all out. I rolled my eyes at the recent GoodReads "drama" because it really didn't seem like drama at all. In fact it felt perpetuated by a 14 year old book blogger and a few obsessive tweets.

So that did seem very...immature to me. But since I haven't been around long, I didn't want to assume it was a regular thing. But it is a very "tight knit" group. Often the point where I don't know if I'll ever consider myself part of it. Not in a pretentious "I'm too good" way, but more the behavior you mentioned is borne out of a very intense solidarity and that kind of attitude tends to discourage dissent.

pixydust
01-08-2012, 06:38 AM
I feel like I've been transported to the 1950s. What is that woman's problem? Next she'll be telling the kids they have to wear uniforms to "elevate" themselves above style fopauxs.

I'm leery when someone comes out and says: "That isn't art!" Like they're god on the issue. And on what basis do they make this statement?

And I agree, sometimes writer's act like children, but not just YA writers. All artists in all forms, have a propensity to act improper at times, be passionate, a little too passionate sometimes. That's been happening since Van Gough cut his ear off. And we're surprised about this, why? LOL...

I think we need to always be reevaluating ourselves, swallowing our pride, and keeping peace where we can. But it would be difficult to stand by and watch a friend, whom I respect, get raked over the coals when I know it's due to petty and "insipid" arguments.

I admire Walter Dean Myers. I've heard him speak a few times and believe his voice is pivotal to the community at large. He's inspiring and hopeful and real. And I was beyond thrilled to hear he was chosen for such an honorable post.

thebloodfiend
01-08-2012, 06:52 AM
sometimes, i wonder if these people read ya. it's like me making judgement on christian lit or mystery/noir. i don't read it, so how would i know anything about it?

as for the ya community? yeah, i think they're too "rah-rah" sometimes. but it's nice to see people who stick up for each other. i just wish the few ass-hats out there wouldn't ruin it for the rest of us.

but, seriously? why do people always have to have something to pick on? is it like an ego boost for people to shit on ya and claim that it's inferior and without literary merit?

ftr, i write to entertain. while elevation of self might be a side-effect, it isn't really my intention. i write according to my morality and that's about it.

timewaster
01-08-2012, 04:47 PM
Well I'm pretty new to "the YA community" so I'm still figuring it all out. I rolled my eyes at the recent GoodReads "drama" because it really didn't seem like drama at all. In fact it felt perpetuated by a 14 year old book blogger and a few obsessive tweets.

So that did seem very...immature to me. But since I haven't been around long, I didn't want to assume it was a regular thing. But it is a very "tight knit" group. Often the point where I don't know if I'll ever consider myself part of it. Not in a pretentious "I'm too good" way, but more the behavior you mentioned is borne out of a very intense solidarity and that kind of attitude tends to discourage dissent.

I missed the Goodreads drama, but i've been writing and publishing kids'/YA novels for twelve years now and I don't think any of the YA writers I know are childish in any way. A number of us blog together at http://awfullybigblogadventure.blogspot.com/ where you can judge for yourself.
We are all in the UK so our experience is perhaps different, but most of the people I know do not write bland or even easy books. There is some wonderful writing for YA, disciplined, tight and honest. There are commercial pressures on all of us to write to be safe, and write what marketing departments think will sell, but there is no dearth of really good, thought provoking material over here. YOu have to make compromises but writers have always written under constraints.

(I also think the notion that literature can't be entertaining is totally bonkers.)

Alessandra Kelley
01-08-2012, 05:53 PM
Interesting.

I think the science fiction genre got this treatment starting in the
'50s or '60s, when its authors really started trying to explore and treat serious (and yeah, elevating) subjects. I bet there's some of that in YA too, yes?

Science fiction has also been treated to mainstream authors deciding they want to write sf, like Emberchyld noted here. From within the community the results tended to look less than original.

The insular thing, too. As a community of people passionate about something treated indifferently by part, at least, of the literary world, science fiction authors have tended to stick together, support each other, gossip with each other, and not talk much about their internal goofinesses to people outside the field. I think there may have been some unfortunate tendency to close ranks.

Attention paid to your genre, especially when it's condescending, can be grating. But expanding its possibilities is a good thing.

I should point out I'm not a sci fi writer, in fact, not any kind of writer at all. But I grew up among them. These are just my observations, probably not canon.

Lydia Sharp
01-08-2012, 07:51 PM
2012 is apparently the year of the YA lit apocalypse. Every day it's something new, and somehow worse than what came before it.

It'll pass, I know. But in the meantime... :e2beat:

CACTUSWENDY
01-08-2012, 08:19 PM
I don't write YA.

I am always leery when the 'box' is the only way/place that a notable work can be done. Thinking outside the 'box' is where you will find the diamonds, the wow factor, even the 'got to have' works.

IMHO I believe there is 'junk' in all areas of the written word. To scoop everything into one nice heap is never a good reason/plan. I am one that still wants to be 'entertained' by any thing I read. It is one of the driving factors of why folks read in the first place. (Makes no difference if it is a classic or otherwise.)

Many times the simplest told story can carry the most right on message. I do agree that teens can/do read higher than they might be given credit for. I don't think there is ever a need to dumb down a story.

Again, this is only my two cents.

timewaster
01-08-2012, 09:39 PM
I don't write YA.

I am always leery when the 'box' is the only way/place that a notable work can be done. Thinking outside the 'box' is where you will find the diamonds, the wow factor, even the 'got to have' works.

IMHO I believe there is 'junk' in all areas of the written word. To scoop everything into one nice heap is never a good reason/plan. I am one that still wants to be 'entertained' by any thing I read. It is one of the driving factors of why folks read in the first place. (Makes no difference if it is a classic or otherwise.)

Many times the simplest told story can carry the most right on message. I do agree that teens can/do read higher than they might be given credit for. I don't think there is ever a need to dumb down a story.

