Thursday, March 6, 2008

Duck and cover

Everybody's favorite bow-tie-wearing polemicist is at it again (and thank goodness, life was getting dull). Do check out Roger Sutton's latest on his Horn Book blog. The killer quote: "Whatever whoever chooses to read is their business, of course, but adults whose taste in recreational reading ends with the YA novel need to grow up." (Please read the rest of the piece, though. He makes some interesting observations before he tosses his grenade.)

For my part . . . Sure, fine, whatever. I finally got around to Zadie Smith's On Beauty (liked it, as I have her others), so I guess my grown-up card is stamped for a while. But, Roger, aren't you assuming that "YA novel" has some objective, useful meaning for readers beyond a bookstore and library category? I think this assumption is both faulty in practice (as evinced by the number of books whose YA labels are gained or lost according to where they're sold, e.g. Markus Zusak) and dangerous in principle because it casts readers as passive, uncritical recipients of categorized books (like Moby Dick is a fish story; Jane Austen is the first romance novelist). No thanks. This is a dumb, reductive way to read. Genre and age category labels exist largely for shopping and shelving convenience. Beyond that, readers should forget about them and consider only the personal "aesthetic bliss" each book offers.

(It's interesting to imagine what Roger Sutton's 18th century antecedent might have written in a similar circumstance. I suspect you could simply substitute "novel" for "YA novel" in the quote, as the prose novel category was considered lightweight popular entertainment, certainly not suitable for the bulk of an educated person's serious reading. History hasn't been friendly to these kinds of generalizations. They simply give too much credence to category and genre labels and ignore individual talent.)


Maggie Stiefvater said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maggie Stiefvater said...

What is the difference between a YA and an adult novel these days anyway?

1) theme
2) age of protagonist
3) . . .

Once upon a time when the line between YA and MG was fudgier, I think there was some language difference, as in the word "piscatorial" wouldn't have appeared in a YA novel as it was too advanced, and there was "adult content" difference, such as less swearing and sex -- but now?

I think the theme of struggling to grow up and get your own identity is widely universal regardless of age. So it comes down to age of protagonist -- and it seems to me that 90% no matter what novel I'm reading, the MC isn't going to be the same age as me. Younger or older.

I don't think adults reading YA are any stranger than YAs reading general fiction.

Anonymous said...

Oh, good grief. Someone needs to come out of his ivory tower and get a Real Life. He's not even the first one to say this. AS Byatt said it in the NYTimes in July 2003. So not only is he wrong, he's also not very original.

Brian Mandabach said...

I think that one thing that pegs a story with a teen protagonist as adult rather than young adult is the age of the narrator when telling it.

For example, Nina de Gramont's Gossip of the Starlings (coming in June) begins:
Now, when I see teenage girls laughing. When I see them loosed on a summer evening--their limbs tanned and gossamer, their imagined freedom radiating like nuclear light--I can't help but fast-forward two dacades or more.
(from an uncorrected proof)

Brian Mandabach said...