Saturday, March 14, 2009

"Maybe I'll Write A YA Book"

I have no idea what the Tournament of Books is, or isn't, but I saw E. Lockhart's posts about her The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks being a part of it and thought "cool."

Monica points out the post where Frankie lost, and it's always interesting when someone not familiar with a genre does a "I don't usually read that, and I agree with things other people who don't read it say, but I just want a good book" take, giving credit to what the don't read, etc.

It may be shooting fish in the barrel to then search the "why Frankie lost" for bits I'd find annoying. Heck, you all know I was on the Printz Committee that selected Frankie for a Printz Honor.

And, indeed, I found different points amusing (such as how many adults, upon reading books for teens, get bothered about the portrayal of adults or the lack of adults in books).

Then I read this:

Because nothing in Frankie’s world has any large-scale consequence (for a few pages it appears as though a character may be thrown out of school, but he is not), every character in the book remains almost outrageously secure. Nothing truly fundamental gets shaken up here. In a winter of global violence, child slavery, layoffs, and financial jitters, maybe a forget-the-outside-world-for-a-few-hours book about a smart young woman is the best thing for our young readers.

And all I could think is man, I wish I was BFF with Jennifer Weiner to discuss that! For those who know her "only" as an author, set aside time today to read her blog, and essays like this. In a nutshell, she takes on the biases that exist against women writers, especially those who don't write "large-scale" novels. I read this and thought, so Frankie is doubly screwed: first by being a YA book, second by being a "chick lit" book. (Seriously, read some Jen Weiner, because she does an excellent job about the biases that define what is "real" literature and I cannot even come close.)

Next I read the commentary about the Frankie loses decision. Which did have some nice things to say about the book. And some odd things.

Read the full thing; my favorite bit is this: "I have no particular animus towards young adult literature, but neither do I find myself turning to it often. If many YA books are as good as this one, I’ll be reading much more of it. (I may try my hand at writing it too because it seems like a lot of fun and an interesting challenge.)

Discuss amongst yourselves the compliment by slamming something, combined with the "it's so easy, I'm going to do it for fun!" YA Authors everywhere are probably tearing out their hair and rolling on the ground laughing.

Edited to add: Please click through to read the discussion in the comments! John, whose comment inspired my snarky title, contributes. Thank you, John! He says, "I didn't mean to imply that writing a good YA book is any easier than writing any other kind of book. What I meant is that I enjoyed reading it so much that I'll likely read more, and being a writer as well, I felt inspired to take up the challenge of writing a book as good as this one. It's the same feeling I felt the first time I read Richard Ford's The Sportswriter a very different book for sure, but that feeling demonstrated to me that good books that affect us are good books that affect us, regardless of genre. As for the "fun" part, I think writing should be fun for the writer and part of the fun for me is the challenge of trying to do something as good as the best, even if that effort virtually always falls short."

Also, please click thru to read the original decision (by one person) and comments on the decision (by two others) in their entiretly. They are seperate people, if I wasn't clear enough in that before!

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

17 comments:

tanita s. davis said...

...
Wow. There are no words.
It is such an excellent book and so brilliantly written, and to hear someone dismiss it, and in the next breath go on about how they're going to do it next....
........

Yeah. No words.
Wow.

Thank you indeed for the heads-up on Jennifer Weiner; I really like to keep up on stuff like this because I read so much and it's good to be able to identify and articulate things which strike me as off in other people's books, and in hopes (please, God) of keeping these same biases out of my own.

Christine M said...

First just *sigh*.

Second - why do books - for teens or adults or kids - have to show all the realities of the real world? I don't want to read about child slavery or layoffs or financial jitters when I'm reading for fun. And frankly in the books I've read lately, they certainly haven't been front and center topics.

And third - I agree with Tanita - Frankie was an awesome book.

Gwenda Bond said...

I've followed the Tourney of Books for years, and it's really unusual for the commentarians to love the book as much as they did Frankie, so I was glad they got it when ham-handed judge did not (anyone else think he skimmed? If he even finished the book?).

I don't think he was implying writing it would be easy, and I don't take that as a slam, actually. He also says it would be challenging, and that he plans to read more. If he'd said, hey, I'm going to dash off a YA book now, that'd have been offensive. And I do think writing YA is more "fun" than writing depressing literary fiction for adults, which is one of the reasons I do it!

I kinda wish Octavian would have been the first YA book in there, though, because I bet it would have beat Shadow Country. Much more able to do an apples to apples comparison there. But I think it's also great that Frankie was the first book in the Tourney; I love it soooo much.