Again, this is only my two cents.

It does depend on what you mean by 'dumb down'. YA writing tends to be pithier, tighter, with more narrative drive and fewer sub plots than some other kinds of writing, but that doesn't prevent it from dealing with difficult ideas or from having literary merit. It is a different kind of writing from material pitched at the lit novel market, but eschewing some of the characteristics of lit novels isn't necessarily dumbing down.

lilmizflashythang
01-08-2012, 10:08 PM
I think he means assuming that your audience are idiots, not that the idea should be stupid.

missesdash
01-08-2012, 10:20 PM
I also think some people assume a book is written in a simple way because it's for teens, but they forget about the inportance of voice in YA, especially in first person. So it may seem dumbed down because it reads, ya know, like real people speak.

That's definitely a stylistic choice and makes it easier for all kinds of readers to relate to your characters/story. People who say "teens are smarter than this" tend to forget about the teenagers who do have a tough time reading but don't want to read middle grade. So we should also consider the writers intended audience.

Toothpaste
01-08-2012, 10:54 PM
There have been adult authors on Twitter who have behaved badly recently. The interwebs isn't just for YA alone. Nor do I put much stock into the argument that the only purpose of literature is to elevate. Further I am so used to the literary scene dissing every other genre to really take this personally. And of course the whole "if it's written simply it must be simplistic" is a very simplistic and ridiculous argument.

That being said.

I'm going to say something that might be unpopular. But I think a fair bit of the YA fiction out there that is very popular, that gets prime shelving placement etc . . . isn't very good.

Does this make it the majority of YA fiction? Absolutely not. Are there very popular books that are also great quality. Absolutely yes. But while people in this thread have been pointing out how even if the books aren't elevating they at least inspire say girls to be strong etc, I have to really disagree.

I have seen, in the last couple years, and definitely inspired by TWILIGHT's success, a great number of books published by big houses about girls who are supposed to be strong, but aren't really. Who put up with truly jerky guys because actually the guy is supposed to be alpha and in love with her. That the "true passionate love" is an excuse for female characters to put themselves in subservient positions, to not care about anything in their world aside from the boy (and also some big quest thing, but really the important thing is the boy). Pseudo-feminism where "strong" = "having magic powers" but not "being intelligent, independent, a leader, an ability to laugh at oneself, and good at problem solving".

Further, and this is where things get really subjective, I think the writing in some of these books isn't very good. Now, I must be very clear about this, there is writing in just these books that is brilliant, I in no way am associating genre with writing quality. But when this kind of story goes hand in hand with terrible writing AND the book is extremely popular. . . that's clearly something that outsiders are noticing, and painting our entire genre with.

(which, I should add, is extremely unfair. A lot of people think Dan Brown is a terrible writer and his books are awful, but they then don't turn around and say all books for adults are terrible.)

So yes, I'm going to be critical of YA and say that some of it really is terrible. And that the big problem is that this some of it gets A LOT of attention. There are entire YA blogs devoted to just one certain kind of YA book, and the majority are for these kinds of books.

Know how I know this? I just spent 8 hours a day for 8 days working as a temp where I had absolutely nothing to do aside from play on the internet. So I searched "YA blogs" and read. And read. And read. And while there are some incredibly wonderfully critical and astute YA blogs out there that I thoroughly enjoyed, the majority are not. The majority are obsessed with the kinds of books I mention above.

So now of course the conversation turns to reading for entertainment and these are clearly very popular books so even if I don't like them, someone out there does. And isn't it fantastic that people are talking about books at all, and creating blogs and being inspired. And I get it. And I think it's fantastic. I'm not at all denying these books should exist and be popular. I am simply pointing out that when you have a genre seeming represented by these kinds of books, is it any wonder that people think there is nothing of substance to our genre?

Is there any wonder that a friend of mine who is venturing into YA from literary adult fiction will immediately call a writing technique or trope that isn't literary "so YA" and I have to point out to her, "Uh, no, that's just a superhero/action adventure trope, you see it in adult lit all the time"?

I also realise that in my saying what I am about other books, I am opening up to criticism of mine. But I have to admit what I've been seeing. And it isn't great.

And further, the unwillingness of the YA community to be critical of itself outside of the pub (because at the pub then you hear the real sentiments of insiders), makes our community seem childish, and clique-ish, and seeming immature writers where everyone wins a trophy.

shaldna
01-08-2012, 11:26 PM
Whether the literature is considered to have any actual 'quality' about it, I completely disagree with this bloke and his assertion that literatures only purpose is to elevate. He even states that entertainment alone is not good enough.

What a freakin snob.

He states that he's seen kids fight over who gets to read a book next. That is amazing, and shows that, no matter how good he thinks the book to be, the kids are loving it and desperate to read it. That love of that book will change over time, expanding to encompass other books, other genres.

The pure and simple love of a book, any book at all, will lead to a love of more books.

missesdash
01-08-2012, 11:44 PM
I also saw in the comments he said something along the lines of: "if it's only about getting them to read, why not let them read cereal boxes?"

The thing is, if I couldn't get a kid to read, I'd be absolutely thrilled if they started reading cereal boxes. I'd buy five boxes of cereal every day if that's what got them reading. It's like he doesn't see the importance of the reading itself, only the content.

maybegenius
01-09-2012, 12:13 AM
I also think some people assume a book is written in a simple way because it's for teens, but they forget about the inportance of voice in YA, especially in first person. So it may seem dumbed down because it reads, ya know, like real people speak.

That's definitely a stylistic choice and makes it easier for all kinds of readers to relate to your characters/story. People who say "teens are smarter than this" tend to forget about the teenagers who do have a tough time reading but don't want to read middle grade. So we should also consider the writers intended audience.

