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To suggest a book written for young adults has any less merit than the classics is sheer snobbery

25 August 2016

From Tes:

Award-winning young adult fiction author, Juno Dawson writes a response to Joe Nutt’s 19 August article: Why young-adult fiction is a dangerous fantasy

I wouldn’t usually enter into internet debates, because they’re usually just a case of rudeness versus reason, but I didn’t want to let Joe Nutt’s earlier piece go unchallenged for a number of reasons.

Let’s first tackle the deeply offensive first paragraph in which he suggests modern young adult fiction is a mealy-mouthed liberal cardigan made up of transgender and autistic wool. Firstly, I read a lot of YA, and I can assure him the vast, vast majority of characters are still white, heterosexual and cisgender. This is something I’ve been campaigning against my whole career.

Moreover, don’t minority characters belong in fiction? Is that really what he wants to be saying? Real life features both transgender and autistic characters – so should books. Also, he does rather seem to be suggesting that readers (particularly young men) wouldn’t be interested in exploring characters dissimilar to them. I think that’s utter garbage. What is reading for if not to walk around in someone else’s shoes for a few days?

. . . .

I can’t even get into the “boys’ books” argument, because it assumes there is one way to be a boy. There is not. Boys like all kinds of books, featuring all kinds of characters. Some boys, unfortunately, hate reading. Some girls hate reading too. At school, I hated football. I still hate football. There isn’t a football, or indeed footballer, out there that would get me into football. Such is life.

. . . .

Modern YA provides a link from the safety of children’s fiction to the unpredictable content of adult novels. Sure, authors like Melvin Burgess, Kevin Brooks and Louise O’ Neill have explored some very adult issues, but the key word is “explored”. Younger readers are introduced to how awful it can be to be human within parameters.

Link to the rest at Tes and thanks to Nate for the tip.

YA

78 Comments to “To suggest a book written for young adults has any less merit than the classics is sheer snobbery”

  1. A classic is something that everyone wants to have read and nobody wants to read. — Mark Twain, “The Disappearance of Literature”

    Its name is Public Opinion. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it is the voice of God. — Mark Twain

  2. Perhaps more boys would read if there wasn’t a stigma associated with boys reading.

    And perhaps if people like Mr. NUTT wouldn’t make fun of reading material, more boys would read.

    Thank goodness for e-readers, which allow men to read Romance without being made fun of.

    • Actually, a lot of what you’re saying seems to me to be exactly what Nutt was saying? Viz:

      Nothing is more guaranteed to turn a teenager off a book than sensing the writer is proselytising.

      So why are the young adult shelves in bookshops and the noticeboards in school libraries crammed full of invitations to read books spluttering and gagging on the foul-tasting medicine of their own good intentions?

      The language here does strike me as being over the top, but I think I personally agree with the sentiment that if an author feels compelled to add a message to their fiction, the fiction had still better come first.

    • Boys don’t avoid reading because of a stigma. A lot of them aren’t reading because their selection of non-fiction is pitiful. YA fiction is also incredibly emo as a class of literature and is a complete turn-off to many boys. The only boys and men that are complaining about being made fun of for reading Romance are not the ones that don’t read other literature. It’s great that people can read what they want, but Romance and stigma have far less to do with boys not reading than the fact that the material being imposed upon them is coming from educators who don’t understand them.

      • But those same books are being forced on girls as well. Girls seek out other books to read. Why? Why don’t boys?

        Boys are given a pass when it comes to reading. Girls are encouraged to read. Boys are encouraged to “play”.

      • I’d also like to point out that where I live 50% of school aged children are Hispanic, yet so far as I can tell, there’s little to no YA literature with Hispanic main characters. Much less Hispanic boys as main characters. What kind of message does that send, when there’s no books about characters like you? Maybe that books aren’t really for people like you, they’re for emo white girls. Interestingly, one of the annoying things about the gatekeepers of traditional publishing, from agents to editors, is that they’re overwhelmingly white, female, and attended a handful of Ivy League colleges. I’m guessing that books that might appeal to working class boys, particularly black and Hispanic boys, could hardly make it through the gauntlet.

