Aaargh!!! (updated)

Sometimes I read an article so relentlessly stupid that the only thing I can do is rant.

Today Cassandra Clare sent me a link to such an article. Let me quote the most enraging part:

    What this unfortunately driven young woman’s rather sad little story suggests is that one of the major reasons other young people don’t read books is that most of the stuff published for children and adolescents is abysmal, self-regarding trash. Part of the fault rests with the packagers such as Alloy and in the way they do business. A larger part of the problem stems from publishers’ misguided belief that kids want to read about people just like themselves, living lives just like their lives. Dead wrong.

    If these publishers looked to their own childhood memories rather than a spreadsheet, they’d recall that young readers, more than any others, want to be transported and shown not just other lives but whole worlds utterly different from their own. Witness the wild popularity of fantasy and science fiction among the very same kids who display the very same sensibility in their choice of video games. What could be more dispiriting than going into your room in search of escape, solace or pleasure, opening a book and reading a story about someone just like you hemmed in by the same four walls?

    The conditions that have alienated so many young people from reading are hardly unique to publishing. They’re common to other forms of entertainment and news media, where the creativity and idealism of the founding personalities have been subsumed by corporate ownership. It happened long ago in the film industry, and the tormented director or abused screenwriter is now virtually a cultural archetype. It has happened to all but a handful of the country’s broadcasters and newspapers.

I call bullshit. Lots of teenagers want to read about people like them, lots don’t, and some of them want to be transported as well as read about teenagers like them. It”s not an either/or. Very few things are. Some of those transporting books also happen to be about teenagers like them. And for your information, Mr LA Times know-nothing-about-YA reporter man, many of the bestselling books (and manga and graphic novels) for teens are fantasy or science fiction. The very genres whose reason for existing is to impart that good ole sense of wonder.

There are many, many, many wonderful books of all sorts being published for, and read by, teenagers. Cassandra, who sent me the article, writes some of it, so does Margaret Mahy, Ursula K. Le Guin,, Diana Wynne Jones, Holly Black, Scott Westerfeld, Elizabeth Knox, John Green, Libba Bray, Cecil Castellucci, Jonathan Stroud, Sonya Hartnett, E. Lockhart, Audrey Couloumbis, Laura Whitcomb and too many more to name. I cannot keep up with all the amazing YA being published each year.

And this may surprise you, Mr LA Times reporter man, but some of the books published through packaging houses are really good. Scott Westerfeld’s Midnighters series is a good example, as is pretty much anything written by Maureen Johnson, not to mention the very amusing Raisin Rodriquez books by Judy Goldschmidt.

When I compare the quality of the adult bestselling fiction to the kids and teen bestselling fiction it’s the adult fiction that loses out. I feel sorry for the adults who are still reading some of the dreck on that list when they could be reading bestselling books by Libba Bray or Jonathan Stroud.

Okay, I’m going to go read a Jaclyn Moriarty book to remove the stain on my eyeballs from that stupid article.

P.S. Yes, I have conflated YA and children’s, but so did Mr Smelly Reporter Man.

Update: Of course, Cassandra said it all more succinctly and way more wittily here. If only I’d noticed that first I coulda just directed you there. And somehow I managed to miss Cecil’s post as well. Gah.


  1. lili on #

    hear, hear.

    i’m getting so sick of the people who piss and moan about the quality of children’s books today, decaying moral fibre, blah blah blah. particularly because most of them HAVEN’T READ SAID BOOKS. and it’s not like anyone would go “ohh, i think the dreadful standard of modern contemporary literature is decaying our moral fibre”. okay, so maybe they would. but not nearly as many people would take them seriously. i read an awful lot of books for teens. and my moral fibre is just fine, thank you.

    however, having said that, this comment from him:
    “young readers, more than any others, want to be transported and shown not just other lives but whole worlds utterly different from their own” is i think an interesting rebuttal to the naomi wolfs of this world…

    food for thought.

  2. Justine on #

    It’s the only thing he says with a particle of sense, but I don’t think you can make blanket statements about what young readers want. I just met a young reader who only wants to read non-fiction about science, and another who only wants to read memoirs by adults who had abused childhoods.

    But, yes, that position is vastly preferable to Wolf’s idea that books should be good for you. Gag.

    I’m quite happy with my moral fibre also.

