Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Youth Springs Eternal, for good or for ill.

In reading last week's New Yorker (the one with the books on the cover), I was surprised and fascinated by the review of picture books, and Rebecca Mead's article on the YA-lit factory, Alloy Entertainment. It's also interesting to think about these things in relation to the success of the movie version of Where the Wild Things Are.

The picture books article shows how contemporary parenting styles trickle into children's books, and how children in today's picture books run all over their passive and bedraggled parents who insist that their children "use their nice words" and get played by their tyrannical three-year-olds. I'm not sure what this says about my personality, but when I was little, I liked orderly books - these disorderly and disobedient children would have made me anxious. I distinctly remember getting stressed out reading the Cat in the Hat. I completely supported the fish, urging the Cat to stop making such a mess. I was better with Dr. Seuss's other books - the Lorax. Speaking of autocratic books, my family also read a lot of Bernstein Bears - it's all about order, decorum, and self-control. Maybe this stifled my rebellious streak early on, but I think that it was already embedded in my personality, even as a six-year-old.

The Alloy Entertainment article ("The Gossip Mill") is very interesting for other reasons. The translation of news, political scandals, and adult novels into young adult novels, and the mode of presentation is fascinating. I rarely read these sorts of books when I was a young adult - the Christopher Pike horror/thrillers, VC Andrews' romance novels, Sweet Valley High (the Gossip Girl of the 80s?) - and so on some level, I don't understand the appeal. I've just gotten to the part in the article when Twilight enters into the picture - and I wonder if the unexpected and surprising popularity of the series throws a kink into the YA factory. I feel like teenagers' likes and dislikes seem easy to decipher, but they can also turn on a dime and embrace the least expected trend. They're also quick to sniff out when they're the targets of marketing campaigns, and I wonder what this means for Alloy's future success.

Along those lines, I also just read this Times article on Sherman Alexie whose long career took off when he published an autobiographical young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I want to read it and see how it compares to written-for-adults coming-of-age fiction (Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep, Lev Grossman's The Magicians), and if there is a distinction. Is it all in the marketing? Probably. And I also wonder if teenagers drove the sales of Alexie's book (I do know that it's a popular summer reading assignment), or if adults are behind its success?


Laura said...

Gale, I never read Dr. Seuss as a kid, but I'm sure that the Cat in the Hat would have stressed me out too. I had a similar problem with traditional kids cartoons, anything in the sort of slapstick, Tom and Jerry, run-around-and-get-hit-over-the-head-a-lot genre. And the Berenstain Bears were big in my house too.

I haven't read the YA article yet, but I started the picture book article, and it annoyed me. I'm so sick of reading about Park Slope parenting styles. But I love YA and remain fascinated by Twilight, so I will have to give that a read.

gale said...

I finished the YA article last night, and I have a few things to say:

1. Mini Vampires.

2. I didn't know the Vampire Diaries came out of this factory, but that makes TOTAL sense.

3. The open fluidity between TV, movies, and books is kind of interesting, because I bet that a lot of "pure reader" types would pooh-pooh this, but isn't almost all popular literary fiction subject to movies? Except the Sherman Alexie novel! Because no Indian actor can live up to Alexie's "basketballness." Love it.

Joyce Cheng said...

Gale, I was the kind of kid who liked putting away toys better than playing with them. It gave me great satisfaction to see all the little Play-Mobil dolls go back into the box, each in his or her right place. I also heard this interesting NPR story about how American new fathers lack the ability to discipline their kids because they believe in being "nice" and "caring." I personally believe in only one "nice" & "caring" parent, because the other one has to be stern and disciplinary in order for the kid to have incentive to excel and be productive.