[The following contains hyperbolic silliness and should not be taken literally. I do not consider children or children's literature unworthy. I write it because I love it and believe in it. Also: don't mistake my tone for anger. This is me laughing merrily. I feel a bit silly explaining myself in such detail, but this is the internet. Tone is hard to hear on the internet.]
Ah, my darlings, the winter bear has been prodded from her slumber.
First there was an article about how Kent University was ‘penitent’ for belittling children’s literature. ”Huh,” I said to myself. “Is that Kent University in Canterbury? I played cello at a Messiah workshop there, long ago.”
Indeed it was, or one of their campuses, anyway. Close enough. Satisfied, I went back to sleep.
But then we get this follow-up article today: Children’s Fiction is not Great Literature.
I have to admit, I scoffed at first. However, I have come away transformed. I am a convert. Permit me to explain.
“Great adult literature aims to confront the full range of genuine human experience,” quoth the article. Of course it does! Except for children’s experience, which isn’t genuine experience after all. It’s barely what we’d call human. As some fellow on The Simpsons once said, “You kids don’t know what you want! That’s why you’re still kids! Because you’re stupid!”
It’s not like serious adult literature has never explored the experiences of childhood. I always thought James Joyce’s description of wetting the bed in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was particularly sublime. Nobody understands bed-wetting like an adult, though, and this is the entire point! Children do things without understanding the nuances! They only discern black, white, good, evil, and bright cartoonish things. When Joyce wets the bed, it has gravitas. Pathos. Introspection. Of course, James Joyce was far too Great to spend an entire book wetting the bed. He grew up, as any sensible person ought, and moved on to genuine human experiences like sexual urges, fear of hellfire, and spiritual epiphany. None of which children have the faintest notion of. Don’t tell me they do. I can’t hear you, lalala.
Now, does this mean that any individual work Great Literature must encompass the entirely of human experience? Of course not. That would be silly. Nobody has time for that. No, no, Great Literature merely has to be capable of containing anything. As the article explains: “a novel written for children omits certain adult-world elements which you would expect to find in a novel aimed squarely at grown-up readers.” So you see, virtue lies in not omitting – in omitting to omit, if you will – those elements of the adult world which would disturb, confuse, or just plain bore a child to tears. All the really genuine stuff, in other words.
Greatness in literature is like the load-bearing capacity of a bridge: nobody’s really going to drive a ten-billion-ton truck over your bridge, but it has to be strong enough, just in case. Because seriously, you never know. Somebody might have a truck that’s beyond your feeble imagination. We must allow for the full range of possible trucks, even the ones that don’t exist.
Children’s books, on the other hand, are like little wobbly rope bridges, capable of carrying only the wee-est, twee-est widdle emotions, only the fluffiest kittens of experience. Is there anything more futile and ridiculous than a fluffy kitten of experience? Surely the universe could get on quite well without fluffy kittens at all. No one would miss them. Stop blubbing, you.
It is therefore self-evident that the more Human Complexity a work is capable of containing, the Greater it can be. This is why (self-evidently) more greatness may be found in epic poetry than in sonnets. There’s only so much complexity you can cram into a sonnet, especially if you’re being strict with the rhyme scheme (I prefer English, myself). And don’t even get me started on haiku. How much Genuine Human Experience can 17 syllables possibly hold? I’ve had complex adult emotions with more syllables than that. I had one just now. It was self-congratulatory-dyspeptic-smugtasticrabby-glibberishness. Haiku that, darlings.
In sum: it’s not enough to write children’s emotions or experiences well because they are inherently unworthy of literary consideration. A Great book potentially contains anything (except silly kid stuff). The problem with Harry Potter (which I think we all agree exemplifies the entirety of children’s literature) is not that there isn’t anything Complex and Genuine in such books, but that there can’t be, by definition. QED, thank you, and goodnight.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have many librarian friends who raved endlessly about When You Reach Me, and then found Liar and Spy kind of a let-down afterwards. It was with this in mind that I decided I should read Liar and Spy first, to give it a chance NOT to disappoint me.
Boy, was I ever NOT disappointed.
In fact, I love this book with all my (admittedly shrivelled) heart. If When You Reach Me really is that much better… well, maybe I shouldn’t read it. Maybe it would make me give up writing in despair.