I definitely agree here, and like I believe Toothpaste mentioned, a lot of people equate a more simplistic style with "dumbed down" writing, and I don't think that's the case at all. Simple and straightforward does not mean stupid. A book's theme does not have to be wrapped in layers and layers of language and metaphor and difficult ideas in order to hold water.

I think a lot of people forget, too, that children and teenagers are still PRETTY DARN NEW to reading and literature. They haven't been to college and done a ton of serious literary analysis. The classics are new and fresh to them, and so is contemporary literature. This is the foundation of their reading life and the beginning of what is hopefully a lifelong love of literature. They're just starting to figure out what they like. When we start taking books they're enjoying away and going, "No no no, that's trash, read THIS instead!", we're undermining that process. Sure, give them the "good" book too. But don't take other books away to do it.

I also saw in the comments he said something along the lines of: "if it's only about getting them to read, why not let them read cereal boxes?"

The thing is, if I couldn't get a kid to read, I'd be absolutely thrilled if they started reading cereal boxes. I'd buy five boxes of cereal every day if that's what got them reading. It's like he doesn't see the importance of the reading itself, only the content.

I think this comment from the original article author irked me more than the article itself. He was responding to someone who VERY MUCH DID NOT MAKE THIS ARGUMENT. Classic logical fallacy (pick out something from your opponent's argument, twist it into something they didn't actually say, and attack that instead).

And seriously, so what if the thing a kid wants to read at the beginning is a cereal box, or a comic book, or a monster truck magazine. So what. They're showing you where their interests lie. Take that. Work with it. Find books that will bridge them into your so-called "elevated" literature based on WHAT THEY ARE SHOWING YOU THEY ENJOY.

timewaster
01-09-2012, 12:36 AM
I have seen, in the last couple years, and definitely inspired by TWILIGHT's success, a great number of books published by big houses about girls who are supposed to be strong, but aren't really...
Further, and this is where things get really subjective, I think the writing in some of these books isn't very good. ..
And further, the unwillingness of the YA community to be critical of itself outside of the pub (because at the pub then you hear the real sentiments of insiders), makes our community seem childish, and clique-ish, and seeming immature writers where everyone wins a trophy.

I haven't read much of this material, but that is the impression I've received. I don't think it is fair to say that writers are not critical of each other that really isn't so and I'm not sure it would help to be more public about it. We are also highly critical of publishers when they chase big bucks at the expense of trying to sell 'good' books. ( I don't think it makes business sense to pursue read a likes either but maybe that's just me.) We've all got a living to make and I'm not about to knock any writer jumping on a bandwagon to pay their bills.

Chrissy
01-09-2012, 12:37 AM
Elevate? Evelate what? And to where? And from what point?

Why I read: because I love stories. I love to laugh, I love to cry. I love to be moved. I love to learn about people. How they act, how they feel, cause and effect.

If I can relate to how the characters feel, it's like, wow, I'm not alone. There are other people like me. It's okay. I'm okay. (Books that do this would have been much more helpful than Hemmingway in high school, frankly)

And if I don't necessarily relate, but the author has got me caring about someone in a situation I've never considered before, it expands my ability to see other people.

It's about humanity. It's about people. No matter if it's set in suburbia or dystopia or the planet Vulcan.

So, have I expressed the meaning of elevation? If so, great. If not, who freakin' cares? I think the article's use of the word "elevation" in and of itself hints at some nebulous wannabe-artistic snobbery, when there really isn't much meaning there. And I like me some meaning, yanno?

As has been previously hinted at, critics are the ones who really have nothing creative going on (frustrated artists perhaps, bless their little hearts), so they turn to the nearest successful competitor and start lashing out. Quite unattractive, IMO.

thebloodfiend
01-09-2012, 12:51 AM
I haven't read much of this material, but that is the impression I've received. I don't think it is fair to say that writers are not critical of each other that really isn't so and I'm not sure it would help to be more public about it. We are also highly critical of publishers when they chase big bucks at the expense of trying to sell 'good' books. ( I don't think it makes business sense to pursue read a likes either but maybe that's just me.) We've all got a living to make and I'm not about to knock any writer jumping on a bandwagon to pay their bills.

I have no problem with those who jump on the bandwagon. I'd probably do it myself if I knew I could produce a decent book from the trend. I do, however, have a problem with this shit:

I have seen, in the last couple years, and definitely inspired by TWILIGHT's success, a great number of books published by big houses about girls who are supposed to be strong, but aren't really. Who put up with truly jerky guys because actually the guy is supposed to be alpha and in love with her. That the "true passionate love" is an excuse for female characters to put themselves in subservient positions, to not care about anything in their world aside from the boy (and also some big quest thing, but really the important thing is the boy). Pseudo-feminism where "strong" = "having magic powers" but not "being intelligent, independent, a leader, an ability to laugh at oneself, and good at problem solving".Especially when it's passed off as good and romantic. Toothpaste is right. This is prevalent in a lot of popular YA. And it's sickening to pick up PNR book after PNR book, hoping that it'll be different, only to realize that you just bought into the same disgusting shit that's been fucking up our society for years.

There was a great discussion on GR about "strong" heroines a few days ago. (http://www.goodreads.com/user_status/show/10116481) I think a lot of people could stand to read it.

So I can understand why someone who's not familiar with the genre, who's only read the most hyped books (Twilight, Mortal Instruments, Hush, Hush, House of Night) where the girls are defined by their relationship, and aren't really characters unto themselves (or, if they are, they're hypocritical sociopaths) would roll their eyes and make blanket generalizations about it. Sad, but I get where they're coming from. And it won't really change until the books that promote violence against women, slut shaming, etc... aren't hailed as the greatest romances ever to grace the shelves of YA. Because there's a lot of stuff out there. I'd say the ratio of crap is about the same in YA to AF. But the difference is what you see on the top shelf when you walk into a bookstore or a library.

