Tuesday, June 10, 2014

41 Be Proud of Whatever the Hell You Read (And a Giveaway of IF I STAY and WHERE SHE WENT by Gayle Forman)

I’ve been brewing up a rant since Thursday about book reviewers who deliberately bait readers (and authors) with extremist reviews and positions. Positions like those of Slate columnist Ruth Graham, who claims that adults should be embarrassed to read YA.

By Michael
Coming on the heels of Book Expo America, where books were, understandably, the featured and celebrated items and YA books seemed to take a breathlessly disproportionate amount of the signing space, I was shocked by Graham’s assertion. The article was wrong on so many different levels.

Let’s start with the assumption that it’s wrong to read any kind of a book. Given our woeful educational ranking in the world and the rich competition for consumer attention, any time someone reads, it’s a joyous thing. Graham claims that YA books keep adults from reading adult literary books--and trust me, I'll come back to that later--but books are not a one size fits all type of product. Whatever book gets people reading instead of playing a video game or watching television needs balloons and a parade with floats. Books of all kinds engage a reader’s imagination and creativity, relieve stress, develop analytical thinking skills, build new synapses in the brain that help stave off Alzheimers and help with short-term memory. Not only that, the studies show they let us experience the emotions of the characters and develop empathy. How then do we have the right to judge that one book form is inherently better than another?

Next, let’s question Graham's assertion that YA books are simplistic and that only “adults” have the wisdom and perspective to see how simplistic YA books are because their ends are "uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering.” Um. Really? The endings of MOCKINGJAY and ALLEGIANT were uniformly satisfying, right? Everyone uniformly loved the way those ended. And clearly there is no complexity or mix of emotions in any books across the wide and varied spectrum of genres that make up the *age range* that is YA?

Even if a book does have a “satisfying” ending, is that a crime? Personally, if I want to be depressed, all I have to do is turn on the news. Sometimes, I want to think about the content of a book, about the lives of characters, without feeling like the end of the book left me hanging. It’s true that life doesn’t always have clean, simple answers. But a satisfying ending doesn’t diminish the questions and themes that are sandwiched between the covers of a book.

Perhaps Graham hasn’t developed the perspective yet to understand that a “transparently trashy” book like DIVERGENT, can start a conversation on a broader level than many “literary" books while simultaneously being immensely readable. There’s subversive skill and intellect required to develop a “simple” book about big ideas that spark even bigger ideas. Is it believable there would be a society of factions like Veronica Roth devised? Does it matter? Was it likely that the society described in 1984 would ever exist? Big books are often about grains of truth.

Let’s move on to where Graham claims that people who are reading YA “books that could plausibly be said to be replacing literary fiction in the lives of adult readers,” like THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, keep adults from reading adult literary novels instead. Few literary novels have reached half as many readers as TFIOS. The fact that so many people are reading something that by Graham's own admission is literary, or at least literaryish, deserves praise. Never mind the parade, break out the freaking fireworks.

I was at Bookcon at the tail end of BEA last weekend, and I happened to go downstairs to check my bag on Saturday morning. There was a line so big queuing up for the auditorium that I asked one of the dazed looking policemen on duty what was going on. “They’re here to see a guy who wrote a book about cancer,” he said. “I don’t get it.”

Which about sums up Graham’s viewpoint. She doesn’t "get it.” She doesn’t get that there are many non-literary adult books that have far more simplistic writing or characters or plots than the YA books she named, or that tastes change and that the books that were decried as frivolous when they were initially published have become the classics we now hold up as the highest examples of the novelist’s art.

The Atlantic, on the other hand, "gets" the absurdity in Graham’s piece. Noah Berlatsky wrote a rebuttal to the Slate article explaining that "of course YA books can be complex" citing Stacey Donovan’s DIVE as an example. You can argue the choice, if you like, because there are certainly hundreds if not thousands of examples we could come up with. But read the article and judge for yourself.

Another excellent post by Salon’s Laura Miller examines the merits of the deeper themes and new ideas introduced by TFIOS and points out that there are likely as many “weird facts, astonishing sentences, deeply unfamiliar (to me) characters, and big ideas about time and space and science” in it as there are in SUBMERGENCE by J. J. Ledgard, which Graham praises. Miller points out that what she sees “in Graham’s essay is a critic who just doesn’t know how to read” TFIOS. And I would agree with that wholeheartedly.