Debby Garfinkle said...

I think it's a lot harder to make readers feel deeply about a girl who's having boyfriend problems, for instance, than a girl who is sent to Auschwitz, for instance. Yet it is the Holocaust, etc. books that reviewers and award committees often seem to favor. I think reviewers and committees should focus on the writing rather than the subject matter.

I love DISREPUTABLE HISTORY. That deeply intelligent book exploring issues such as sexism is not "chick lit." Not every book by a female writer featuring a female character is chick lit. I like to read chick lit too, but mostly for entertainment, which is a very good purpose. DISREPUTABLE HISTORY is a literary novel that also entertains.

Liz B said...

Debby, re chick lit -- What I was meaning (and see some of Jennifer Weiner's stuff) is that I think a book like Frankie (about "girl issues" by a female author) is viewed as "chick lit", no matter the content or writing style or literari-ness. So basically -- no matter what we say or think, it's going to be dismissed because it's about "girl stuff", even when the "girl stuff" is about power and sexism, not shoes. So it was going into this with two strikes against it: oh its YA and oh it's just for girls.

I think what matters is the writing, period. Great writing can be about a boarding school; inferior writing can be about financial layoffs. It's not the subject that makes the writing good; it is the writing itself.

marypearson said...

Besides the idea that writing a YA book is "fun and a challenge" (sounds like he is attempting a crossword puzzle, doesn't it?) this in particular, disturbed me:

"Nothing truly fundamental gets shaken up here."

Really? In a slim volume, Frankie manages to expose a large and epic world--that clearly still exists.

Now that's truly fundamental.

And besides that, the book entertained me at the same time. And that's phenomenal.

The Printz committee did well.

Tow Books said...

As the guy who wrote the comment... "I have no particular animus towards young adult literature, but neither do I find myself turning to it often. If many YA books are as good as this one, I’ll be reading much more of it. (I may try my hand at writing it too because it seems like a lot of fun and an interesting challenge.)"

I guess I'm learning a lesson in making sure one's words are as clearly stated as possible. Those words as part of my overall comment were meant to express my total admiration of/for The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. As I state in the comment, I though the book was tremendous, one of my absolute favorite reads of the tournament and if I had been the judge, (which I was not), I would have put it into the next round. I disagreed with many of the things the judge had to say about the book.

I didn't mean to imply that writing a good YA book is any easier than writing any other kind of book. What I meant is that I enjoyed reading it so much that I'll likely read more, and being a writer as well, I felt inspired to take up the challenge of writing a book as good as this one. It's the same feeling I felt the first time I read Richard Ford's The Sportswriter a very different book for sure, but that feeling demonstrated to me that good books that affect us are good books that affect us, regardless of genre. As for the "fun" part, I think writing should be fun for the writer and part of the fun for me is the challenge of trying to do something as good as the best, even if that effort virtually always falls short.

In no way would I pre-suppose that the end results of any of those efforts would be anywhere near the quality of Disreputable History.

In short, no offense intended, and if the full text of my comment http://www.themorningnews.org/tob/2009/shadow-country-vs-the-disreput-commentary.php doesn't adequately reflect how much I enjoyed and admire the book, then I really did fail at finding the right words this time out.

John Warner

Misrule said...

"Nothing truly fundamental gets shaken up here". What, like the #^&%ing PATRIARCHY? Right, nothing fundamental or large-scale consequential about the patriarchy. Sheesh.

Liz B said...

John, thanks for stopping by & clarifying. Even after I reread with Gwenda's comment, my response was like Mary's, so thank you for sharing further.

I think part of the problem, for me (and, judging by responses I've read, others), is the use of the word "fun" as I've seen it used in other contexts about childrens & teen books (as well as about librarianship (my current job, that is in jeopardy in almost every school system in the us): that "fun" means "anyone can do it" and that means "no one should get paid/ paid as much for that which is 'fun'". Also, since anyone can do it -- and it's "fun" -- it is somehow lesser than "real literary fiction for the grownups". Which is "real work." (Writers, I think, face this bias in general -- anyone can write a novel! Hey, I have a great idea, I'll tell you it, and we'll split the millions!. Double the bias when talking about writers for teens; triple it for picture book authors, because picture books are so easy any celebrity can do it.)

Thanks for your comment explaining that was NOT what you meant with "fun".

Tow Books said...

Glad that I could stop by and clarify. Personally, I'm rooting for Frankie to make a return in the Zombie Round of the tournament, but we won't find out for another week or so.