Haruki Murakami and Stephen King are top shelf for AF right now. Maybe that guy who wrote The Art of Fielding. Who's top shelf for YA? Maybe it's John Green and Beth Revis. They're decent writers. But they certainly don't get the promo that Cassie Clare and Becca Fitzpatrick do. And, not to diss them as people, but if you've read their books, you know what they promote. And it's just sad to see them get that much promotion for those works.

Toothpaste
01-09-2012, 01:03 AM
Like I already said, I'm actually not saying such books (of the particular formula I've described - bad writing and particular subject matter [as I already said, there are brilliant books on the same topics, and crappy books on different topics, trust me, I am not about absolutes in this]) should disappear, nor do I not think they shouldn't be published. And if people want to jump on the bandwagon to make some cash they can (but I actually think that's a diss towards the writers of such books, whether or not I like them, I'm pretty sure that almost all the writers of them are passionate about their work despite the fact that they write in a popular genre).

What I meant about being critical is where someone will put down YA in a totally stupid way and of course we all point out the stupid parts of the put down, and join en masse. But we don't tend to join as en masse to be critical of ourselves. To examine why YA has the reputation it has. In my mind, it's very complicated. Some of it is simple snobbery and ignorance: thinking simpler writing is simple, thinking any subject matter aside from *insert deep meaningful subject matter here* is unworthy etc, as well as people simply not reading it and thinking the genre is something it isn't.

But there is also an unpleasant truth, which is what I was trying to address a bit, and which the OP was too, which is maybe there is something happening in the industry. It's changed in the last even two years. Covers that look like magazine photoshoots, and plots so oft repeated and similar that it's almost like they are writing to a formula (which again, I actually don't think the writers are). Is there any wonder that people are asking the stupidly misguided "Why are there no books for boys?" more than ever right now? (and trust me, I know that that's a stupid question because girls have been reading about boys and their issues for years and years, the question isn't "why aren't there more books for boys" but rather "why aren't boys comfortable reading books that aren't always about them and deal with feminine things"). That question is being asked because of a current trend in YA.

So I actually really think this is a wonderful thread, and a rare one at that. I think this is a very important conversation to have.

timewaster
01-09-2012, 02:15 AM
I think the market has been changing the whole time I've been involved in it. I think the economic situation, the rise of ebooks, online bookshops, and huge discounting has led to a massive loss in confidence on the part of publishers. They are more inclined to back what they think sells which is what has just sold.

I am very uncomfortable with some of the ways girls are portrayed in books and films/mags etc but while the swoony masochistic, drip is one currently rather dominant trope so is the kick ass, feisty girl who can be nearly as irritating. I would rather read books about a range of people- with actual personalities. I try to write those kind of books- (I write as much for boys as girls,) but publishers prefer to market at girls because they buy more books. Publishers have to sell in to booksellers who find it easier to sell books of the 'if you liked that you might also like this' variety. This trend has become much more acute over the last couple of years and in UK it is quite hard to find much beside dark romance on the shelves.
I'm not sure that the problem can be solved by us the content providers or at least not easily: the trend will change when one of us manages to write something different that is also commercially successful.

Toothpaste
01-09-2012, 02:41 AM
Agree completely about the supposed strong heroines (which I mentioned a few posts ago). This is a brilliant article on the topic from Overthinkingit.com and expresses precisely my own thoughts on the subject:

http://www.overthinkingit.com/2008/08/18/why-strong-female-characters-are-bad-for-women/

thebloodfiend
01-09-2012, 03:18 AM
Agree completely about the supposed strong heroines (which I mentioned a few posts ago). This is a brilliant article on the topic from Overthinkingit.com and expresses precisely my own thoughts on the subject:

http://www.overthinkingit.com/2008/08/18/why-strong-female-characters-are-bad-for-women/

I think I love that article.

lvae
01-09-2012, 04:11 AM
Know how I know this? I just spent 8 hours a day for 8 days working as a temp where I had absolutely nothing to do aside from play on the internet. So I searched "YA blogs" and read. And read. And read. And while there are some incredibly wonderfully critical and astute YA blogs out there that I thoroughly enjoyed, the majority are not. The majority are obsessed with the kinds of books I mention above.

This. I've been following The Book Smugglers smugglivus during December/January, where bloggers from other blogs post. I've been hankering for another somewhat balanced, regularly updated YA book review blog for ages. And I found exactly... nothing. I never thought it would be so hard to find reviewers who can write reviews that go beyond book summaries, gushing about the so-hot! male lead(s). Reviewers who don't unreservedly recommend everything they read - let's be honest here. No one, NO ONE, can be in love with every single element of every single book they read.

I'm not advocating the other extreme of the spectrum, where reviewers review books solely to tear apart said book, word by word. However, I do believe people can enjoy unreservedly enjoy books with questionable elements, and be able to go back and critically think/question the book they've read in a constructive way.


I am very uncomfortable with some of the ways girls are portrayed in books and films/mags etc but while the swoony masochistic, drip is one currently rather dominant trope so is the kick ass, feisty girl who can be nearly as irritating. I would rather read books about a range of people- with actual personalities.

So would I, but what most people are actually reading/watching en masse are films with questionable portrayals of women and relationships. I don't like saying this - but it points to a core problem in society, and these portrayals won't change until society changes. How to affect these changes is entirely unknown.

As writers, no matter what genre, we simply write what we know. Even if we're writing fantasy and stretching our imaginations, we're bound by the limits of our knowledge, the limits of our morality. The way we portray our characters, the constraints they face is limited to the people that we know, either in real life or fiction.

IMO, getting 'elevated' through reading/watching films isn't a matter of trying to write the most thought-provoking books, or reading only quality literature/films. It is a matter of being able to read across genres, and critically evaluate what the book/movie is trying to say about the world we live in.

chocowrites
01-09-2012, 04:28 AM
This. I've been following The Book Smugglers smugglivus during December/January, where bloggers from other blogs post. I've been hankering for another somewhat balanced, regularly updated YA book review blog for ages. And I found exactly... nothing. I never thought it would be so hard to find reviewers who can write reviews that go beyond book summaries, gushing about the so-hot! male lead(s). Reviewers who don't unreservedly recommend everything they read - let's be honest here. No one, NO ONE, can be in love with every single element of every single book they read.