  3. If you want to your pet causes in lit, write a book and see if it gains traction.

    Young adults and most adults don’t read “the classics” and never have. Traditionally, heavy reading like that was part of university education. Liberal education along the lines of the Great Books model, or something similar, was for the middle and upper classes. Ordinary people have always read pulp style fiction whether it was the dime novels, pulp magazines, penny dreadfuls, etc. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Readers want entertainment first and foremost.

    Foisting the Great Books on an American public school class is almost worthless. Students probably can’t relate to some of the texts. I know I didn’t really “get” The Great Gatsby when I read it in high school. It’s not a matter of how these kinds of books are taught, it really comes down to the students. Most students need a basic, practical education. I know that was the case for my rural high school.

    Intense literature education should just be in specific college settings, or at the very least focus on books a class can relate to, i.e. YA.

    • I have a degree in English, which I got while mostly not reading the books I was assigned in college, the vast majority of which bored me to sleep. Even my sci-fi elective class, which was much better than most, mostly focused on ‘literary’ sci-fi like The Sparrow. There is nothing in books like that which can’t be learned from more entertaining books (and learned better, IMO, since the students might actually read the books).

      Which I say to point out that *even in a college setting* it’s not really beneficial to solely focus on books like that.

    • “If you want to your pet causes in lit, write a book and see if it gains traction.”

      What S*** can’t stand is that, after they take over publishers, push politically-incorrect authors out of the market, and fill it with Social Justice Realism novels…. no-one wants to buy them.

      Pretty soon they’ll be passing laws requiring everyone to read at least fifty Social Justice Realism novels every year before they’re allowed to read anything else.

      Then they’ll complain that no-one reads any more.

      • Ashe Elton Parker

        I suppose I’m a Social Justice Realism writer, because I’ve spent the past few years writing the types of books none of the Big Trad Publishers seem to be aware are even out there. I’ve looked at small publishers, but a lot of their LGBT+ fantasy and SF includes erotica, which I don’t always want to read. I can’t even find the types of books I want to read–PG13 Fantasy and SF with LGBT+ characters–written by Indie Authors–most of what I find on Amazon/B&N seems to include erotica (though I do have plans to check out the Icefire Trilogy).

        But there you have it, the State of Publishing from a LGBT+ reader. So tell me again why we don’t need Diverse Books?

        (BTW, I’m also “politically correct,” though I prefer to call it, respectful and curteous. It gets me a lot further than might be suspected.)

        • “So tell me again why we don’t need Diverse Books?”

          Oh, there’s definitely a market for them, so long as they’re written for readers, and not because the writer is trying to make a political point. One of my favourite novels is about a transgendered girl.

          The problem is when S*** try to push everything else out of the market. The Soviet Socialist Realists saw exactly the same result in the USSR: eliminate all Evil Capitalist Books, and people stop wanting to read.

        • But there you have it, the State of Publishing from a LGBT+ reader. So tell me again why we don’t need Diverse Books?

          We don’t need them. A segment of the market wants them, so there is a demand. If the demand is strong enough, someone will produce them. If the demand is weak, they won’t. Just like widgets.

          It doesn’t matter what the subject is. It could be rodeo clowns, spies, or gothic romances. When the demand reaches a level where someone can make a buck, they will.

          However, some risk-taking producers will just put something different on the market to see what happens. High school vampires? Worked pretty well.

      • Believe me, I am well aware of the corporate sponsored Cultural Marxism. I know that’s the answer with these types when they bemoan their causes not gaining traction.

  4. But, but… (paraphrasing)

    1) The real world has all sorts of people. Shouldn’t the characters in books reflect that, so that people can see themselves?

    2) “Boys only want to see themselves” — that’s silly.

    You can tell that people like this writer wouldn’t have done well in math and logic classes, not to mention classical debate strategies.

    • “Boys only want to see themselves” — that’s silly.”

      I can’t speak for anyone else–though, based on the books and TV shows we talked about at school, I think I was pretty typical–but 90% of what I read as a boy were books about men doing manly stuff, and acting like men. Which is politically-incorrect these days.