If I had a chance to say only one thing to Hilary Graham, it would be to suggest that if adult readers are reading YA books, it’s not because they’re not intelligent enough to want to read the adult version of the book, whatever that might be. YA books in a wide variety of genres often manage to be beautifully written as well as entertaining and accessible. They frequently straddle the line between literary and commercial without being pretentious, and therefore they become gateway drugs to deeper, richer reading experiences for people who would never normally pick up a “literary” novel. Maybe instead of adults and young adults needing to be embarrassed about responding to story lines and themes that reflect their interests and concerns, we should give them credit for choosing what appeals to them. As is their right.

My favorite young adult novels tend to be layered with meaning. You can read them on many levels, and I suspect that if Graham or any of the spate of actors who recently have questioned the validity of "Young Adult Literature" "don’t get it," it might be because they haven’t read widely enough. Conveniently, Bankstreet’s list of The Best Children's Books of the Year Fourteen and Older just came out. I hope Graham picks up a copy. Or perhaps she could try the excellent YALSA List of Best Fiction For Young Adults for 2014. There's also a list of the current YALSA Books for Young Adults Nominations.

The main thing I want to say is that whether you are a reader or a reviewer, it’s completely your right not to like a book. But part of being an adult is to learn that you don’t know what you don’t know until you’ve actually learned quite a lot about a subject. It’s fine to dismiss a particular book, but to dismiss an entire section of the bookstore probably isn’t prudent unless you’ve extensively studied the books themselves.

Adults shouldn’t be embarrassed to read YA. Whatever we read is a valid choice.

A critic who judges a book by its shelving is no more to be respected than the reviewer who prejudges a book by its cover. It’s okay for a reader to do that—we all have our own tastes. But a critical reader needs to be more thoughtful and authoritative before I can respect her opinion, and a reviewer whose opinion I can’t respect is a reviewer whose opinion will never sway me.

YA GIVEAWAY OF THE WEEK

Because, damn it, they're beautiful. And good. And not simplistic.



If I Stay

by Gayle Forman

Paperback

Speak; Reprint edition

Released 6/10/2014



The critically acclaimed, bestselling novel from Gayle Forman, author of Where She WentJust One Day, and the forthcoming Just One Year

On a day that started like any other,

Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, admiring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. In an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the only decision she has left. It is the most important decision she'll ever make.

Simultaneously tragic and hopeful, this is a romantic, riveting, and ultimately uplifting story about memory, music, living, dying, loving.





Purchase If I Stay at Amazon

Purchase If I Stay at IndieBound

View If I Stay on Goodreads

* * * *



Where She Went

by Gayle Forman

Paperback

Speak; Reprint edition

Released 6/15/2014



It's been three years since the devastating accident . . . three years since Mia walked out of Adam's life forever.
Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Juilliard's rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia's home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future - and each other.

Told from Adam's point of view in the spare, lyrical prose that defined If I Stay, Where She Went explores the devastation of grief, the promise of new hope, and the flame of rekindled romance.



Purchase Where She Went at Amazon

Purchase Where She Went at IndieBound

View Where She Went on Goodreads


BEA MYSTERY BOX WINNER

RainJeys

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41 comments:

  1. I love this post and agree completely - everyone should read what they like and that should be the end of it. At least people are reading!

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  2. Wings by Elizabeth Richards, The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon and The Forever Song by Julie Kagawa

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  3. YA is a genre that reaches out to all ages! It really bothers me when people say that only teens can read them. If adults enjoy them, too, then so be it! I love YA and don't think I will ever stop loving YA!

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  4. LOVE this post! It should be read by everyone!!

    Wings would be awesome in the mystery box!! :)

    Thank you :)

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  5. I love YA. There is no age limit to read anything in my opinion. I can still easily enjoy books targeted toward juvenile audiences just as well as books targeted toward adults.

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  6. I love YA. I read adult occasionally too, but always come back to YA.

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  7. This was a very educational post, mostly because I was not aware that some individual took it upon themselves to pass judgement upon adults who enjoy reading YA books. Such a statement extends a slap in the face to many of those who write YA stories, those many being adults. Afterall, we tend to write what we enjoy reading. I love reading YA and yep, I'll be proud to tell any person that I love it :-)

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  8. I really want to read If I Stay. :) I've seen so many good reviews for it!

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  9. I hope FALLING INTO PLACE is in there! =)

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  10. I love YA. I think its one of the best genres. Thanks for awesome giveaway.

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  11. I checked If I Stay out from the library, but had to return it due to holds. I would love to win my own copy! Thanks for the giveaway!

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  12. You rock, Martina!! Love this!
    Prejudice of any kind is generally born of fear or ignorance. So sad that some people don't see the true value of reading!

