Sunday, June 5, 2011

Wall Street Journal Young Adult Literature Faceoff

Meghan Cox Gurdon wrote an article about how dark young adult (YA) fiction is for the Wall Street Journal. It has some pretty loaded language about censorship/banning:

In the book trade, this is known as "banning." In the parenting trade, however, we call this "judgment" or "taste."

I was chatting with a friend who works as a librarian at a high school.

Me: "While I understand censorship is not fundamentally bad, man, what an asshole way to phrase it."

My friend: "See, there's no objection by anybody to a parent making decisions about what their individual kids read. It's when they try to say what ALL kids should read that the asshole comes out."

The comments section of the article is a pretty interesting read, too, including this bit that just makes me wince:

"Young Adult" fiction is hack-work, ground out to a publisher's guidelines. Read, and give, real literature. It doesn't come in categories. For a 13 year old: Dickens's "A Tale of Two Cities", with character development, good and evil, moral complexity, sentiment and love... There is lot's more, a library-full. Supernatural? The Turn of the Screw. Horror? Poe. She is the right age for Anne Frank's Diary (not some pathetic Judy Blume imitation).

A good rule of thumb: Nothing less than 100 years old (I broke that rule with Anne Frank). Classics are classics because they have passed the test of time. There are more recent works of merit, but you have to separate them from mounds of trash.

Why would teenagers want to read about people their own age experiencing lives they can relate to? CRAZY TALK. It's like forcing everyone to wear hiking boots. Yes, they're very practical and sturdy, but you're not always hiking and sometimes you want a shoe you can dance in. You may not need the shoes, but you enjoy them.

I can't believe I just used shoes as an example. SHOES. I feel like I need to go do kung fu and weld now to make up for it*. Ugh. But first, a response to the Wall Street Journal article: Positive Messages in YA. Also worth reading, Should Young Adult Books Explore Difficult Issues? from Christopher Farley at Speakeasy:

...Books such as “The Catcher in the Rye” which seemed radical in some ways for their times now just seem honest and traditional. Books that some critics once considered pathological or antisocial or worse are now commonly considered classics, such as “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “The Chocolate War,” “Flowers for Algernon,” “1984,” and “The Lorax.”

Contemporary books such as Walter Dean Myers’ “Monster” (which deals with murder and imprisonment), Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” (religion and revolution), Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak” (rape and depression), and the works of M.T. Anderson (racism, consumerism, and too many other things to list) may reap similar acclaim from future readers.

The worst pathological books will fade away with childhood. The best will live on and become permanent parts of the landscape of adolescence. I’m now going to let my son watch all the news he wants (within reason) and to read YA fiction to his heart’s content (as long as my wife agrees too). I’ll just be there to talk it over with him.
* I'm crossing my fingers that I can sub in my welding courses for my general elective. I'd rather have the free time to work on other things, and if the purpose of GenEd courses is to be well rounded, how do you get more well-rounded than a welding librarian? I don't know, if I was in a post-apocalyptic situation I'd want the person who could weld in my bunker, not the one that took the wine-tasting course. But that's just me, I like to justify things by how useful they would be in an apocalypse or zombie outbreak. Best incentive for exercising I've ever found.


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