Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Response to "Why (some) Teens Don't Read YA"

The Universe seems to be trying to tell me something. My research paper, which is due the day this is set to post, is about truth, innocence, and children's literature. And over the past month, all of these articles have popped up in places I look for news talking about parents lying and kids reading.

The latest article is this one from the Huffington Post. One bit really stood out to me, and since I have no way to cram this analysis into my paper, I'm putting it up here:

"Why is YA so often about plot, so very rarely about language? Why can't there be more books like The Book Thief, which is about war and literature, about dying and sacrifices, about love? It's a book about the big things, and that's what we want to read."
There are a lot of reasons for this, and I'll try to tackle each separately.

1: It's a lot easier to sell a book if it's easy to describe. Literary novels, which are character-driven, rather than plot-driven,  are hard to summarize quickly. Therefore, it's a lot harder to build up an ad campaign about it, or to generate interest in people who are just passing by. This isn't a cost-effective strategy for most of the books on a publisher's list. There are a few books like this that a publisher can invest in, but they might not recoup their investment. Most publishers won't take a chance like this on a newbie author, which is what a significant portion of YA is composed of right now.

2. I've fallen into this trap A LOT lately, so I'm good at recognizing it in others: don't try and speak for all teenage readers. There is a reason for all the plot-driven books. They sell well. Most people like them, or they wouldn't sell, and there would be fewer of them on the shelves. If you want more literary novels for teens, write the publishers and tell them. Support the more literary-minded authors. Don't just ignore the plot-driven books, because you're in the minority, as far as publishers are concerned.

3. According to Orson Scott Card, (who wrote Ender's Game, the subject of my paper, and also cited as one of the authors these teens liked) one of the main differences between adults and children as readers is that children read for the story. They don't care about the fancy language, they care about plot. Some teenage readers are more like children* in this way, and others are not. Because of the marketing reasons I mentioned above, unless there's a really good reason to believe otherwise, publishers are going to push the plot-driven books.

4. Plot-driven books can be about the "big things" too. Look at Beth Revis's Across the Universe trilogy. Those books are plot-driven, and they are definitely about the "big things". It's about the survival of the human race, for crying out loud! How much bigger can you get?

5. There are plenty of YA books like The Book Thief out there, if only you would look. Literary YA isn't usually my thing, but I can tell you, there's a lot of character-driven "big thing" books out in the world right now. Code Name Verity, The Cardturner, I am the Messenger, and If I Stay would fall in this category, I think. (Oh, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Although there are arguments as to whether this book is plot-driven or not, Laini Taylor is damn good at writing pretty words.)

But it sounds like these teens are looking for Epics, not literary novels, in which case, they're barking up the wrong tree. It takes time for a genre to produce epics, to gather enough of a following to make it feasible. My best example is in science fiction, which originated in the early 1900s, (in book form, though the penny dreadfuls had been around for about 30 years by then) and took until Asimov came along in the late 50s to produce its first Epic.

YA, as its own section, has been around for about thirty years by the biggest estimates, but up until the late 1990s, the genre was pretty much just issue books. It's only in the last fifteen years that the genre has exploded into as many different varieties of writing as adult has.

I think I've exhausted the objective points of my argument, but there is one last thing I cannot resist adding: The examples of the prose written by these teens is so self-aware that I couldn't take it seriously. A lot of teenagers don't read; this has been well-established. More prose like this is just going to turn them off more. We don't need all books to become as snobby as the literary section. Reading is for the masses, and creating a culture of "only the educated can dictate what's popular", we destroy knowledge for all.

* Children is not being used here in a way to imply immaturity, but rather as a way of differentiating between reading tastes, in the same way Card used it in his Acceptance Speech for the Margaret A. Edwards Award, from which his points are summarized.)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

3: Just One Day

Just One Day by Gayle Forman
new: 8th January

I have loved all of Gayle's previous YA novels. Her writing style is so beautiful and clear, and it lends itself perfectly to duets like If I Stay/Where She Went  and Just One Day/Just One Year. I really like that I'm going to be able to get Willem's side of the story, but the incredibly aggressive marketing for it is really starting to grate on my nerves.

That being said, the story is really lovely, and all of the characters felt VERY true-to-life.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Brittle and Easily Broken

After reading Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project, a book about the year she spent trying to be happier, I made myself a list. One of the first things Rubin did was make a list of Twelve Commandments, things she really needed to remember to do in her quest for more happiness. And I figured, I need to be nicer, so why not make a list striving for that?

I made my list, written out in my favorite fountain pen, and filled it with things such as, "be kinder than necessary," "spread joy," and "don't pick fights," all useful things I tend to forget. I left the list just lying on the floor in my bedroom, because: A, there wasn't enough room on my desk, B, I was still adding to it, and C, I wanted it where I could see it. My family members generally don't snoop through my stuff (for which I am grateful) and I didn't think it was anything to hide.

Until. Until one family member not only saw it, but said something about it to me. Said something cutting about it to me. Probably the WORST THING that anyone could have told me about my list of things to do to be a nicer and better person.

"Those rules of yours seem to all come down to 'look out for Number One'."