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    1. It's sad when someone has to be so vitriolic about something that should bring people together--we're all readers. Who cares WHAT we're reading? Sigh.

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  13. You nailed it, Martina. What a frustrating stance for someone who should know better. Thanks for a great post. And thanks for the terrific giveaway.

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  14. I am definitely not a young adult but I read quite a bit of YA. I hate being told what to do!

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  15. I want these books and COMPULSION!! I find the certaion article that sparked debate to be childish and she just loks like she wants attention. annoyness personal preference isnt anyone elses buisness

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  16. Hear, hear. Very well said. I especially like YA as a "gateway drug to deeper, richer reading experiences." Even if that means one still keeps on reading MORE young adult books. :)

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    1. Naturally. I think we develop as readers though too. Even if we read the same thing, we bring all the different books we've already read to each new book.

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  17. So agree with you, Martina. There is no reason anyone should feel bad about what they read. And any time reading vs. TV or video games is such a better and stimulating use of our time.

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  18. YES! People should not feel bad for reading Young Adult. Thank you for the awesome post and for the giveaway!

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  19. I've always read whatever interested ME, without regard to what others may think I should be reading. Don't try to mess with what I consider my inalienable right as a lifelong learner to further my education through nonfiction or enhance my understanding of the human condition through any and all types of fiction or indulge in escaping my ordinary life for a few hours via a well-told story. Everything has value, even an incendiary article like the one that prompted Martina's post ... after all, the opinion expressed in the article served as a reminder to me that I am proud to have the freedom to read whatever the hell floats my boat. (I'd love to find BORN OF DECEPTION, THE LOST, and RUIN AND RISING in the mystery box.)

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    1. Love your attitude! And I second it. Sometimes we can read to better ourselves, but that doesn't mean we can't just read for the hell of it too without guilt. If I want guilt, all I have to do is call my mother.

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  20. I really really hate being told what to read -- but I hate even more being told what I SHOULDN'T be reading.

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    1. Yes! That tends to be my reaction about banned books, too. The more you tell me not to read something, the more likely I am to want to read it.

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  21. One thing I love about all this recent anti-YA sentiment is that it's bringing lovers of YA fiction together. I love to see readers and writers coming together and standing up for YA.

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  22. I am 100% NOT embarrassed that I, a 31 year old woman love YA books. I don't think there is anything wrong with liking the books that interest me. I didn't have the typical teenage high school life, so I choose to read about those through books. That was wrong of that person to down us who do. Thank you for saying and bringing attention to this matter. And thank you for choosing to giveaway YA books! Feel free to throw Compulsion in that box. ;) And any kind of YA books.

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  23. Hmm . . . I wouldn't of picked a book that's on the slice of life side, but I may be needing that. I need to spice of my reading.

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  24. I totally agree with you on this. That article was so ridiculous. YA books are amazing. I loved them as a teenager and that hasn't changed at all even though I'm in my twenties now.

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  25. Thank you for this rant. I've been complaining about that article all week.

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  26. I love this post and this blog. I'm excited at the possibility of winning this great giveaway!

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  27. I laugh at the idea that adults should be embarrassed to read YA titles. Working in a library, I feel like I have an obligation to our patrons to have a grasp of what we have to offer. If YA title are taboo, I suppose I should really feel guilty about admitting that I love reading Mo Willem's Elephant and Piggy books.

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  28. Hoping to get A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray for the mystery box..

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  29. I've been planning on reading these for a long time. Thank you so much :D

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  30. I can't tell you how much I agree with this article. Seriously. First off, telling anyone they should be ashamed of reading is ridiculous. Every time I see an article like Graham's pop up I can't help but think that part of being an adult is learning that you don't get to make other people's opinions for them. If I like to read YA that's my business whether I'm 16 or 60. And if I like to read YA why would I be dissuaded by a person who doesn't seem to know anything about the subject?? Because most times that seems to be the case with people who hate on YA. I have a cousin who thinks she's very "literary" and doesn't care for YA, but when pressed for her favorite books can't list more than a few authors she was forced to read in school. Though she ate up The Hunger Games when I asked her to give them a try.

    Anyway, thanks for the giveaway and great post!!

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  31. Thanks for this awesome giveaway and I completely agree with this article.

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  32. I would love to see anything by Cora Carmack!

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  33. Such a fantastic post! No one's going to make me ashamed of reading YA.. ever!

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  34. I will never be ashamed to read YA. YA All the Way!!!

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  35. I love YA and I really want to read If I Stay by Gayle Forman.

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