A little caveat first: this book is very quiet and small. Very quiet. Very small. If you’re not into quiet books, you can say to yourself, “Well, at least it’s small!” You can read it in an afternoon, even if you are an abysmally slow reader like myself.
Here’s where it’s awesome: theme. Everything fits and interweaves and interplays so beautifully. It’s like a Bach fugue — a really quiet one. Not that the pipe organ lends itself to quiet. Even the simple fact that Georges’s name has a silent “s” at the end resonates with the theme. It’s about the known and the unknown, the things we can and can’t, do and don’t perceive. The lies we tell and the things we refuse to see. Even the title plays into that.
My god it’s like a beautiful painting, and I could stare at it for hours. I am gnawing my own wrist with envy, which I realize is maybe not the cleverest thing I ever did.
Read it. Love it. I might not ever get around to When You Reach Me. I might not be able to handle it. We shall see.
And Seraphina has made Amazon’s Top 20 YA Novels of 2012! It’s #13, no less, which I find highly amusing.
That particular article also lets you know which ones were John Green’s favourites, in case you were burning with curiosity about that (follow the link to Omnivoracious to learn what they all are).
I have to admit, I tend to read older books. I mean, I feel guilty reading newer stuff when I haven’t even finished my TBR list from the 80s yet. How can I have any pudding if I haven’t eaten my meat?
I will say, though, that the few 2012 books I read IN 2012 were some of the best books I read all year. Code Name Verity tops the list, along with The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Nielsen and Bitterblue. It’s wonderful that there are so many good books being published, particularly in YA. We’re having a little YA Golden Age, here, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.
Updated to Add: And here’s another list, from Library Journal Reviews, Best Books 2012: YA Literature for Adults. I was about to claim Seraphina is #3 there, but it looks like it’s actually my surname that is #3 in alphabetical order. Still, another informative list, just in time for the holidays. I imagine that’s not a coincidence.
Goin’ to Alberta soon,
Gonna be a dental floss tycoon!
Ok, maybe not precisely that, but I will be attending Calgary WordFest, giving exciting talks on the 10th and 11th. If you’re in town, come see me!
If you’re nowhere near Calgary, never fear. I will leave you with interesting things to read and think about.
First, at Lady Business, an informative post on Gender Balance and YA Award Winners Since 2000. I notice they did not include the Canadian Governor General’s Literary Award, so I include the stats here (with the caveat that some of the books may be middle grade and at least one looks like nonfiction) — 7 male, 5 female.
Zoe Marriot has some interesting things to say in response: Women Dominate? In What Universe?
Also buzzing through the YA blogosphere yesterday, an article from Read Now, Sleep Later about perceived stigma around the very label “Young Adult” – YA Shame and Stigma.
I come from comics and from SF/F, so I’m not entirely convinced YA has much of a stigma, or at least not universally. Sales don’t reflect that. Rapid expansion of the genre doesn’t reflect that. And honestly, are there books with NO stigma from anyone? Don’t we all turn up our noses at genres we dislike (or haven’t tried)? We are creatures of habit, and we prejudge things readily on little evidence. My personal stigmatized genres include “books where doggies die” and “adult literature that takes itself way too seriously”. I’m almost certainly missing a lot of great books because of these irrational biases, but what to do? I’m also missing a lot of great books by virtue of not having time to read them.
All right, darlings, take care. Be excellent to each other until I return.
Here it is! (I couldn’t get it to embed, sorry.)
I just want to say: thank you so much to Nancy Pearl, Paul, Deanna, the lovely folks at University Book Store, and everybody else who helped make this happen (Trinity, Robert, Konrad, Paige, Flann! You helped!). I had so much fun, I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to keep chatting. Maybe we’ll chat again sometime!
If you know me at all, you know I love the band RUSH. I didn’t always; they put something in the water here to make you impress upon the first Canadian music you hear. Could’ve been worse. Could’ve been Bieber.
Anyway, I got their latest album, Clockwork Angels, for my birthday and have found it completely impenetrable. Now, I’m used to a certain amount of this from RUSH. All their songs sound like noise to me at first. This album, though, is requiring more stubbornness than usual.
So when I heard Clockwork Angels was also going to be a novel, I had mixed feelings. I couldn’t decide whether it sounded awesome or vaguely embarrassing. Or, y’know, utterly impenetrable.