      So I’m not surprised that boys don’t much like reading if most of the people who act like men in the books they’re being offered are… girls.

      • Give the boys selections from the men’s fiction genre, and they will be reading all day. Give them something about Judy’s difficulty adjusting to her new blended family, and they will run away in terror.

        • It’s really sad you don’t believe boys have the emotional capacity to have difficulty adjusting to new blended families. Or that boys experiencing that difficulty wouldn’t benefit from hearing how other people coped with it. It’s exactly this sort of mindset that resulted in so many men who have difficulty expressing and coping with their emotions.

          When I was a boy, I was encouraged by my parents and librarians and teachers to read anything I wanted. I spent a lot of time on the works of Crichton and King and Koontz. But I also found Rice and Rawn and L’Engle. There was no “men’s fiction” or “women’s fiction,” just YA, SFF, Mysteries & Thrillers, and Adult Fiction, and I plowed through titles in all of them with abandon. I certainly benefited from the diversity, at all levels.

          • What a sad world. Boys don’t like that stuff. That’s why they don’t read it. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks they should like, and it doesn’t matter what someone thinks would benefit from. They also don’t care about how someone wants men to emote. They don’t like those books.

            And reading fiction about Judy’s difficulties with her blended family, and her feelings for the multi-racial transgendered kid next door? They don’t want it.

            • The good news is the world is improving, Terrence, and most people know that there’s pretty much nothing one can say about boys — or anyone, for that matter — that’s universally true, besides that we’re all human beings, and as such it’s good to foster mutual understanding and respect.

              You’re also wrong that boys don’t care about how someone wants men to emote. In fact, that’s one of the most major things they do care about, as they’re held up against society’s ideals regarding masculinity, and the “manly stuff” and “acting like men” Edward mentioned above. But that’s changing, also for the better.

              • 1. I agree few things are univesally true. That’s a mighty low bar. However, in much of human behavior we see strong trends in one direction or another. And improving? What’s the standard of improvement?

                2. Nothing wrong with mutual undrstanding, but boys still don’t like books about Judy’s blended family and her struggles with her white privilege. Understanding doesn’t mean a kid wants to read about it.

                3. Boys don’t care about how some specific individual decides they should emote. Again, how are things changing, and by what standard is it better?

                4. Give boys a box of men’s fiction boooks and reading will be second nature. Give them Judy books, and they run for the hills.

                • Honestly, I think just the fact that you acknowledged privilege exists, and white privilege at that, and that someone might struggle with it, is demonstrative of how things are changing and improving. Given my previous interactions with you, that seems to me like a huge step in the right direction.

                  I also totally agree that if you give a young person a box of books reading will become second nature, though I don’t think either gender or genre have much to do with it.

                • Honestly, I think just the fact that you acknowledged privilege exists,

                  Honestly, fiction does not create reality. Someone may write a novel saying white privilege exists. Acknowledging the existence of such fiction is not an acknowledgement that it exists in the real world.

                  Melville wrote about a giant white whale. If we observe Melville wrote about a giant white whale, does that mean we acknowledge the real world existence of giant white whales?

                  I also totally agree that if you give a young person a box of books reading will become second nature

                  I don’t. If you give a boy a box of books that interest him, he will read. If you give him a box of books about Judy and her transgendered chums, they will do something else.

                • 4. Give boys a box of men’s fiction books and reading will be second nature. Give them Judy books, and they run for the hills.

                  I was kind of agreeing with point #4, but now that I find out the box also contains Judy and Her Transgendered Chums I want to read it. That’s the sort of book that I would have found fascinating when I was growing up.

                • There are some pretty intersting take-offs on Dick and Jane readers, too.

            • It’s funny how much conventional so-called “wisdom” there is going around about what boys will or won’t read. That’s why J.K. Rowling is known by her initials rather than by name. It’s also funny how often it turns out to be wrong–which is why the Harry Potter books continue to be popular even when the masquerade has long since been exposed.

              • Exactly, Chris.

              • Boys who read will read all kinds of stuff. But what about boys who don’t read?