  3. Sherwood Smith on #

    I saw Cassandraclaire’s comments and followed the link but the guy annoyed me so much I didn’t want to waste my precious on-line time on a fatuous gasbag. I loathe it when someone tries to compartmentalize children’s lit–or give a two second recipe for what kids and teens “should” be reading.

    And the wholesale sniffery about packaging is ridiculous. No, risible. Yes, risible. Ha ha Mr. Packager-Writers-Are-All-the-Same. You try using risible in a sentence.

  4. Jenny D on #

    You cannot waste your time worrying about such an ill-informed piece!

    Rather randomly, I heard John Carroll (the eminent newspaper guy quoted near the end of the piece) give a talk a few weeks ago that was probably more or less the same as the one described here. And it is RIDICULOUSLY irresponsible to just import his point about corporate ownership to book publishers; his point is something quite different, which has to do with what happens to reporting (particularly to staff, as the paper’s most expensive resource) in the current age in which not just corporations but massive mutual funds hold large tranches of shares of newspaper-owning groups. He is concerned about the changing role of reporting in a free society (i.e. no longer the old-school model of a Kentucky newspaper keeping a loss-making bureau in a mine town to keep the mine-owners up to the mark), and for this writer to just invoke the point breezily as if it’s exactly the same thing is careless to say the least!

  5. Justine on #

    Scott: Don’t you know? Research is what scholars do not journalists! [Apologies to all the journos who are damn fine researchers.]

    Sherwood: Oh, yeah, the article’s total dreck, but sometimes the shooting of the fishies in the barrels is just fun.

    Jennifer: Oops. I was johnny-come-lately, wasn’t I? Sorry!

    Jenny D: But it’s fun! I haven’t had a good cathartic rant in ages. [inhales. exhales. thumps chest] I feel so much better!

    I am so unsurprised. That quote makes no sense at all in the article.

  6. Rachel Brown on #

    that article was not only chock-full of unsupported and incorrect statements, but had no coherent thesis: it went from “kids don’t read” to “kids only want to read fantasy” to “publishers only publish realistic novels” to “publishing is a for-profit enterprise” to “publishers only publish dreck.” There is only one correct statement in the bunch. Also, none of those statements have anything to do with each other.

    My new thesis: “The LA Times needs to be more selective with its slush pile.”

  7. Scott Westerfeld on #

    turren starts his article by talking about the decline in teens’ and children’s books. that sounded odd to me, so i checked. guess what? children’s and teen sales went up 19.3% in 2005, while adult sales went up 7.6%. so what’s he talking about? nothing! he’s just talking for the hell of it. ’cause, you know, moral outrage doesn’t need facts.

    so, newspapers are less relevant because they’re bottom-line driven? perhaps it’s because journalists are fantastically incompetent. indeed, every time i see an article about anything i have any expertise in, this incompetence is glaring.

    it took me 3 minutes of googling to find this.

    and btw, the new potter book was only 4% of the total children’s books, so don’t go telling me it’s all rowling.

  8. orangedragonfly on #

    hi…i’m a big fan of scott’s books and have been posting on his blog, that’s how i found my way here…and i just ordered magic or madness on amazon, looking forward to that.

    anyway, i just wanted to add my two cents. i’m 27 years old, and i read *a lot*. i’ve been a reader pretty much forever..when i was a kid i got in trouble a lot for reading in bed with a flashlight when i was supposed to be asleep. 🙂 anyway, now i’m an “adult”…and almost always i find myself reading ya books. why? because they’re almost always *better*. good stories, good writing…just my opinion, of course. and i’m not the only one. i share my books with my mom! 🙂

    and if i could add my own rant: i despise when adults make generalized declarations about “what kids want.” especially because half the time you find out it’s an adult who has no connection with kids whatsoever. i worked at a camp for a few summers after college and was disgusted to learn that 15 of 20 of the board members–the people making decisions about how the camp should be run–had *never* been to camp!! i don’t get it…

  9. Justine on #

    Rachel: Yup, your new thesis is spot on. Slippery ground “reporting”, indeed.

    orangedragonfly: Welcome! And thanks so much for buying my book. I hope you like it.

    You’re definitely not the only one. The vast majority of what I read is YA and most of it is amazing. Like the Jaclyn Moriartiy I’m reading right now. She’s hilarious. One of the funniest books I’ve read in years. I pass ’em along to my mum, too.

    Yup, no one know what all kids want, or all Australians, or all girls called Samantha, or all anyones. Generalisations blow!

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