I'm not advocating the other extreme of the spectrum, where reviewers review books solely to tear apart said book, word by word. However, I do believe people can enjoy unreservedly enjoy books with questionable elements, and be able to go back and critically think/question the book they've read in a constructive way.

There's a bit of a divide in the YA blogosphere when it concerns negative reviews. Some bloggers have said publicly they will not review a book if they disliked it.

I can see why they would do that, though I believe negative reviews are important.

I feel like it's awkward if the blogger is trying to build up relationships with publicists/ authors. When you get to the point where you are contacted directly about receiving a book for review/ doing an author interview/ giveaway and you absolutely did not like a book, I can understand the hesitation to go all out in a review.

I think that's why you tend to see harsher/ more strongly worded reviews on GR (where from what I can see, reviewers are buying books on their own independent of author/publicist relations--forgive me if I'm wrong about this) than on book blogs run by a visible blogger who has contact info/ a "face" so to speak, and who receives review copies regularly.

This is all purely speculation on my part, however. I of course can't be sure what book bloggers think.

Elysium
01-09-2012, 04:32 AM
I think a lot of people forget, too, that children and teenagers are still PRETTY DARN NEW to reading and literature. They haven't been to college and done a ton of serious literary analysis. The classics are new and fresh to them, and so is contemporary literature. This is the foundation of their reading life and the beginning of what is hopefully a lifelong love of literature. They're just starting to figure out what they like. When we start taking books they're enjoying away and going, "No no no, that's trash, read THIS instead!", we're undermining that process. Sure, give them the "good" book too. But don't take other books away to do it.

As a teen, I both agree and disagree with this. For one thing, it bothers me when adults talk about teenagers as a whole. I know what you were trying to get across, but at the same time...I think it's important that adults who write YA fiction need to consider the fact that teens do read and that not all of them are hesitant to pick up books like Crime and Punishment & The Kite Runner. Sure we are introduced to most of the Classics through our English classes, most of which are college oriented. I took AP English last year. I know how to look for motifs, themes, etc. in a story and so do many people my age. So we're not as new to literature and reading as many people would like to believe.

As for knowing what we like, most of us already do. I have been reading ever since I was four and writing for that same amount of time. I know not all teens write but you don't have to be a writer of your own stories, to know what you like about other people's stories. My generation is a generation that is very opinionated and we're not naive. We can't afford to be especially when we live in a world where most adults generalize us.

Also, what needs to be taken into consideration is the fact that the definition of a 'good book' is broad.

To me, in order for a book to be good, the reader should resonate with the main character, and even if they don't the writing should be good enough to make you sympathize with them. All of this other business about a good book meaning something or having motifs and themes and making the reader think is okay but answer this question: Do you honestly think the writers of many of the books we consider Classics were thinking about what motifs they were going to add into their novels?

I don't.

Reading is and should be solely for entertainment. It's great if it can teach you something but at the end of the day you're not going to remember what the repitition of the color blue symbolized, you're going to remember that you loved this character or hated that one. You're going to remember the scene that made you cringe or the one that made you cry and it doesn't matter what age you are.

Besides, it should be a choice whether someone wants to read or not. I personally don't understand how anyone could not like reading but if a teen would rather watch the film adaptation than read the book then...why shouldn't they be able to? Reading isn't everyone's cup of tea, just like classical music isn't.

But then again - if we were talking about music I could picture some of the adults who feel that YA fiction doesn't have any merit saying the same thing about hip-hop and heavy metal and wishing that teens would listen to Beethoven instead.

Art is a masterpiece in and of itself. Just as there are a lot of Classics that are gems - there are a lot of YA fiction that are gems as well. Take The Sky is Everywhere and Jellicoe Road for example. I wouldn't dare compare those works to anything written by Dostoevsky but...I shouldn't have to.

The whole problem with some people is that they can't change with the times. Yes, Classics will remain classic but hundreds of years from now will they still be considered Classics or will the books written by today's writers be considered Classics, and if so, why?

I might just be going off on a tangent, but I think it's time some adults, especially the ones who write articles like Alexander's should really 'know' teens.

I skimmed through his article and I saw that he mentioned that many of students could resonate with Myers' work because his books are about kids like them. Kids who are of color, kids who grew up in rough neighborhoods.

I'm black (and I've only read Monster by Myers) and though I don't really resonate with Walter Dean Myers' books, there are people that do. There is not an abundance of books that non-white teens can enjoy and so the ones that they love should not be shot down because they don't have colorful writing, allude to religious figures as Crime and Punishment did, have an abundance of motifs and themes etc.

Haha, all of what I've just said probably doesn't make much sense but there you go.

lvae
01-09-2012, 04:46 AM
choco - I don't know what I can say beyond my post. I understand reviewing is hard - I certainly can't do it - and I kind of understand why the bloggers (many of whom are aspiring writers) would review like that, but the whole situation is disappointing.

Ely - I was trying to express something along the lines of your post, but kind of failed, so went off on a slight tangent instead. :) Your post = perfect.

timewaster
01-09-2012, 05:04 AM
There's a bit of a divide in the YA blogosphere when it concerns negative reviews. Some bloggers have said publicly they will not review a book if they disliked it.



I think that's true for print reviews as there is so little space for them I think blogging is different, though I still wouldn't write a wholly negative review myself. I want to draw people's attention to great books I've loved not waste time on the others.

chocowrites
01-09-2012, 05:06 AM
choco - I don't know what I can say beyond my post. I understand reviewing is hard - I certainly can't do it - and I kind of understand why the bloggers (many of whom are aspiring writers) would review like that, but the whole situation is disappointing.