                Educators are trying to figure out how to get more boys reading and keep them reading. When they say, “Boys don’t like this” what they really mean is, “This is not the magic book that will convince my nonreader students to become readers again.”

                Harry Potter is the answer for some boys. Others might only read shark books.

                (This makes Goblet of Fire the sweet spot, because it has Harry Potter and a shark. Sort of.)

            • Terrence, you live in a cold, depressing, unfriendly world. How sad for you. It must be awful to be so afraid of people who aren’t WASP men being acknowledged as human beings.

              As the mother of three boys I managed to raise into fine young men without benefit of a man’s manly experience, I am here to tell you that they will indeed read “Judy” books. And enjoy them, as they enjoyed all the “boy” books they read.

          • It’s really sad you don’t believe boys have the emotional capacity to have difficulty adjusting to new blended families.

            I didn’t say that. Quote me if you want, but don’t fabricate.

            I said they don’t want to read about Judy and her new blended family. That says nothing about “the emotional capacity to have difficulty adjusting to new blended families.”

      • By definition, everything a man does is manly, and however he acts is like a man.

        But really that just belies the fact that it’s honestly ridiculous to think that there are really any actions or behaviors that are inherently masculine (or feminine), at this point. Though I understand it’s just a belief that’s a holdover of societal norms from a generation or so ago.

        • “By definition, everything a man does is manly, and however he acts is like a man.”

          No, it’s not.

          Ask an 8-year-old kid which behaviours are inherently masculine and feminine, and they’ll give you a long list.

          Takes years of schooling to teach them to ignore their own experience.

          • Ask an 8-year-old kid which behaviours are inherently masculine and feminine, and they’ll give you a long list.

            Well, I mean, my first inclination would be to ask scientists and academicians trained in areas like biology, sociology, and psychology. But how about I go there and you go to an 8-year-old kid and then we can compare answers?

            Really you’re talking about sexism, engendered by society and often learned from the adults around them (or their effects on kids’ peers), which it takes years to unlearn.

            • Really you’re talking about sexism, engendered by society and often learned from the adults around them (or their effects on kids’ peers), which it takes years to unlearn.

              Perhaps the solution is to push kids to read books they hate?

            • Will, gender norms aren’t wholly a societal construct.

              It fits a certain narrative to treat them as such, and it’s important to allow people to find their own path, but don’t fall for the lunacy of ignoring testosterone’s awesome affects on the mind.

              Ignoring reality because it doesn’t fit with a social theory is callous. It does a huge disservice to boys and young men, who are increasingly falling behind.

              EDIT: Thinking on it, it doesn’t matter if this behavior is a societal construct. The question is, would it be better to engineer society so that boys conform more to the reading list or would it be better to allow more reading choices on said list?

              • I never claimed they were. I did mention I’d consult scientists, who I’m sure might speak to that. Perhaps worth noting that both testes and ovaries produce testosterone.

                And to your edit, I wouldn’t think any reading list should be mandated. I’m just all for diversity in availability.

                Also, he does rather seem to be suggesting that readers (particularly young men) wouldn’t be interested in exploring characters dissimilar to them. I think that’s utter garbage.

                This is what Terrence is arguing, as well. I’m disagreeing. I remember wanting to just read more awesome books when I was a kid. As a boy, I never wanted to restrict my reading solely to fiction that featured protagonists who looked and sounded and acted like me. I liked reading about myriad stories and experiences.

                • You did claim masculine and feminine is learned. That’s the standard ‘gender is a social construct’ phrasing. Scientists don’t disagree much on this, self appointed experts do though, which muddies the waters.

                  T production of ovaries and testes are so different it’s barely worth mentioning.

                  I remember when I was a boy I wanted to read awesome stuff about big manly heroes. Conan and Superman were my favorites, still are to some degree.

                  I had no interest in the age appropriate crapola shoved at me. Or teenage girl books. Neither did any other boy I knew. Currently education is not taking boys like this into account, which is most boys no matter how much they try to push the politics into their heads.

                  Lots of boys go straight from picture books to adult fiction. I went, basically, from the Big Red Dog books to The Hobbit.

