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  • Sarah Skilton 9:00 am on 2017/09/29 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , fresh complaint: stories, , hiddensee: a tale of the once and future nutcracker, , jennifer egan, manhattan beach, mark helprin, , paris in the present tense, rules of magic, , the stolen marriage, Tom Hanks, uncommon type: some stories, , winter solstice   

    October’s Best New Fiction 

    If you’re in the mood for spooky witches this fall, Alice Hoffman’s Rules of Magic—a prequel to Practical Magic—delivers chills, thrills, and sibling strife. October also brings mystical retellings of the Nutcracker and Cinderella; two historicals set in North Carolina; and Jennifer Egan’s first novel since A Visit From the Goon Squad won the PulitzerRounding out the list are two short story collections. The first is by Jeffrey (Middlesex) Eugenides, and the second introduces us to a little-known, up-and-comer by the name of Tom Hanks.

    Uncommon Type: Some Stories, by Tom Hanks
    Whichever role you most associate with Hanks—boy who wishes himself Big; perpetually annoyed women’s softball coach; partner to Hooch—cast it aside and prepare for a new one: short story author. With 17 tales to choose from, one of which concerns showbiz life, and all of which involve typewriters (the actor’s a fan), this collection of character-driven and nostalgic stories will charm Hank’s acting fans and avid readers alike. Whet your appetite with Hanks’ 2014 piece from the New Yorker.

    Fairytale, by Danielle Steel
    If fairytale updates and mash-ups are your jam, add this to your stack, ASAP: a modern retelling of Cinderella, set in a Napa Valley winery called Chateau Joy. Tragic Parental Deaths? Check. Evil, mesmerizing stepparent (in this case a Parisian countess)? Check. Handsome prince and fairy godmother? Absolutely. Add a Harvest Ball, plenty of Steel’s trademark romance, and a dash of magic and you’ll never want to leave Chateau Joy behind. Within the story’s Cinderella roots, Steel brings her own unexpected twists to a classic story. 

    Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker, by Gregory Maguire
    The author of the bestselling book and Broadway smash Wicked invites you to take a fresh look at the Nutcracker in this “double origin” story of the famous wooden toy and its creator, Drosselmeier. Who is Klara’s mysterious godfather, born a German peasant and seemingly fated to provide her with the sensational trinket? And what dark enchantment did he experience in his youth? Combining myths and historical legends, and written in the style of a Brothers Grimm tale, Hiddensee promises to delight and intrigue.

    Winter Solstice, by Elin Hilderbrand
    The fourth in her heart-and-hearth-warming “Winter” series, which are always set in Nantucket at Christmas, Solstice treats us to a reunion with the eggnog-guzzling Quinn family (patriarch Kelley, who owns the Winter Street Inn, and his four grown children). Each of them need help with romantic, business, or military entanglements. This year, heavy issues rise to the surface, from PTSD to hospice care and late-in-life regret. But with patience, love, and the bonds of family, the Quinns will pull each other through the tough times in this touching story.

    Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan
    After winning the Pulitzer Prize for A Visit From the Good Squad (2010), Egan’s highly anticipated follow-up appears to be less experimental than her previous works, but just as moving. Set in New York City during the Depression and World War II, Manhattan Beach follows the struggles of Anna Kerrigan, first as an adolescent accompanying her father on a desperate job-seeking mission, and later at 19, after her father has disappeared and Anna is charged with supporting her sister and mother by working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard as its sole female diver. A chance encounter with her father’s mobster boss begins to shed light on the truth about Anna’s dad. You may want to have tissues on hand for this detail-rich, feminist historical, which has already been long-listed for the National Book Award.

