Saturday, July 19, 2008

Painting Watercolors of Cats

Margo Rabb has in essay in this Sunday's New York Times Book Review, called "I'm YA, and I'm OK." It looks at the choice of "YA or adult" from an author's perspective. I quite enjoyed the article, and have a few reactions:

--I don't think authors always know their audience, to be honest. Do I find author intent interesting? Yes; but not controlling.

-- including James Patterson in the list is a joke. Seriously. Yes, I know Rabb had to do it, because he's such a big name and all, but ask any YA librarian worth their salt and they'll tell you 2 things: the belief that Patterson tried to "cash in" on the allegedly lucrative YA market (aka "wow look at how much money JKRowling makes"), plus it was always adults who were checking out the books (sometimes happy with the book, but also often angry that the book wasn't an adult book.)

-- Crossover from YA to Adult. Carlie did a presentation on this at the NJLA Conference in a room that was standing room only. Which shows that at least librarians are interested in letting adults know about the gems published as YA. (Carlie's email is on the sidebar, if you want to ask her about the presentation.) I got my Mom hooked on YA books by not telling her they were YA books, just that they were good books. I think libraries and bookstores need to shelve these books in multiple places; mix up the content of displays so that they include both adult and YA; and otherwise promote these books. The kidlitosphere does this, to a certain extent, but I'm sure we could do more.

-- I am amused that the "real literature" folks look down on YA, as, with few exceptions, I look down on what I see as pretensions of "real literature."

-- Rabb does not take on the "what is YA" question, and I'm glad about that, because that, my friends, is a question that could be answered in a book. Without getting too wordy about it, yes, I see a need for books that reflect teen lives, experiences, fears, hopes, wishes; and I'm glad that need is being met; and books, like people, are often too complex to warrant just one label.

-- Meg Rosoff is quite the character! Here's her money quote: "There isn’t an adult who’s going to trot into the children’s section to look for adult literature." True that! But -- and here, always, is my point -- they will to look for good literature.

Looking for good literature -- ah, there is the real question. And when there is a good book, what is done to match it with the most number of readers possible? I have to say that, despite it's problems, I think the current children's/YA/adult sections of a library/bookstore is the best answer for the general browsing public. As mentioned in other posts, I don't think books should be further broken down (here is our section for 5 year olds, here is our section for smart 5 year olds, here is our section for 13 year olds who think they are 20 but are really more like 8, etc.) And I cannot seriously advocate telling a 14 year old, hunt and peck thru the adult titles to find the ones you want. So what is my answer for putting books in the hands of people?

Multiple copies in multiple areas. Displays that include both YA and adult and children. Catalog and online descriptions and reviews that include that it's a crossover title. Booklists that include all titles. Staff that booktalk and recommend all titles. I hate to say this, but I still find library staff, who should know better, who believe that YA is for readers aged 10 to 13, and after that it's off to the adult shelves for them. So yes, workshops, programs like the one Carlie gave, articles. As with everything...not sitting back and complaining, but sitting back, complaining, and then acting.

EDITED TO ADD: DVD Bonus material to come! Margo Rabb promises to post at her blog some of the interviews, etc., that weren't included in the article. Yay! (And on a side note: see, this is how print and online media can work together.)

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