Monday, June 6, 2011

My Shelves; Not THE Shelves

If your Internet House is situated anywhere near the sphere YA literature occupies on Twitter, you have probably seen this article published on the Wall Street Journal's website regarding the overwhelming darkness and depravity of the books written for today's teenagers.

Here are one, two, and three other blog posts written in response to it, all of which I recommend that you read. (If you can't be bothered to read all of them, go in the order that I've listed them.) The first is by Linda Holmes from NPR, and she links to the other two.

Maureen Johnson lead a Twitter-based campaign to object to the article, asking her followers to tweet with the hash tag #YAsaves what positive effects YA books have had on them. There were over 50,000 responses.

Yes, there are many dark YA books. Some of them I love to pieces. Others I have chosen to avoid. There are books that I have regretted reading. Some of these I re-read when I was older and loved (Looking For Alaska, and I expect Catcher In The Rye will be the same), and some of them I have simply tried to forget about.

Yes, there is some risk to picking up a book. I don't know which of those categories it will fall under (although I'm pretty good at guessing by now). Most protestors are saying "No! YA is amazing and I love it!" While I do think YA is amazing stuff (in general), and I do love it, I'm not going to pretend that there isn't anything "bad" about it.

But do I think that the books I read before I was ready, or even now wouldn't want to read, should be banned? No no no no no no no. Do I think that those books shouldn't even exist? No.

Just because a book isn't for me doesn't mean that it isn't for anyone. I Am J by Chris Beam, for instance, bothered me greatly when I read it a month or two ago. However, that didn't prevent me from recognizing the fact that others have, do, and will enjoy it. I don't want it off the shelves. I just want it off my shelves. And that's my personal choice.

The writer of the article says that banning books is just "guidance." It's what in parenting is called "taste." No. Guidance is saying "This is what I would recommend to you, and I would rather that you not read that." Banning is "Not only do I not want you to read this, but I'm not going to let you read it, and I'm not going to let anyone else read it, either." There is a huge difference.

In the same line as my last post, some teenagers need those books. Some teenagers are ready for some kinds of books at a given age, and others aren't. It depends on the person knowing what he or she is comfortable with. And yes, sometimes mistakes are made. 

Am I eternally scarred by my mistakes? No. Is my future, personality, and mental health totally screwed up because of them? No.

There is a big difference between a bad book and a book that I or anyone else does not want to read. Let people decide for themselves which books to read, and if you don't think your teenager is mature enough to do that for themselves, 1. You're probably wrong, and 2. Work with him or her, rather than for him or her. Because there is also a difference between what parents want their kids reading, and what they're ready to read.


  1. Thanks for sharing the article, I apparently don't live quite close enough to YA literature (perhaps because I don't understand/fear Twitter). I managed to get through it only feeling irate until she attacked The Hunger Games. On the other hand, perhaps we are giving someone's uninformed opinion too much weight, and thereby validating it? After all, wouldn't want to normalize ignorance ;)

    Did you notice how the suggested books were segregated by gender? I've only read two of them, Z for Zachariah and Fahrenheit 451 (what can I say, I like post-apocalyptic and dystopian literature?), one from each section, and couldn't say what exactly categorized one as for young men and the other for young women (or, as I like to call them, boys and girls, because I still think of people in their mid to late 20's as boys and girls). Then it occurred to me that one had a male main character, and the other a female, and lo and behold that seems to be the organizing characteristic of the list, how very essentialist!

    I read all the blogs, liked them all, only thing worth mentioning is I found Maureen Johnson's characterization of depression as chemical a little simplistic and dismissive, and entirely in keeping with the American mindset that suffering should be "cured" so we can all be shiny, happy people all of the freakin' time. Well, it's late, and that's about as coherent as I can be, thanks again.

  2. I know there's a lot of guys who don't like reading books narrated by girls (although all of the guys I _talk_ to about books don't care). Maureen Johnson has written an interesting blog post about how girls are forced/expected to read "guy books" but guys are always excused from the girly ones.

    I remember the dismissing of depressing as chemical, but...none of those posts were by Maureen.

    Normalizing ignorance? **reels in shock at the very idea** What would the world come to?

  3. Ooops, I thought the first one was by Maureen Johnson, had I mentioned exhaustion? ;) The one from NPR is what I meant.

    I actually read the blog post about gender books to which you refer, leading me to suspect you, or perhaps someone else, linked it. I thought it was interesting, but don't really remember it too well now. On the premise that girls are allowed to grow up to be "men" (in a certain sense) but it is less acceptable for boys to grow up to be women, girls reading "boys' books" makes a certain sense. Or, to put it differently, since male is the default human (this isn't good, but it is something we still deal with culturally) there are not "guy books" there are "people books" which happen to be all about guys (surprise surprise) contrasted with the special topic books for girls.


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