    Rules of Magic, by Alice Hoffman
    In this illuminating, entertaining prequel to Hoffman’s bestselling Practical Magic (also a 1998 film starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock), readers will learn what it was like for witchy sisters Franny and Bridget (Jet) Owens to grow up in 1950s/1960s New York City with a frustratingly strict mother (understandable, given the family curse: any man who falls in love with an Owens woman will meet a gruesome end). In Rules, we meet a charming younger brother, Vincent, who also grows up ignoring Mom’s warnings, with far-reaching consequences. Will any of the rules-averse siblings figure out a way to outwit their fates? If you loved the adolescent longings and heartaches of Hoffman’s poignant, private school-set River King, you’ll especially appreciate this coming-of-age tale.

    Fresh Complaint: Stories, by Jeffrey Eugenides
    The first short story collection from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Middlesex, Fresh Complaint depicts several relationships prior to implosion, including that of a young Indian-American woman who plans to ditch her arranged marriage; a poet-turned-criminal; and a friendship affected by dementia. Fans of The Marriage Plot will enjoy spending time with lovelorn Mitchell Grammaticus as he travels to Thailand in the story “Air Mail,” and there’s also a check-in with Dr. Luce of Middlesex fame, who throws himself into the study of intersex conditions after losing a patient to suicide. Written between the years of 1980-2017, this collection showcases Eugenides’ incredible ability to empathize with and write about people from atypical backgrounds.

    The Last Ballad, by Wiley Cash
    Juggling a 70-hour, night-shift work week at a textile mill (for which she’s paid crushingly low wages), marital abandonment, and four children who need feeding, Ella May Wiggins finds herself in the middle of a union dispute in 1929 North Carolina. The idea of a living wage, equal pay for equal work, and a 5-day work week sounds like a fantasy to her and her friends. Rather than give a speech, Ella May composes a song during a rally, a way to give voice to herself and the other workers. She and her cohorts are branded communists, but their devotion to creating a world worth living in for their children is especially prescient today, and the fact that it’s based on a true story is inspiring.

    The Stolen Marriage, by Diane Chamberlain
    Bestseller Chamberlain’s latest concerns an aspiring nurse trapped in a marriage-of-convenience in a small North Carolina town where she is disliked and mistrusted. It’s 1943, and Tess’s life just took a hard left: Impregnated by a man not her fiancée, she casts off her dream of a medical career alongside her true love and moves away with Henry, the baby’s father, who is uninterested in Tess’s potential. It soon becomes clear Henry is hiding things from Tess. With the polio epidemic in full swing, Tess gets a chance to use her nursing skills at last, but the home front remains as unsettling and mysterious as ever in this suspense-filled, World War II-era tale.

    Paris in the Present Tense, by Mark Helprin
    74-year-old Jules Lacour, a teacher at the Sorbonne reeling from his wife’s death and inaccurately believing himself a failure, thinks it’s about time he left behind the earthly plane as well. But his leukemia-ridden baby grandson needs him to find the money for treatment, and he hasn’t yet made peace with the tragic, seminal events in his life, including the deaths of his family members in the Holocaust. Perhaps there is yet time to play the cello, fall in love again, and save the day, if he’s willing to take a few risks. Paris looks to be invigorating and haunting read.

    What new fiction are you excited to read this month?

    The post October’s Best New Fiction appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 6:00 pm on 2017/03/15 Permalink
    Tags: brief encounters, , , jennifer egan, , ,   

    10 Writers Who Played a Key Role in the Rise of the Short Story 

    Novelists seem to get all the hype. The short story was once considered just as important as the novel—think Hemingway or Chekhov—but at some point, there just didn’t seem to be a market for short fiction any more. But recently, that’s begun to change. New technology, shorter attention spans, and a wave of films adapted from short works—there’s no shortage of theories as to why the short story is suddenly Having a Moment. The easiest theory of all is that there are more talented writers working in the form than ever—a theory we can prove right here and now: below, find 10 incredible modern-day writers who do a lot with fewer words.

    George Saunders (Check out: Tenth of December)
    Saunders has been quietly spinning out off-center, darkly layered stories for decades. Now that his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, is a number one bestseller, it’s like the wider world is waking up to his talent—but anyone who has read “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline” knows that no one turns a preposterous premise on its face into a disturbing and affecting story like him.

