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?