Edit:
I do agree with you about it being disappointing.

I don't really know what I was trying say in my last post, other than try to explain to myself why bloggers would be unwilling to write critically about books, when I'd regard that as maybe the whole point of book blogging.

maybegenius
01-09-2012, 05:25 AM
As a teen, I both agree and disagree with this. For one thing, it bothers me when adults talk about teenagers as a whole. I know what you were trying to get across, but at the same time...I think it's important that adults who write YA fiction need to consider the fact that teens do read and that not all of them are hesitant to pick up books like Crime and Punishment & The Kite Runner. Sure we are introduced to most of the Classics through our English classes, most of which are college oriented. I took AP English last year. I know how to look for motifs, themes, etc. in a story and so do many people my age. So we're not as new to literature and reading as many people would like to believe.

As for knowing what we like, most of us already do. I have been reading ever since I was four and writing for that same amount of time. I know not all teens write but you don't have to be a writer of your own stories, to know what you like about other people's stories. My generation is a generation that is very opinionated and we're not naive. We can't afford to be especially when we live in a world where most adults generalize us.

I actually very much agree with you! Of course I was speaking in very broad generalities, but I wasn't really sure how to otherwise phrase my point without a bunch of "this is not a blanket statement" and "this only applies to some kids/teens and not others" disclaimers. I can relate. I was reading Kurt Vonnegut and George Orwell of my own volition in high school.

But at the same time, I think it's important to note that for the teenagers who aren't big readers and who haven't been voraciously reading since kindergarten, literature is something they often have a love-hate relationship with. And really, the same is true for a lot of people in general, not just youth. So it's important to let them decide for themselves what they like. You can try and force-feed people the "good" stuff (and I intentionally put "good" in quotations because it's completely subjective), or you can try and build off of their already established tastes by suggesting other work they might like.

bickazer
01-09-2012, 05:52 AM
Elysium pretty much said exactly my thoughts on the subject.

Granted, I do think it's worrying when some teenagers will read nothing but Twilight and books like it...but I'm fond of variety in general, and think it's good for people. The spice of life and all that. In high school, I read everything from Tamora Pierce to Kurt Vonnegut to my biology textbook. I enjoyed it all. I don't think I'm worse off for any of it.

timewaster
01-09-2012, 02:50 PM
Edit:
I do agree with you about it being disappointing.

I don't really know what I was trying say in my last post, other than try to explain to myself why bloggers would be unwilling to write critically about books, when I'd regard that as maybe the whole point of book blogging.

I think reviewers should be critical in the sense that they should evaluate what makes any given book work and perhaps mention what doesn't but ( if you have a choice about what you review) it still makes sense to share books that you've enjoyed rather than give the impression that every thing out there is rubbish. There are so many YA books and so few useful reviews to waste review time on something you wouldn't recommend isn't helpful. It is however much easier to write a scathing review and be entertaining than it is to write a positive one: you can have a lot of fun knocking a bad book.

HuntfortheWildborn
01-09-2012, 04:22 PM
Those 'Classics', Jane Austen and Bram Stoker and Shelley and Shakespeare and whoever else people study in school these days (they were some of the ones I had to study in the last two years) were once just contemporary writers themselves, seeking to entertain. I mean, shakespeare... his almost sole purpose was to entertain people in the theatre... sure there was other stuff in there too but if it wasnt entertaining he was out of a job! Looking back we can go 'oh yes he did this and this and that is a reflection of his society and context and oh isnt this scene indicative of whatever' but when he was writing it you can bet yer blue boons he wasn't thinking of those things! In a couple of hundred years books like Harry Potter and Twilight will probably be being re-published as penguin classics editions and things we know as classics will probably be akin to the writings of Plutarch or Cicero that nobody except scholars and ancient historians have any interest in anymore....

Liosse de Velishaf
01-10-2012, 10:23 AM
choco - I don't know what I can say beyond my post. I understand reviewing is hard - I certainly can't do it - and I kind of understand why the bloggers (many of whom are aspiring writers) would review like that, but the whole situation is disappointing.

Ely - I was trying to express something along the lines of your post, but kind of failed, so went off on a slight tangent instead. :) Your post = perfect.


I wonder if the YA review blog community differs much from the AF one?

I won an advance copy(or close enough) of an AF fantasy book by Rachel Aaron, who encouraged the winners to review it. I wrote a review that was fairly critical of many aspects of the book (although overall I enjoyed reading it) and she linked to the review on her blog and was very complimetary about it.

I'm curious as to whether any of these review bloggers have actually gotten burned after putting some critique in their review, or are they just nervous about critiquing a published work?

To be honest, I can't think of any books I've read that I had zero problems with off the top of my head, but I still enjoyed some of them immensely.

Windcutter
01-11-2012, 12:12 AM
And further, the unwillingness of the YA community to be critical of itself outside of the pub (because at the pub then you hear the real sentiments of insiders), makes our community seem childish, and clique-ish, and seeming immature writers where everyone wins a trophy.
What literary community is ever willing to be like that? xd
I also saw in the comments he said something along the lines of: "if it's only about getting them to read, why not let them read cereal boxes?"

The thing is, if I couldn't get a kid to read, I'd be absolutely thrilled if they started reading cereal boxes. I'd buy five boxes of cereal every day if that's what got them reading. It's like he doesn't see the importance of the reading itself, only the content.
Maybe he doesn't realize just how little some people read. I talked to a mother of a fifteen year old boy once. When she said her son was refusing to read I thought he just wasn't into some boring old books for school. But the truth was, he did not ever want to read. Anything. He didn't even feel like reading the quest stories and lore within the computer game he liked to play.

