Thursday, May 31, 2012

A moral apotheosis

So, I found myself on the radio with Brigham Young University professor Sarah Coyne yesterday, talking about ratings, profanity, and YA. Interesting experience.

Do I still think the media coverage of this is a kind of trolling? Yes, I do.

Am I slightly more concerned that there might actually be a reckoning on this and that Maureen Johnson may have to play Frank Zappa on Capitol Hill sometime? Slightly. (Do take 9 minutes to listen to Zappa in Congress, by the way)

Now, for something that makes me happier. This remains my favorite comment on profanity in books:

"True, not a single obscene term is to be found in the whole work; indeed, the robust philistine who is conditioned by modern conventions into accepting without qualms a lavish array of four-letter words in a banal novel, will be quite shocked by their absence here. If, however, for the paradoxical prude’s comfort, an editor attempted to dilute or omit scenes that a certain type of mind might call "aphrodisiac" [Or "gratuitous," if you're Professor Coyne. -AK] (see in that respect the monumental decision rendered Dec. 6, 1933 by Hon. John M. Woolsey in regard another, considerably more outspoken book), one would have to forego the publication of "Lolita" altogether, since those very scenes that one might ineptly accuse of a sensuous existence of their own, are the most strictly functional ones in the development of a tragic tale tending unswervingly to nothing less than a moral apotheosis."

-“Professor James Ray Jr.”

We need more scholars like “James Ray Jr.”. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ellen Levine

I met Ellen Levine in person once after spending a good deal of time on the phone with her. We had a drink at a hotel before BEA in 2010. We talked a bit about her manuscript—which would become In Trouble—and, I suspect, about politics and bookmaking. During that conversation, and in the dozens of phone and email exchanges that followed, I got to know Ellen as the witty and wise  force of nature I imagine many others knew her to be.  And even when she told me she had cancer, she seemed so indomitable  that it was difficult to imagine I wouldn’t have the chance to repeat that meeting (to say nothing of editing more of her books). But that’s not how life works.

Ellen passed away on Saturday after a nearly two-year battle with lung cancer. She is survived by her wife, Anne, her partner of more than 40 years. Please keep Ellen’s family in your thoughts.

PS: One of the best epitaphs I've ever read was the one Yeats wrote for Swift. I can't help but think it applies to the Ellen I knew:

SWIFT has sailed into his rest; 
Savage indignation there
Cannot lacerate his breast.
Imitate him if you dare,
World-besotted traveller; he
Served human liberty. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Follow the money

As summer dawns on YAastan, we await the awakening of the trolls from their long winter’s naps. Last year, Meghan Cox Gordon was the once-sleepy troll whose blood was most roused by the early June sun. Cox Gordon , to her credit, is a book person, and though she trolled us all with her preposterous and hysterical (in the bad sense) piece on the relative darkness of YA, I don’t actually believe this was her intent.

The trolls have risen earlier this summer, and one scribbler called Jason Koebler has rolled out of bed to whip the citizens of YAastan into a frothy frenzy with a piece on the US News & World Report web site. Given Mr. Koebler’s prodigious output, I do worry that he hasn’t had time to stop and admire his trollish handiwork (viz: “#ratingYA”).


Look, all joking aside, there’s nothing to this. I’m actually being unkind to Cox Gordon’s idiotic piece by comparing it to this one. We’ve officially spent a million more minutes reacting to this than the author spent writing and researching it. For the love of Robert Cormier, look at what this guy wrote before he wrote the YA piece!

Follow the money. Who has an economic interest in rating YA? Who wants to pay to make that happen? Who wants to alienate all the adult readers of the genre?

If there were Congressional hearings about this issue, I still wouldn’t be all that worried. But this is nothing.

On the other hand, follow the money:


Can you see the money?


Those links must be really important is they’re underlined twice, right?



They thought the piece was so important that they decided to hide it under this very important “survey”…


If you don’t think there’s money to be made in publishing inflammatory articles that hit close to home in heavily social networked communities of interest, then you don’t understand the Internet.

I suggest we answer the headline (and always beware of articles whose headlines are questions) to this piece with a simple “no” and get back to making books.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ida played her wonder horn

If you haven’t already, you have nothing better to do today than to read this (frustratingly, you may have to manually click to page 80).