I was shocked. Why, why would a person say something like that? Admittedly, this family member didn't know that the purpose of this list was self-improvement, but STILL... it wasn't a very nice thing to say. It wasn't constructive, and I don't know whether or not that comment came from a caring place.

It's hard to try and improve yourself, to work on being kinder and nicer and more accepting, when it feels like all anyone ever does is tell you, "That was unkind." "Please try to act your age." "Be nice, okay?" It feels like my struggles are going unnoticed, or worse, that I'm backsliding.

It doesn't mean I'm going to stop trying. But it does mean that I have built a wall around myself to keep from getting hurt. Walls aren't very conducive to open communication and general kindness; however, I don't know how much more of this knocking-down I can take without giving up niceness all together.

Friday, January 18, 2013

2: A Mutiny in Time

A Mutiny in Time, by James Dashner
new: 6th Jan

I am eighteen years old and I love Scholastic's new(ish) line of interactive novels. I've been a fan since Maze of Bones (39 Clues) in 2008, and my interest hasn't really waned through the intervening years. They're really well-written, fast paced, interesting stories, and the online component has improved a LOT since the early days. That being said, these books are TOO SHORT. (Because I am 6-10 years older than the target age.)

I loooooove that this is time-travel, and set in an alternate universe, although SERIOUSLY get me a map already, as well as a timeline, because I want to know everything that's different! I was very distracted in the beginning as I was trying to figure out HOW things were different. I suppose the average eight-year-old wouldn't be... but I am VERY interested in learning more about this world.

I do like the efforts taken to make sure that the Infinity Ring series is a very different series from 39 Clues, because if it were a carbon copy, I wouldn't want to read it.Additionally, I LOVE LOVE LOVE how quickly these books come out. Can we have something like this for teenagers, only longer, with more ROOOMANCE? Please. I would buy it!

I didn't buy Mutiny. I borrowed it from my local library. And yet I can still fully participate in the online game! You can't do that with 39 Clues.

(Also, I am so excited for the new fantasy series like this. Maggie Stiefvater MG yay!)

I would recommend this book for kids in its target range, people who like action books, people who like long series that don't take forever to get published, people who like the time travel aspect of Doctor Who, people who like secret societies duking it out around an unsuspecting public.

Monday, January 14, 2013

1: Foundation

Foundation, by Isaac Asimov.
new: 2nd Jan 2013

My da and tio have been trying to get me to read Asimov since I was eleven and obsessed with Piers Anthony. I never listened to them, because I hate being told what to do. However, over break I was bored and knew that Asimov is basically the god of sci-fi, so I pulled it off the shelf.

I liked it. I didn't love it. I'm glad I own a copy of the whole series (minus Forward the Foundation) though, since I'm pretty sure I'll make my way through the rest of them at some point.

The set-up was interesting, and I really appreciated that it was more like three connected short stories than it really was one novel with one main character. This made it a lot easier to pick up and read whenever I had the time, and put it back down again when I had to go do something.

It's clearly an Epic, which I don't read enough of, so it was nice to dip my toe into that side of SFF again. And it was really easy to read in terms of diction and syntax. 

I would recommend this to any sci-fi fan, as well as to people who like epic stories that span generations.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Goals Are Good

This year, on this blog, I am going to document every single book I finish in 2013. Since my goal is to read 104 books this year, (that's like 2 a week, which is totally doable,) I'm being super-boring and calling this my 104in2013 project.

So, keep an eye out, because this blog is about to be overrun with books.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

The Post In Which I Rant

I'm ashamed to say that I never used to understand why people freaked out so much about the portrayal of disabilities in books.

Now I get it.

I would never want to be blind or deaf. But I doubt most blind or deaf people wanted that either. It's just the way their lives are. Just like I never would have chosen to be unable to read music, I wouldn't want to magically snap my fingers and suddenly be able to read it. That's not consistent with who I am.

I would be SO PISSED if a book insinuated that a person with dyscalculia was useless. I wouldn't like it if part of the happily-ever-after was that the person with dyscalculia got it magicked away. I don't have that luxury, in real life. I have dyscalculia, and that's my reality.

I think part of the problem is that people who are uneducated (as I once was) on the realities of "disabilities" think that Person A is missing something vital from her life because she can't see. Same thing with Person B and hearing. Or me and reading music. And okay, I'm missing something from my life by not being able to read music. (Just like I'm missing something by being too tall for gymnastics or being too wimpy for softball.) But I can't wallow in it.

Music and the playing of musical instruments are really important to some people. Not to me. Same thing for some people and the ability to see and hear and play sports. I would never choose to  give up my sight, or hearing, or ability to read music. I don't have a choice in the matter. though. I can either work my ass off in order to compensate and pass as "normal" or I can ask for help. (Or not do things that require me to see/hear/read/music/throw a ball.)

You might think that my sheet music-less life completely sucks. That might suck for you, but I can't tell myself that it sucks, because it's my life. I didn't choose it, and I have to accomodate my life to the hand I've been dealt.

What society needs to learn to do is accept people's differences in ability and interest, and recognize them all as different-but-still-completely-valid ways to live.

Rant over, and happy 2013.