I have seen, in the last couple years, and definitely inspired by TWILIGHT's success, a great number of books published by big houses about girls who are supposed to be strong, but aren't really. Who put up with truly jerky guys because actually the guy is supposed to be alpha and in love with her.
That's one of the reasons I liked Legend so much. It is so equal opportunity. You could genderswap Day and June or give them the same gender and the story wouldn't change. Now try genderswapping Bella and Edward and see how it flies with the Twi-crowd.

Windcutter
01-11-2012, 12:23 AM
These comments naturally made me do the squinty side-eye, but I don't know that I think they're entirely unfounded. This is how people outside the YA community view it. They look at (some of) us and how we act and respond to criticism of our work or genre, and they see a tightly-knit group of grown-up children who like to stick their fingers in their ears and go "la la la" after they pat each other on the back.
You know, I don't think that insipid is the right word for what I have in mind, but there is something I noticed when I tried to read some non-fantasy, non-spec, non-paranormal YA. The issues are often pretty mundane. They lack the air of high drama (not as in "teh drama", but as in "Greek tragedy, intense, vivid, powerful, larger than life"). It's not about honor. Or betrayal. Or making the decision to risk your life for the sake of your loved ones. It's more like... am I too fat? Am I pretty? How do I get better grades? Is my mom too pushy? Is my boyfriend a jerk? Those are pretty important for teens, I know (and not just teens, actually), but if we take YA as literature, not only genre entertainment--are they really able to cause catharsis, change something big inside, lead to an intense response or an internal philosophical debate? I remember a book which I won't name because I don't intend to bash it. The main conflict for MC was saying no to her cute friend's attempts to makeover her into a tanned blonde. Um, how about coming home to discover your father was killed by his own brother and war is looming over the country your family is responsible for?
Maybe I just need a broader view.

Kitty Pryde
01-11-2012, 12:48 AM
I think this author should try being a teenage boy living a shit life in the hood with nary a role model in sight, and see what he finds more "elevating": Walter Dean Myers or "the classics". Seems a pretty close-minded assessment of the whole issue. For many kids, the classics don't "elevate", and more, they don't create lifelong readers. Don't read what draws you in and helps you relate, read what an out of touch teacher tells you is mentally nourishing. Sigh.

Reading is reading. I know plenty of adult readers who started out on Bobbsey Twins, comics, Tiger Beat, pulp sci-fi, Twishite, or any other genre or medium any snobby people care to look down on as insipid or juvenile.

Fuchsia Groan
01-11-2012, 01:52 AM
It's not about honor. Or betrayal. Or making the decision to risk your life for the sake of your loved ones. It's more like... am I too fat? Am I pretty? How do I get better grades? Is my mom too pushy? Is my boyfriend a jerk?

I get impatient with those books, too. But, after reviewing yet another 400-page literary novel about a middle-class dude's midlife crisis, I don't think that kind of "insipidness" is unique to YA. And, in the right author's hands, the small problems can become symptomatic of much bigger ones. (Some acclaimed literary door-stopper novels have revolved around some very small and personal issues.)

Going to the bigger picture, I've seen this issue from so many sides. I have a PhD and used to teach college "Great Books" courses — it was me trying to force the classics down 18-year-olds' throats. I've witnessed so many "canon wars" about what kind of literature is worthwhile and "elevating." I review books for a newspaper and deal with all kinds of authors. And I read and write YA.

To me, saying YA is "insipid" is like issuing a blanket condemnation of, well, literature. YA is so many things; that's why I've been reading it since I was eight or so. I switched to adult fiction and the classics in my teens, but never stopped loving a good YA book. The key word, of course, is "good."

When I started reading the genre, in the '70s and '80s, it was smaller and way less trendy than it is now, I would guess. There was the occasional blockbuster author, like Judy Blume, who got some condemnation from the high culture crowd. But most of the YA books I read felt like labors of love from excellent authors who had something to say in that format. Diana Wynne Jones, Madeleine L'Engle, Ursula LeGuin, Paul Zindel, William Sleator ... these folks could write, and they always had meaningful quests and messages.

Back in those days, the books likely to get condemned as "insipid" were the adult commercial novels of Judith Krantz, Sidney Sheldon and the like, or the many bestselling horror novels. Why? They made the money. They were the books teens sneaked off their parents' shelves. They had the sex and glamour and forbidden knowledge. YA had some of those edgy elements, too, but you had to be intrepid to find those books in pre-Internet times.

So I guess what I'm saying is, the blanket condemnation of YA by self-appointed guardians of culture is a mark of its huge commercial success and arrival in the mainstream. Nothing more or less.

That said, the reviewing issue ... I wasn't really aware of that, and it surprises me. There's a vast gulf between a "rip-it-to-shreds" review and a balanced, civilized negative review, and I think bloggers (and everyone) should feel comfortable writing the latter. As a journalist, I get ARCs from publishers and free movie tickets. I still write negative reviews of books and movies: All newspaper critics do (or should), when they can't honestly recommend something.

One theater owner told me it's worth it to him to give out movie passes because the good reviews really do bring in customers. But they wouldn't have as much weight if they weren't balanced by bad reviews. No one trusts a critic who loves (or hates) everything.

Of course, it's easy to criticize Hollywood. Not so easy to criticize hard-working writers who may be colleagues. But there should be a constructive, polite way to couch criticism. I've said some negative things about local writers' work (the aforementioned midlife crisis novel!) and still managed to maintain reasonably cordial relationships with them. Maybe the Internet makes this harder.

But I think all genres, YA included, deserve tough, fair critique from demanding readers. It's a mark of respect — a way to say, "I believe in this genre, and I believe it can hold up to scrutiny." People don't have to agree with the criteria you use as a critic. But they should know you have criteria.

Torgo
01-11-2012, 02:04 AM
Not to entertain, to problematize or to instruct, but to take what Hamlet called our “unweeded garden” and revel in its thorns.