                  It’s good that people can come to the same conclusions from different angles. Which is basically what we’ve done. More actual choices instead of pushing a greater variety of ‘correct’ choices is my take on it. Boys really are falling behind.

                • Well, I said sexism was learned, but I can see how that could be construed as the same claim.

                  But yes, totally agree with you. I did close to the same; I went from A Wrinkle in Time to the Hardy Boys to Needful Things within the space of a year or so. I actually got our library to use the “Young Adult” designator — before then, they just used “children’s” and “adult” fiction, and that was it. I’m not sure YA was really much of a thing back then (this would have been the late 80s/early 90s.

                  Those are also the stories that stick out in my mind, besides The Yearling, which only sticks out because I had to slog my way through it. Same with Lord of the Flies and Cannery Row in early high school. I stuck with them because I was a good little student.

                  Years later, as a writer, I’m glad I did. It’s amazing what becomes grist.

                • This is what Terrence is arguing, as well. I’m disagreeing.

                  Incorrect. Don’t attempt to speak for me. I never said that. You may disagree, but it’s not with me.

                  Boys love books with characters different from them. They like to read about pirates, soldiers, adventurers, etc. Very few of those boys are pirates, soldiers or adventurers. They are reading about people different from themselves.

                  I suggested dropping a box of books from the men’s fiction genre on them. Characters in those books are not 12-year-old boys.

                  I said they didn’t want to read about Judy and her struggles in her new blended family. That does fails to support the notion they don’t want to read about people different from them.

                • I wasn’t attempting to speak for you, Terrence; I just hadn’t realized you misunderstand what is meant by “dissimilar.” It’s not really about age or line of work.

                • “Dissimilar” covers all kinds of things. No specific set of characteristics has a monopoly on the word. If people have a subset of dissimalar characteristics they want to highlight, more precision in writing would help.

                  In this context, can you tell us what dissimilar means, and why we should presume that meaning? And what characteristics does it not cover?

                  What is a correct use of the word, and what is incorrect?

                • Perhaps worth noting that both testes and ovaries produce testosterone.

                  It’s worth noting Michael Jordan and I both shoot hoops.

                • I sure can, Terrence. I’m sorry you can’t, but I don’t have further time to elucidate. You might try reading the post to which PG linked, and further the post to which that post linked.

                • Does anyone know the scope of the word “dissimilar?” Is it limited to describing a specific set of characteristics? If so, what are those characteristics?

                  So, boys love books about people who are dissimilar to themselves. Some dissimilarities are interesting. Others are boring. They like to read about the ones they find interesting.

                  Not only do they like reading about people who are dissimilar, they also like reading about situations that are dissimilar to their own. Again, some are interesting, and others are boring. They like to read about the interesting ones.

              • There was a fascinating study done on men’s and women’s basketball teams in Spain, I think.

                The researchers measured the testosterone levels of players before matches, after matches, and between matches. For the men they found the winning team had increased testosterone levels at the end of the match while the losing team had depressed levels. All players returned to baseline between matches. But just before the beginning of the next match, teams that had won their last match had increased testosterone levels and teams that had lost had reduced levels.

                The women also showed increased testosterone levels for winners and decreased for losers at the end of matches, but did not show any increase or decrease at the beginning of the next match, instead being at the baseline levels.

                There were two secondary findings. Players who sat on the bench the whole match also showed increased or decreased testosterone levels depending on whether their team won or lost. Teams of men had fewer outliers (players whose increase or decrease was significantly different from the team average) than teams of women, even though the absolute increase and decrease were greater for men.

                • Interesting.

                  I couldn’t find the one you mentioned, but there’s this one:

                  https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130514185338.htm

                  Flinn found that when males competed against a group outside of their community, their testosterone levels rose during and after competition if they won, but diminished following a defeat. However, when males competed with their friends, their testosterone levels did not change in response to victory or defeat.

                • Will,

                  I believe I first heard about the Spanish study via a BBC program on how boys’ and girls’ bodies change during puberty.

                  If I have time, I’ll see if I can find a reference.

                • My experience with T levels is in power lifting and from taking steroids.