    Stephen King (Check out: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams)
    Stephen King has been writing for so long, he’s practically an American Institution, and while he’s best-known as a novelist, he got his start selling short stories to disreputable magazines and has never lost his love for the form—or his talent for it. King’s stories cover a wide range of genres, but their strength is always in their characterization. No matter what’s happening, you believe it, because the characters feel so real.

    Alice Munro (Check out: Dear Life)
    Munro has been referred to as the Canadian Chekhov; she won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature after a career spent writing stories that combine a rock-solid sense of place with an omniscient narrator, allowing her to play with time in ways that will influence writers for centuries to come. She’s also known for her habit of publishing variants of her already-published stories, a meta technique that allows her to play with time even after the story is supposedly finished.

    Lydia Davis (Check out: The Collected Stories)
    The term “flash fiction” refers to extremely short works—often less than 1,000 words. Davis is the form’s modern master, regularly penning powerful stories just a few sentences long. Writing stories that can be reprinted in full in a Tumblr post is much, much harder than it seems, and the effect of reading a collection of her stories can be dizzying—in a good way.

    Jennifer Egan (Check out: A Visit from the Goon Squad)
    Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book is actually a series of loosely-connected short stories, leading some to argue over whether it’s a novel at all. Since all the stories stand on their own, it’s a collection—but it’s also a revolutionary approach to a longer story. If these stories had been written and published over decades no one would think twice—but having them all together, and reading them one after the other, allows Egan to build something greater than the sum of its parts.

    Kelly Link (Check out: Magic for Beginners)
    Kelly Link’s work is almost impossible to categorize; while some of her stories are definitively science fiction, most fit any number of genre labels, requiring the employment of more diffuse  like “slipstream” or “magical realism.” All you need to know is that her award-winning work is profoundly inventive and entertaining; the title story in Magic for Beginners, for example, centers on a teenager who is both a huge fan of and a main character on a TV show called “The Library,” with the story being told through various episodes of the series.

    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Check out: The Thing Around Your Neck)
    Born in Nigeria, Adichie might be best-known to most for her novel Americanah, recent winner of the One Book, One New York campaign. But she is also a poet, an essayist, and one of the best short story writers on the planet. The stories in The Thing Around Your Neck beautifully blend issues between the genders, between the United States and Africa, and between members of families. The end result is a dazzling tapestry of life, told from a fresh perspective.

    Junot Diaz (Check out: This is How You Lose Her)
    Diaz, creative writing professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but his short fiction deserves just as much attention. The stories in This is How You Lose Her are simple on the surface: tales of love from various stages of relationships and various points of view. The reason they dig in and stay with you is the sense they convey that there is a line connecting them to each other, and, in a sense, to every other story ever told.

    Ted Chiang (Check Out: Stories of Your Life)
    Chiang is one of the best writers working in science fiction today, period. He’s won the Nebula, Hugo, and Sturgeon Awards, and his “Story of Your Life” served as the source material for theblockbuster film Arrival. Chiang’s mastery of language allows him to play with reader’s expectations in a way so elegant and powerful, it’s almost magic.

    Kevin Barry (Check out: Dark Lies the Island)
    Kevin Barry somehow conveys a sense of Kevin Barry-ness to his fiction, imbuing himself into his stories in ways few other writers could pull off without seeming overly forceful. His work sizzles with the overt confidence he exudes in his public appearances, but rather than being off-putting, his surety invites you to come along for the ride, with him as your guide, whispering hilarious things into your ear.