I've managed to irritate just about all corners of the reading universe with my commentaries in this year's tournament, in a couple cases probably intentionally, but this was definitely not one of them. My biases run towards good books and TDHoFL-B is definitely a good book.

Gwenda said...

John -- When you guys stop offending people in the commentaries, that's when things will get dull. Please continue!

Perhaps because I've been following the tourney for years, I thought your meaning was clear. But then, I also have nothing against the concept of fun, and don't equate it with slight. And I think we all know that writing any sort of book isn't primarily fun, at least not for big chunks of time.

I'm guilty of being imprecise too, because what I really mean by fun in this case is engaging/enjoyable? I'd argue most YA books (and books for younger children) have a stronger focus on story, while still existing on a really high level of execution. I find that very appealing as a writer, and I assumed that's what John was saying when he said it would be challenging and "fun."

The judge's comments were ridiculous, as I've said elsewhere, and I don't even think he's worth engaging with. I have doubts he read the entire book (rather than skimmed), and if he did, then the sloppy reading he describes is an even worse indictment. But the commentators really shouldn't be lumped in the same camp with that guy.

Zombie round!

Elizabeth Wrigley-Field said...

You know, I *loved* Frankie, and I think there is great value in literature that's about people's emotional worlds, not just Saving The World in the most literal sense.

Frankie works for me in large part because her personal struggle is one that has much larger ramifications for many women, by masterfully documenting what one particular slice of sexism looks like, and considering the implications of one strategy for attacking it.

That said, there is a sense in which I think you can say the stakes are too low in Frankie, and it's my one real criticism of the book. And that's that all the characters are so deeply privileged, that Frankie's way out just isn't one that will work for most girls. And that's okay -- it doesn't change the fact that it's a beautiful portrayal of *this* girl's story -- but it made some of the ending, where I think E. Lockhart was half expressing awareness of this problem but half trying to sell Frankie's future as some sort of grand liberation, ring a bit false to me.

I don't know if this makes any sense -- I've been wanting to blog about this, actually, and I haven't done it mostly because I'm not sure that I can express it clearly yet -- but since this seems like a discussion among thoughtful people who loved this book for all the right reasons, I'm curious to hear others' take.

annie said...

"Because nothing in Frankie’s world has any large-scale consequence..."

Couldn't you say the same about Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway? Sure, there's the shell-shocked Septimus, but as a character, Mrs. Dalloway life remains fairly secure. Except under the surface is the raw emotion of human interaction. Sometimes a book can be even more arresting if "nothing happens."

Kaethe said...

Nothing truly fundamental gets shaken up here. In a winter of global violence, child slavery, layoffs, and financial jitters, maybe a forget-the-outside-world-for-a-few-hours book about a smart young woman is the best thing for our young readers.

I get this. It's what I've always hated about Shakespeare: romantic squabbles, misunderstandings, crazy families trying to kill each other. Sure, some people die, but does anything fundamental get shaken up? He's writes all those smart women characters, but where are the large-scale consequences? I want to read a book that is Vast, that addresses Vast topics, and requires a Vast amount of time and attention to read. None o fthis palty, fun stuff.

Emily said...

In the Tournament comments and here, I'm surprised that no one's mentioned the awesome and pretty unique use of language in Disreputable History. The neglected positives made me laugh out loud multiple times in the first two pages, which is what convinced me to buy the book. I loved how that little linguistic twist was later worked into the story explicitly, for me it gave very specific insight into Frankie's character & how her mind works. I loved many things about the book, but this is the one that really stuck with me the most - I continue to gleefully point out neglected positives in random conversations I'm having (sometimes to the consternation of friends who take a more literal approach to grammar).

Fredino said...

"Nothing truly fundamental gets shaken up here. In a winter of global violence, child slavery, layoffs, and financial jitters, maybe a forget-the-outside-world-for-a-few-hours book about a smart young woman is the best thing for our young readers."
Okay. "Forget-the-outside-world?" When you're a teenager, your world IS school and what goes on there. Sure, you're aware of larger issues but your (our, really) primary concern is what's going on with yourself. YA books usually deal with issues that teens are facing- issues that aren't generally "child slavery" or "financial jitters." I'm all for YA books getting nominated up there with "real" novels but people ought to understand where teens- and so their type of literature- are coming from. Maybe if people realized this they would also realize that YA books are kinda important for teens.

Beth Kephart said...

It took me seven books and four genres before I figured out how to write a YA book.

Easy it is not.

Rewarding? Oh, yes. Especially because the readers are so darned smart.

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