                  Large compound lifts, if done heavy enough, spike your T levels through the roof. So do steroids. I can see why they are banned in sport. They work! They make you feel and act invincible.

                  The steroids were for an illness, BTW. But I’m not against juicing or taking testosterone supplements as a man ages, it’s one of the best anti-aging treatments available. A miracle hormone.

        • Will and Terrence this was a great discussion.

          Thank you.

  5. There are always people who are “bored” by books. Cows are bored by books also. They would rather chew their cuds. In truth, where in hell does wisdom come from except from books written by peope now dead and gone. It’s easy to dismiss culture and literature–it’s also not smart.

    • I promise you that there are plenty of people far smarter than you that are bored by literature, and they don’t need many books outside the occasional non-fiction book because the internet if full of information. Likening them to cows is ignorant.

      • Now now, they were just chewing their cud when they muttered that.

        Though I agree that if they think they can only find wisdom in the past then they are fooling only themselves. Rewriting/repackaging that ‘wisdom’ into something today’s readers can relate too is more useful than having them give up on an old book that makes no sense to them (and there was plenty of ignorance in the old writings as well.)

        Leave the old ‘culture and literature’ cow in the past and we will write for the future. (Like many things, it’s only looking back that any culture or literature can be seen as such, those that claim something is of ‘culture and/or literature’ when it comes out is only trying to con people into reading/buying their cud.)

    • where in hell does wisdom come from except from books written by peope now dead and gone.

      I suspect wisdom came before the written word.

      • Sure. The half ape half human swinging from the trees was very wise–about nuts and trees. The written word has been the prime mover in cultural evolution and the prime mover in human progress–which means in our ability to forestall death and bring justice to us. I have nothing against rewriting the classics in a modern idion and modern vocabulary. But to suggest the classics (and the gathered wisdom of centuries) be ignored is ridiculous. As for fiction vs. nonfiction, fiction is merely vicarious experience–which is why fiction is such a powerful teaching tool in high schools. Philistines are not worth serious attention–except that they can be dangerous.

        • Prior to the written word, humans were just as intelligent as they are today. The same is true of illiterates today. To suggest today’s illiterates are lacking in wisdom, and are on a par with half-humans is wrong.

          Culture was moving for thousands of years before the written word. People spoke to each other, and passed down rich oral traditions. Words certainly were part of that, but they didn’t have to be written. Did the North American Indians have culture and wisdom? Or did they have to wait for Europeans?

          The power of the written word was pretty limited until the printing press. Until then, the prime mover was the spoken word since most never even saw a book, and wouldn’t have been able to read it if they did.

          Lots of peopole lead real lives, and don’t retreat into some other guy’s fantasy life. They gain wisdom as they experience things. That experience takes many forms, and literature is only one.

        • Reader/Author

          Getting an education in how the world actually works might be a little more important than reading what some dead people wrote about people that never existed. For instance, it might be useful to know that apes are as evolved as humans and that our common ancestors with the apes resembles an ape about as much as they resemble us, which is most likely not at all. It might also be useful to study anthropology and learn about how technology developed through trial and error and that best practices were still passed on before the written word showed up.

          Stories are nice and all, but they aren’t nearly as necessary as you think. Direct discussion about or exposure to hard circumstances and injustice are effective means of addressing social issues.

          Learning to read and write is a crucial skill in modern society, because it is how we share much of our most complex knowledge. Reading literature is an entertaining way to achieve basic proficiency, but it isn’t the only path or even the best path, and there are too many people, particularly in education that need vigorous disabusement of this notion.

          • So now we have two remarkable postulates:

            1. There was no important literature before the printing press. Which effectively wipes out the Old Testament and the New Testament and the Ancient Greeks and the Ancient Romans, and the Ancient Chinese and the Ancient South Asians, and so on. (OBrien)

            2. The apes have evolved as much as humans, which suggests somewhere there lies an ape version of Shakespeare and an ape version of quantum mechanics, and so on. (enabity)

            It’s not possible to even call these postulates sophomoric. They are less than that. The printing press postulate is ridiculous and the anthropology postulate is uninformed about anthropology and neuroscience.

            But it’s all fun, isn’t it? Have a great day.

