Thursday, July 06, 2006

Read Roger

I think what I like most about Roger Sutton's Blog, Read Roger, is that he says exactly what he wants to say. Whether I agree or disagree, I respect his honesty and bluntness. It's the type of bluntness, at times, that makes me wonder, does he mean that? Or is he trying to get a discussion going?

(For the record, I'd prefer he mean it than to he is trying to stir the pot. Cause discussions work so much better when they are real rather than manipulation.)

I'm highlighting his post today because it amuses me, because it mentions the wonderful Gail Gauthier (and if her blog isn't on your daily to-read list, it should be) and because it's about YA literature and YA librarians. Full post here.

Over on her blog Original Content, Gail Gauthier has been wondering why Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys was named a Best Book for Young Adults by ALA. In this era of the burgeoning ranks of YA fiction, it's easy to forget that the main mission of YA librarians used to be to bring teen readers into the world of adult books. Obviously, when pioneers such as Margaret Edwards were working, YA fiction was far more limited in both range and numbers, so librarians had no choice but to bring young readers out of the box. But now I worry (and Horn Book YA columnist Patty Campbell and I have been arguing this one for years) that the surfeit of YA lit--if you believe there is one, and I do--keeps librarians from moving kids along. And when I hear that we should be thinking of YA as including people into their twenties I get apoplectic. Push 'em out of the nest, already.
Ah, this brings out the lawyer in me! Is the definition of the mission of a librarian (and a YA librarian) set in stone, never to be altered? Are the only worthwhile books adult books, with all else merely stepping stones? How high up in age should/does "YA" go? Is their a surfeit of YA literature?

Discuss amongst yourselves. I'm fighting a cold so will just sit back and read.


web said...

I would have given my right arm for a librarian to help me "move along." I had a terrible, terrible time finding adult books to transition to when I was a teen. I did wind up reading a lot of interesting old crap as a result, but I had to get my recommendations from books written for adults trying to help teens, 'cause no adults were trying to help me! (Awesome recommendations too, many of those books are still my favorites.)

Liz B said...

I never had an adult outside my family who gave me book recommendations. Not even bad ones.

My "adult" reading as a teen: Harlequins, Robert Ludlum, assorted spy stories and mysteries.

Anonymous said...

If there's a surfeit of YA literature, then there is at least double a surfeit of children's and adult literature.

I'm just not getting why YA lit would keep librarians from "moving kids along." How many kids are ready to go from Bridge to Terabithia to To Kill A Mockingbird? I wasn't ready to read adult books in high school (YMMV, of course), and YA lit kept me reading. Teens still need a nest, and they need literature that speaks to them, whether it's YA or not.

Brian Farrey said...

I think if there's a surfeit of YA lit, it's a response to a need in the market. Suddenly, teen books were selling well and EVERYBODY wanted a piece of the action (were they selling well or were they getting attention?..Hmm...'nother interesting question).

My counter-question is: how YOUNG does YA lit go? Do we include middle grade books in the definition?

I subscribe to the theory that YA lit (in my mind, stuff marketed to 13 and up) is a fiction, invented by marketing people who were looking for a new way to sell books. I've blogged about this but I believe that writing a YA book should be no different than writing an adult book. By that reasoning, the only thing that should set them apart is a protagonist that's more accessible to a teen (namely a teen protagonist). Several adult books featuring teen protagonists have done well (Where is Catcher in the Rye shelved? Adult books.).

To me, it's all about mindset. It's the same mindset that made Harry Potter accessible to adults, teens, and kids alike. YA books are not merely stepping stones because anyone can read them. Whether you read that or an adult book, you just have to put yourself in the right mindset.

Little Willow said...

There are some novels shelved in YA that are appropriate for 12 year olds. There are some that are not. There are some novels shelved in fiction that 12 year olds could and should read.

As others have said, there are plenty of well-known high-ranking "adult" novels that, if they had been released today, might be in Teen Fiction instead of (regular) Fiction, including, but is not limited to, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

By the same token, there are books that some adults miss out on because they think those books are for kids. This includes classics (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There) and modern releases.

Not all publishers can make like Phillip Pullman's reps and print entire series in different formats to be shelved in juvenile fiction, teen fiction, and adult fiction - but if more did, shoppers wouldn't be so fixated on age categories and section labels.

Anonymous said...

As an advocate of more adults reading children's books, I agree with Little Willow. It would be great to see more books that can cross age ranges marketed as such. I know that's not really feasible, but it would be cool.

Personally, I crossed over to adult books based on what my parents had on their bookshelves: Agatha Christie and other mysteries, Georgette Heyer, and the Bronte sisters. In my library growing up the YA section was in with the adult fiction, rather than in with the children's section, and I think that helped me, too. I also found it helpful to have authors who wrote for both YA and adults. I read a bunch of Phyllis Whitney young adult books, and then transitioned seamlessly to her adult stuff. I'll be that today Meg Cabot can do much the same thing for kids.

Michele said...

If anything, I moved over to reading adult books too early (I was 11 when I read Emma and 13 when I read Macbeth); I would have loved there to have been more books for teens when I was that age (I became a teenager in the early 80s). As it is, I've ben madly playing catch up on "classic" children's and YA books in the past 5 years, as well as reading the newly published ditto...

Liz B said...

I kind of like the idea that it's all arbitrary labelling. But people do look for books based on age of the reader; so it's not entirely publisher driven. I swear, I dread the "what book for a 4th grader" question because that is so arbitrary! What is that person reading, liking, etc. There really isn't such a thing as "the 4th grade book section," and as soon as you say book X is perfect for 4th graders, others will cringe saying now no 5th or 6th grader will read it because its too young and the parents of 3rd graders will boast about their children reading it and arg.

For "pushing YA up" age wise. The main problem I have with that is purely practical: who buys it, where is it shelved, is it really OK to have books aimed at a 12 year old next to the ones aimed at an 18 year old? Especially when most 18 year olds are out looking at the adult area, I think, great that publishers are thinking of targeting that age group (up to 25) because as a 20 something I would have loved to read books about my age group. I just don't get why that's being done under the YA umbrella.

and it's kind of weird that i have to do word verification for my own blog.

Michele said...

I always feel that way about the word verification thing too, Liz !

Emily said...

I don't know if I entirely agree with the idea of teens needing to be "pushed out of the nest": were the endless Dragonlance and Robert Jordan books, nominally published for adults, that my geek friends read in high school, any better than the best YA books? Is it an inherent part of growing up that you should become ready to read about boring people and their boring marital problems?

I guess I have to wonder, what does a "nest" really mean? I don't see all that much difference between YA novels and adult novels except length and the age of the protagonist--if a kid can read Eragon, then there's no jump up necessary to read Wheel of Time or Terry Brooks. If we're supposed to be preparing teenagers to read "Blood Meridian," or something, that's a different story, I guess.

But honestly, most of the teenagers I knew in high school read adult novels if they read at all, and in no way were those adult novels superior to the better YA books, nor did they have more advanced themes or vocabulary.