    The post 10 Writers Who Played a Key Role in the Rise of the Short Story appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Melissa Albert 7:09 pm on 2014/07/02 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , jennifer egan, , , , , , , , , ,   

    You Don’t Need a Beach to Love these 10 Books, But it Wouldn’t Hurt 

    Beach books at B&N

    The perfect beach book combines maximum readability with a story you can dip in and out of it without losing the thread, built sturdily enough to accommodate distractions by sandcastle builders, thieving seagulls, and the soothing, sleep-inducing beat of the waves. Here are 10 books you should take with you everywhere this summer, even on those days when the “beach” is the sidelines of a kiddie pool, or a bench next to a rain puddle. Happy summer reading:

    Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple
    Bernadette is a brilliant, reclusive former architect whose crippling misanthropy has alienated her from her husband and her work. When she disappears without warning just before a family trip to Antarctica, her grieving daughter, refusing to believe she’s really gone, compiles the book you’re reading, an epistolary novel that bursts at its seams with email exchanges, IM conversations, and other pieces of unconventional storytelling. The book is especially brilliant when skewering the upscale-granola lifestyle Bernadette abandoned, where her daughter’s school grades kids on a scale of “Surpasses Excellence” to “Working Towards Excellence,” and image-obsessed neighbors hire “blackberry abatement specialists” instead of, you know, gardeners.

    Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
    Ursula Todd is born on a cold night in 1910, and dies moments later. Ursula Todd is born on a cold night in 1910, and dies years later. Or decades later. Ursula lives again and again, always snapping back after death to her first breath in 1910. She acrrues shadowy bits of foreknowledge in each life that shape the way she lives thereafter, helping her to dodge old tragedies and putting her in the way of new ones. Taken together, her lifetimes form a gorgeous, tempestuous portrait of early 20th-century England and, most indelibly, wartime Europe. You can binge-read a lifetime while waiting for your piña colada to arrive (stop making us jealous), and another while you drink it.

    The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd
    Raised by family servant Rosaleen since her mother’s death ten years ago (her father’s more tyrant than parent), 14-year-old Lily harbors a secret hope of finding clues about her mother’s past in a place called Tiburon, which was scribbled on the back of a cross the woman left behind. It’s the summer of ’64 in the American south, and after African American Rosaleen is beaten and hospitalized during an attempt to vote, she and Lily finally hit the road to Tiburon. There they meet a powerful family of African American women beekeepers, and there Kidd tips the scales of Lily’s hardscrabble life, filling it with moments of magic and joy. You’ll be rooting for her to find her place in the world.

    The Dinner, by Herman Koch
    Two couples meet for dinner in an upscale restaurant in Amsterdam. As the evening wears on and tensions escalate, we slowly learn the reason for the meeting and the relationship between the diners, and plummet deeper into the psyche of the narrator, a middle-class husband and father whose inadvertent self-revelations grow increasingly dark as the book progresses. This one will chill you as effectively as a glass of ice water.

    Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
    In 1962 a beautiful American actress, Dee, sojourns on a tiny Italian island, where she meets the young innkeeper who will remain haunted by her memory for the rest of his life. Half a century later, he travels to Los Angeles to find her. His crusade, enabled by fading movie mogul Michael Deane—who once made his name on the set of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra, and who had a hand in deciding Dee’s fate back in 1962—is the novel’s heart, but Walter’s rambling, open-armed tale also encompasses Dee’s hard-living musician son, the dodgy personal life of Deane’s compassionate assistant, and interludes with the great Burton himself.

    The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
    Celia and Marco are two young magicians, trained from childhood by eccentric, powerful guardians to serve as pawns in a game of magical oneupmanship that’s raged since before their birth. Their battleground is the mysterious Le Cirque des Rêves, a roving entertainment full of all the wonders author Morgenstern can unpack from her fabulously fertile brain. If you’re the kind of person who’s never met a locked door you didn’t want to look behind, you’ll get lost in this nocturnal romance, and wish you could join the ranks of the rêveurs, red-scarved connoisseurs who follow the circus like some used to follow the Dead.

    Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes
    After losing her café job in her tiny hometown, Lou is hired as a home caregiver for Will, a former jet-setter and bon vivant left severely disabled after an accident. Their professional relationship slowly becomes something more, as she struggles to show him that his limited life is still worth living—and learns in the process that her own small existence could use some expanding.