Well, having read Anderson’s guest post over at Scalzi’s, I’m feeling somewhat reassured. The author really likes RUSH, anyway — in fact he seems to like a lot of the same prog rock as me. (Now I am vaguely embarrassed, because I actually had dinner with him in San Diego, and I didn’t talk to him at all. In my defense, I was at the other end of a long table, and I was exhausted, but still. I wish I’d made more effort). In fact, I only realized who he was (the writer of all those latter-day Dune novels) as I was leaving (before dessert, because I was exhausted). So: my apologies, Kevin Anderson. I hope we run into each other again sometime; I shall have more to say to you.
I’ll take a look at the book, certainly, but I reckon I should come to better grips with the music first. Still, super fun to read about the role music plays in someone else’s process! And it will be interesting to look for the music in the book.
ETA: thanks to Paige for the link!
ETA2: As my friend Dave astutely points out in the comments, before this album or its novelization, there was a wonderful graphic novel called Clockwork Angels by Lea Hernandez.
I am so sad to hear that Maurice Sendak has died. His books were a huge part of my childhood, of course, but he was also someone who inspired me to write as an adult. I saw him give a talk when I was in college, and he was cranky, yes, but also so unabashedly, unapologetically himself. Seeing him helped give me the courage not to go to graduate school, but to pursue art and writing instead.
One particular quote stuck with me: “People ask why I write children’s books. I don’t write children’s books. It’s not my fault booksellers don’t shelve me next to Saul Bellow!”
I took that to heart. Write what you need to write. Let someone else decide how to categorize it.
Rest in peace, old man.
Edited to add: Holy crap my friend Phantom can write. Here’s her eulogy to Mr. Sendak.
Kat Kennedy’s Musing Muser’s post on Cuddlebuggery Book Blog: Women and Romance Novels
Is it any wonder women take refuge in a world that actually acknowledges their existence in a somewhat positive manner? And one that provides a fantasy in which they will be loved and treated as important?
I am not a romance reader, by any stretch, but her argument makes a lot of sense to me.
Edited to add: Here’s more on the same subject, from Maria Bustillos at The Awl. I have now officially thought more about romance novels in one morning than in all my years combined. Unless Longmire Does Romance Covers counts. Which I’m pretty sure it does not.
My husband and I have long been fans of Lindsey Davis’s Marcus Didius Falco mysteries. It was our friend Josh who got us addicted in the beginning. Even now, years later, we still fight over each new book as it comes out.
(Or not really: when you’re married long enough, you learn which of you is the faster reader and which is more likely to inadvertently give away spoilers. In our case, fortunately, those aren’t both the same person. Scott reads books first in a mad whirlwind dash, and I blurt out spoilers later, in my own time, when he no longer finds them spoiling.)
It was with manic glee, therefore, that I watched him reading Falco: the Official Companion these last few days. I hadn’t even realized this book was coming out, and a fan companion – though not as exciting as an actual novel – was surely something to relish.
Uncharacteristically, Scott kept reading bits of it out loud to me. They weren’t really spoilers, as such, but I couldn’t help feeling bemused by the whole thing. It seemed he was finding this book reminded him… of me.
I found this very encouraging, not just because Davis is hilarious, but because I think it underscored that I’m not the only crazy writer out there. Apparently we’re all just a little bit eccentric. That can only be good news, right?
So I finally started the book, and I already find myself grinning and needing desperately to quote it at you. She starts off with great advice, right in chapter one:
Never reveal that you write in a paint-stained velour leisure suit, with orthopaedic inserts in your thermal slippers.
I won’t, Lindsey. I won’t. But I may just giggle through this entire book.
With the release of Breaking Dawn (the film), strong feelings about the Twilight series have once again risen back to the fore on blogs and discussion forums. Now, though, there’s a backlash against the backlash. A metabacklash, if you will. The inimitable Holly Black has her finger on the pulse of an interesting argument, as always.
This got me thinking, as appears to be inevitable. I’ve had a Twilight post fermenting in my brain for some time, and while it’s only tangentially related to Black’s post, now seems as good a time as any to write about it.
For those with short attention spans, or who fake a migraine any time I talk about art, I’ll cut right to the thesis: I don’t like Twilight, but I still think Twilight is art, maybe even good art. Unfeminist or not, modelling bad relationships or not, it has its place and it isn’t going to ruin kids who read it.
All righty then! Those of you intrepid enough to follow me into my Labyrinth of Argument, I’ll meet you under the fold!