            • Reader/Author,

              Here’s a quick biology lesson. Evolution does not equate to intelligence. People who suggest such are misspeaking or ignorant about what evolution is. This is in fact the ignorant position taken by William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes Monkey Trial, and was not sufficiently eviscerated by the purveyors of the poorly developed theory of evolution at that point in time.

              Technological Anthropology is at the forefront of the field. Understanding how humans develop tools and use them is as meaningful a pursuit as any in anthropology.

            • It’s not possible to even call these postulates sophomoric.

              But it is possible to get the postulates right.

              The power of the written word was limited before the printing press because of a lack of books and a lack of literacy. That says nothing about the existence of important literature before the printing press.

              And how about those North American Indians? Did they lack culture and wisdom because they didn’t have the written word? Did the arrival of Europeans finally bestow culture and wisdom on them?

              God Bless white men, for they spread the word.

          • In addition, the idea that literature is mere entertainment is a typical philistine idea. Literature is an art form and art exists as a human response to experience. Not for entertainment. The fact that publishers seek to merchandise literature is their problem. The same is true for the owners of art galleries and theatrical producers, and so on. All of this conversation is really sad, banal words by people who ought to know better.

            • My personal take on it is that everything — paintings, movies, music, books — is entertainment first. Paintings that are pretty, comedies that are funny, music that’s good to dance and drink to.

              Some entertainment succeeds in evoking more of a response in its audience, though. It accomplishes its intention not just successfully but with excellence. It achieves art.

              So for me, all media is entertainment, but not all media is art. And yes, some media fails even to entertain.

              (I’ve always taken “literature” as a word to mean the combined media production of a society/culture. This year’s literature is just everything — all the music and paintings and movies and books — that will have been produced/released during it.)

              All that said, there does seem to be rather a movement in the culture at large to a more philistine position when it comes to intellectual pursuits.

            • Literature is an art form and art exists as a human response to experience. Not for entertainment.

              Literature is for whatever use the consumer chooses. Nobody gets to choose for him.

            • Reader/Author,

              People have an emotional need to value their pursuits. When you find yourself in conflict with the valuation in the overall economy, it’s a clue that you’re being overly subjective about your actual value to society. Maybe art is better when it’s pursued by more people for their own reasons rather than handed down on high by self-important individuals who’ve wasted their brain-space on pseudo-intellectualizing the banal.

  6. Moreover, don’t minority characters belong in fiction?

    Nobody belongs in fiction. Fiction is for the author to do whatever he chooses. No author has any obligation to cast his story the way someone else wants.

    • Ashe Elton Parker

      The fact is, though, those who are writing minority characters are largely blocked out of Traditional Publishing because they, too, are minorities. There are a lot of writers who the traditionally white, cisgender, straight Trad Pub “authorities” are excluding because of who and what they themselves are (white, cisgender, and straight), and are thus not looking for good books written by minorities, about minoritiy characters, and from my understanding, a lot of the time when they do receive such a book (by a POC/LGBT+ writer), they presume the vast majority of their readers would not be interested in such a book, so pass on it.

      And, even worse, most of the books (especially anything having to do with contemporary/historic US/World) with POC/LGBT+ characters that do get published are by authors (white, or non-LGBT+) who have not done enough research to be able to write POC/LGBT+ well, so those books are not supported by POC/LGBT+ reviewers. The issue with these isn’t that the person writing them isn’t a member of the community the characters are from–it’s that the author hasn’t researched well enough and thus includes misinformation, objectifies the characters somehow, or makes other mistakes with their POC/LGBT+ characters.

      So the call for Diverse Books has gone out not only to white, cis, het authors, but also to POC and LGBT+ writers, who are doing their best, but simply don’t have the same leverage that white-cis-het authors tend to have in the Trad Pub industry.

      • Didn’t Krush Rusch say a while back that her old publisher dropped her series about a black male detective because she was a white woman?

        Fortunately, anyone can now self-publish pretty much anything, and find their market. I believe she’s published more books in that series herself.

      • Absolutely a problem — or rather, absolutely a barrier in trad pub, but not necessarily a problem in publishing.