    A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
    In Egan’s novel of linked short stories, any supporting character, no matter how small, may end up the star of their own story down the line. Her tales wind through and around the lives of these producers, parents, burnouts, suburbanites, globetrotters, madmen, and children, taking root in L.A., in Africa, in a third-world dictatorship, in past and future versions of New York. If you haven’t yet read this endlessly entertaining, guttingly great Pulitzer Prize winner, consider this your wakeup call.

    Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Anne Fowler
    One of the most glittering, beguiling love stories in American letters, the union of F. Scott Fitzgerald and southern belle Zelda Sayre ended in burnout and tragedy, but damned if they didn’t have fun along the way. This fictionalized account of their courtship and life follows Zelda from her meeting with Fitzgerald at a dance, through his champagne-bubble rise to fame, their years as Parisian expats, and the couple’s slow succumbing to the demons of alcoholism and poor mental health. It’s a beautifully researched must-read for anyone entranced by the Lost Generation.

    A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki
    While walking on the beach near her home on a remote Canadian island, middle-aged novelist Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox on the shore. In it, a painstakingly protected, unconventional diary written by Nao, a suicidal Japanese teen. In it she describes her own brutal, bullied history, and records her desire to tell the story of her mystical great-grandmother, a centenarian and Buddhist nun, before taking her own life. As Ruth reads, she’s drawn deeply into Nao’s tale, and grows increasingly fearful for her fate. Ozeki’s Tale is a gorgeous, absorbing argument for the power of storytelling.

     
  • BN Editors 3:30 pm on 2014/06/12 Permalink
    Tags: , a tale for the time being, a visit from the good squad, angels in america, , audrey niffenegger, bel canto, , , brandy colbert, carol rifka, , chris cleave, christa desir, city of thieves, coldest girl in coldtown, , , , david benioff, dickens, dumbledore, eleanore & park, fault line, , henry fielding, , , , , jack finney, , jennifer egan, , , , kafka on the shore, karuki murakami, , kathleen hale, kazou ishiguro, , , , leftovers, , , life of pi, little bee, , mikhail bulgakov, munroe, nerve, , nicholas baker, , point/counterpoint, pointe, prep, , ruth graham, , sex & violence, slate, submergence, , , , , the big lebowski, the brief wondrous life of oscar wao, , the fermata, the hakawati, , the insuitionist, , the master and tmargarita, , , the sirens of titan, , time and again, tom jones, , tony kushner, , updike, wharton, , , yann martel   

    Should You Be Embarrassed to Read YA? The Best Debate on the Internet 

    collageRuth Graham’s Slate piece, “Against YA,” has everyone asking, “is YA embarrassing?” We had to weigh in. Below, two contrasting opinions of the debate of YA validity. We can’t wait to hear where you stand!

    Grown-ups: We Are Better Than This, by Ester Bloom

    “Embarrassment” is not a productive emotion, and “should” is not a useful word, so it’s understandable that Ruth Graham’s recent piece in Slate, “Against YA,” subtitled “You should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children,” rubbed so many people the wrong way. Generally speaking, no one likes being what to do or not do, or how to feel, especially by finger-wagging strangers on the Internets.

    Graham doesn’t do herself any favors when she derides pleasure as a primary motivator for reading.

    YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction. These endings are for readers who prefer things to be wrapped up neatly, our heroes married or dead or happily grasping hands, looking to the future. But wanting endings like this is no more ambitious than only wanting to read books with “likable” protagonists. Fellow grown-ups, at the risk of sounding snobbish and joyless and old, we are better than this.

    Aristotle, whose Poetics delves into the social function of art, might point out that adults, as well as children, benefit from catharsis. As the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it, “Aristotle criticizes orators who write exclusively from the intellect, rather than from the heart,” which is precisely what Graham is doing when she dismisses the intense emotional power of empathizing with other characters to the degree of weeping over and/or cheering for them. And Graham is not even consistent in her argument. She rolls her eyes at contemporary YA-favorite Eleanor & Park while seeming to give a thumbs up to campy network television and genre fiction:

    Far be it from me to disrupt the “everyone should just read/watch/listen to whatever they like” ethos of our era. There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader. And if people are reading Eleanor & Park instead of watching “Nashville” or reading detective novels, so be it, I suppose.