(Hamlet is referring to Denmark as an 'unweeded garden that grows to seed'. He is referring to the corrupting influence of the sybaritic Claudius; a sense of unnatural fecundity, nudge, wink. He's not talking about art, or literature, he's talking about the sleazy guy sleeping with his mother. Way to miss the point.)

thebloodfiend
01-11-2012, 02:29 AM
(Hamlet is referring to Denmark as an 'unweeded garden that grows to seed'. He is referring to the corrupting influence of the sybaritic Claudius; a sense of unnatural fecundity, nudge, wink. He's not talking about art, or literature, he's talking about the sleazy guy sleeping with his mother. Way to miss the point.)

That was a reference we had to pick out in AP English Lit. Sad that he completely missed the mark.

J.S.F.
01-11-2012, 08:40 AM
Well, I read the article about "strong women characters" and while it has its points, I don't see why someone can't write about a female character who can A) save the hero once in a while or B) kick anyone's butt and not sacrifice who she is, her principles, etc. I'm a guy--hate to say it, older guy--and I write my characters strong. All of them, male, female, villain...everyone. I despise weak characters unless they're integral to the plot of the novel, and then I make them as weak and sniveling as I can.

As for the YA genre, you're going to get the good with the bad, same as any genre. For every edgy, smart, tough, and yes, inspiring novel out there with believable characters--fantasy or no--you're going to get some insipid dreck like the 'Twilight' series. Yes, young ladies out there might like the idea of an underfed pretty boy rescuing them from the evil vampires and werewolves and such but all the same, in real life, how many young readers can relate to that? Or want to?

FWIW--and it ain't much--keep the characters strong and believable, even if they're not sympathetic. JMO....

ladybritches
01-11-2012, 10:18 AM
Strength is not always about the size of our muscles. People can be strong without ever picking up a weapon. I don't think most people get that.

timewaster
01-11-2012, 01:46 PM
Strength is not always about the size of our muscles. People can be strong without ever picking up a weapon. I don't think most people get that.

'Strong' can also mean powerfully drawn so that even though the character may exhibit their fair share of human frailties they are believable and seem three dimensional. 'Strong' can mean resilient, determined, independently minded, difficult. It can mean so many things it isn't that useful as a descriptor in this context.IMHO

ladybritches
01-11-2012, 11:15 PM
'Strong' can also mean powerfully drawn so that even though the character may exhibit their fair share of human frailties they are believable and seem three dimensional. 'Strong' can mean resilient, determined, independently minded, difficult. It can mean so many things it isn't that useful as a descriptor in this context.IMHO

Yes, this is exactly what I mean. I worry that we're too quick to equate "strong" with physical strength.

As for the idea that YA as a category is insipid, well, I have to wonder how much YA the people who think that have actually read.

legendary bum
01-12-2012, 12:49 AM
you know why dissing ya is what all the "cool" kids are doing lately? it's because they're bothered by how ya is freaking taking over :D

J.S.F.
01-12-2012, 02:45 AM
Yes, this is exactly what I mean. I worry that we're too quick to equate "strong" with physical strength.

As for the idea that YA as a category is insipid, well, I have to wonder how much YA the people who think that have actually read.
---

Timewaster summed up my feelings perfectly. I'm a guy and I write from a male protagonist's/hero's perspective but the female characters--co-MC/minor have to be strong not only in the physical sense but also in terms of intelligence, integrity, purpose, and so on. I think the story works better that way.

As for YA being insipid, some of it is but no more, I'd venture to say, than some of the adult books out there in whatever genre. With books and e-books coming out all the time you have to wade through the flotsam and jetsam to get to the good stuff.

missesdash
01-12-2012, 05:15 AM
I wrote a character who is not physically strong, not "intelligent" in the conventional sense and is almost cripplingly submissive. She's also a drug addict and repeatedly returns to an abusive relationship. I think she is "weak" in very many senses of the word but she has this "other" quality that makes her strong. I think it might be the desire to change.

But I agree there are a lot of different ways to make a character "strong." Sometimes it's a very internal process.

mellymel
01-12-2012, 06:57 AM
Crazy is what one is/does alone.

But crazy in a group of like minded people is a movement...

OMG.

I

LOVE

YOU

This is awesome.

Liosse de Velishaf
01-12-2012, 08:11 AM
OMG.

I

LOVE

YOU

This is awesome.


QFT.

NoGuessing
01-17-2012, 12:05 PM
lol at this person treating art as if it is objective.

Art is not a science. That's why it's art. People who judge art are telling you more about themselves and their tastes than anything else. This article reveals the person to be both a fan of older adult fiction and a pretentious wanker ("high" art? I have images of Orwell smoking pot now).

However, they do have a point with groupthink. It's prone in every market, and YA can be no different at times. "My tribe is better than yours" has been happening for millennia. It's pretty annoying, but we're getting better at seeing past it.

Niiicola
01-18-2012, 08:09 PM
This made me think of an article about VS Naipaul I read a while ago.

In an interview at the Royal Geographic Society on Tuesday about his career, Naipaul, who has been described as the "greatest living writer of English prose", was asked if he considered any woman writer his literary match. He replied: "I don't think so." Of Austen he said he "couldn't possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world".

He felt that women writers were "quite different". He said: "I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me."

The author, who was born in Trinidad, said this was because of women's "sentimentality, the narrow view of the world". "And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too," he said.

He added: "My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, lo and behold, it was all this feminine tosh. I don't mean this in any unkind way."
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jun/02/vs-naipaul-jane-austen-women-writers

I had the same reaction to both pieces. First they really pissed me off. Then I thought, "This guy is just way out of touch." Saying something like "all literature must elevate" when there are millions of non-high-literature novels being sold all over the world just doesn't make any sense. I think he's just shooting his mouth off, and unfortunately he's found an audience. But it doesn't mean we have to let it bother us. We're a part of something really big right now.