        The simple fact is that today, right now, for fiction other than mass-market blockbuster fiction you can make your book available to a much larger audience than trad pub ever would or could by self-publishing in eBook and POD through all available channels. Probably for less effort than querying multiple agents and publishers.

        You can fight to force trab pub to change and accept you. Or you can ignore them, leave them to rot inside their gated communities, and put your work out to the people.

        Whether the people read it is a separate question, but not even trad pub can force people to read books, as evidenced by their self-proclaimed 20% success rate.

      • Well, what’s the problem? Any cis-author can write any cis-book ze wants featuring whatever cis-characters ze wants. Then just hit the Amazon KDP upload button.

        Nobody gives a hoot what group the author belongs to, and nobody gives a hoot about how the characters are constructed. Nobody cares. Just hit upload.

        If consumers like it they buy it. If they don’t like it, they don’t buy it.

  7. “Also, he does rather seem to be suggesting that readers (particularly young men) wouldn’t be interested in exploring characters dissimilar to them. I think that’s utter garbage. “

    I agree. A while back there was that story about the little girl who found 1000 books with black girl characters because she was tired of her teachers recommending white boys with dogs books. She discovered that the white boys in her class were just as excited to read the books she found. I think if a book sounds interesting, it doesn’t matter if I look nothing like the main character, I’ll want to read it.

  8. The YA writing community ripped this joke of an article to pieces. There’s room to read a lot of books. A point that’s often missed is what we consider ‘classic’ literature today wasn’t always viewed that way by the people of its time.

    https://hdlynn.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/fisking-joe-nutt-on-ya-fiction/

  9. The only rebuttal the original article (the one this one is responding to) really needs was written 115 years ago by a very insightful man.

    • … There was no end to the ballads of Robin Hood; there is no end to the volumes about Dick Deadshot and the Avenging Nine. These two heroes are deliberately conceived as immortal.

      But instead of basing all discussion of the problem upon the common-sense recognition of this fact–that the youth of the lower orders always has had and always must have formless and endless romantic reading of some kind, and then going on to make provision for its wholesomeness– we begin, generally speaking, by fantastic abuse of this reading as a whole and indignant surprise that the errand-boys under discussion do not read The Egoist and The Master Builder.

      … Now it is quite clear that this objection, the objection brought by magistrates, has nothing to do with literary merit. Bad story writing is not a crime. … The objection rests upon the theory that the tone of the mass of boys’ novelettes is criminal and degraded, appealing to low cupidity and low cruelty. This is the magisterial theory, and this is rubbish.

      Thanks for linking. I must find out who Dick Deadshot was/is. Also, I just realized Ivanhoe might be on Kindle. Off to find out.

  10. Both boys and girls go through phases when they want to play with members of both sexes, and when they think the opposite sex is gross and has cooties (ie, they fixate on interactions with those of their own sex, and on discovering their own take on boyhood or girlhood). Sometimes this is masked by them hanging out more with adults or teens of the same sex, like their relatives; or by reading more books written for teenagers or adults of the same sex. In my experience, most girls start reading their grandma’s romance books during a cootie phase.

    Kids who have no siblings of the same sex, but do have siblings of the opposite sex, tend to take the cootie phases less seriously. (You can’t really refuse to touch all cootie boys, when you have cootie boys living in your house and no cootie-free girl allies living there.) But it’s still important to their human development.

    Girls tend to be rewarded for going along with a consensus and making no fuss, so of course they will put up with reading any book written for anybody. (Although even girls with venturesome reading tastes will generally not be interested in reading boys’ sports stories during a cootie phase.)

    Because of the cycle of cootie and non-cootie phases, one of the traditional children’s lit tricks was to have a band of teenage friends of both sexes both doing an assortment of adventurous things together, as well as having all-boy stuff and all-girl stuff.

    But at a certain point, most boys really start seeking some guidance from male books about manhood, and this is a pretty longlived teenage sort of cootie phase. Teenage girls often do the same, but express it through girltalk (or girltext these days, I suppose.)

    Complaining about human development instead of accepting it doesn’t make anybody any sales.

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