Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Think of the children!

It gives me great hope to know that while too many adults are clutching their pearls and worrying about the hypothetical innocence of hypothetical and painfully simplistic children, actual kids are doing complicated and  interesting things like this.

I don’t publish books for teenagers, but I’m honored when they read the books I publish.

(Hat tip to Steve Brezenoff for the video.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The state of book challenges

Once upon a time, people who challenged books actually had to read. More than half a century ago, in order to be offended by Leopold Bloom sitting on his privy, one first had to read the fifth chapter of Ulysses, which (spoiler alert) does not feature a sentence remotely like “Leopold Bloom took a shit” though it does feature several paragraphs a thousand times more evocative of Leopold Bloom taking a shit. And if you got to the part with sex and managed to be offended, you were philistine but an unquestionably literate one.

No more.  

Now academics count swear words and calculate rates of profanity per hour. Now the metaphoric triumph of hope over  cruelty is deemed obscene because of words utterly divorced from their syntax to say nothing of their context. This is a worldview that does not acknowledge the existence of sentences, much less of thoughts. This is a worldview that sees isolated words as volatile pseudo-magical catalysts for reptile-brain behavior.

This is the post-literate world of book challengers (a world that’s too geographically close to my own for comfort), and that shit can go straight to fucking hell.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Mixing memory and desire

504: How I Got Into CollegeOne of the things that makes YA fiction so intensely interesting to me is the problem of memory. Something about adolescence is uniquely illusive and distorting to our powers of recall. Overcoming that distortion and slipperiness is, I think, one of the  most daunting challenges of any fiction about teenage experience that’s even remotely autobiographical.

I find this story from the most recent This American Life to be a perfect example of the phenomenon. Often, the stories we tell in adulthood about what was meaningful in adolescence are a wishful line of best fit between childhood and adulthood. Young- adult fiction, it seems to me, should concern itself with the present-moment scatter of data points rather than the hindsight trend line.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

FYI (if you write about teenagers and their “orgies”)

I have nothing to add to the chorus of scorn, contempt, and slight regard that’s risen up against a notorious bit of parental concern-trolling. Many authors, publishing pros, and librarians of my acquaintance have been eloquent and amusing on the subject already.

There is one sentence in the post, though, that sticks with me (stuck with Ms. Hall too, I guess. The italics are her own) as an echo of something bigger and older:

“[M]en of integrity don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls.”

This is a real thing, this moral logic. It’s a real old thing too, of course. And, more often than not, it asserts itself in adolescence. Here, let James Joyce write you a portrait:

As he crossed the square, walking homeward, the light laughter of a girl reached his burning ear. The frail gay sound smote his heart more strongly than a trumpet blast, and, not daring to lift his eyes, he turned aside and gazed, as he walked, into the shadow of the tangled shrubs. Shame rose from his smitten heart and flooded his whole being. The image of Emma appeared before him, and under her eyes the flood of shame rushed forth anew from his heart. If she knew to what his mind had subjected her or how his brute-like lust had torn and trampled upon her innocence! Was that boyish love? Was that chivalry? Was that poetry? The sordid details of his orgies stank under his very nostrils.

If there is a silver lining to the nonsensical and damaging moral logic of Hall’s post, you may find it in the perfection of Joyce’s portrait of young Stephen Dedalus (it only took a girl’s laugh to lay waste to his integrity).

So, what’s the “Dear writers” in all this (because the open letter is now the official medium of those who have concerns)? If I may borrow a phrase from Ms. Hall’s moral universe: “Hate the sin, but don’t forget to love—that is, to write about in a curious and clear-eyed way—the sinner.” Let Jezebel and Twitter continue to tear the post to shreds in the court of public opinion. Meanwhile, please, for the love of YA literature, make sure you’re pillaging every single thing you can from this superb evidence of an evolutionary step in the teenage condition. Don’t let scorn be the last word. This blog post is a gift.