    Could she possibly sound more grudging? I know. And yet. AND YET. Remember what the Dude says to his friend Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski? “You’re not wrong, you’re just an a**hole!” Sometimes people raise valuable ideas in awkward ways, and that can be a shame, because a lot of nuance can get lost in the indignant, knee-jerk response people often have when they feel criticized and shamed.

    Kathleen Hale captures that nuance in her response on Nerve, “A Young Adult Author’s Fantastic Crusade to Defend Literature’s Most Maligned Genre,” which is so brilliant the Pulitzer Committee should invent a new category of Satire so they can give her an award. She skewers YA (“We locked eyes. We stared at each other so hard that we went blind. Then we listened to The Smiths and regained our sight”) while simultaneously making all necessary counterarguments to the anti-YA snobs (“Cultural arbiters have always been the richest, whitest, most male-dominated groups. Buying into this anti-commercial mindset that heralds esoteric writing reinforces patriarchal models. The more you lobby for the literary status quo, the more you reinforce sexist paradigms.”)

    YA is comfort food. In this, it is like many other cliché-ridden genres, including Mystery, which for some reason escapes Graham’s censure; and there is nothing wrong with comfort food. We like it because we know what to expect, because, as Graham says, it’s satisfying in a primal way. But as Dumbledore puts it, at some point we all face a choice between what is right and what is easy. As an adult, you do not have an obligation to expand your mind, to challenge yourself, to expose yourself to new and potentially difficult ideas. But it is often the right thing to do. Graham’s tone sometimes gets in her way, but that’s all she is really trying to say.

    Mature readers also find satisfaction of a more intricate kind in stories that confound and discomfit, and in reading about people with whom they can’t empathize at all. A few months ago I read the very literary novel Submergence, which ends with a death so shattering it’s been rattling around in my head ever since. But it also offers so much more: Weird facts, astonishing sentences, deeply unfamiliar (to me) characters, and big ideas about time and space and science and love. I’ve also gotten purer plot-based highs recently from books by Charles Dickens and Edith Wharton, whose age and canonhood have not stopped them from feeling fresh, true, and surprising. Life is so short, and the list of truly great books for adults is so long.

    Dickens, Wharton, Updike, and Munro all make Graham’s cut, even though, as many people have pointed out, Dickens was considered totally middlebrow back in the day and Updike has written about sexy witches. (More than once!) Graham is not saying “Eat your vegetables.” She’s saying, “Try some fruit.” She’s not urging us to give up fun, only to look for it in less expected places, in books that can teach us grown up lessons in addition to ones fit for teenagers.

    Of course, books aspiring to the canon can be laughably self-serious, heavy with ornate description and lacking in any kind of “So what?” factor. I’d much rather read good YA like The Hunger Games or The Fault in Our Stars than supposedly quality books like The Bonfire of the Vanities or Sister Carrie. But most of the time, as Lev Grossman has argued, the distinction between “genre” reads (escapism) and “literary” ones (art) is neither clear-cut nor especially important.

    In that spirit, here is a sampling of great books written for adults that you might enjoy if you like YA. These novels are approachable, entertaining, well-written, exciting, and even occasionally feature elements of the supernatural. Don’t read them to please Ruth Graham, though that might be a fringe benefit. Read them to please—and also nourish—yourself.

    Angels in America, by Tony Kushner
    A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki
    A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
    Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
    Beloved, by Toni Morrison
    City of Thieves, by David Benioff
    In the Woods, by Tana French
    Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
    High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby
    Kafka on the Shore, bu Haruki Murakami
    Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
    Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
    Little Bee, by Chris Cleave
    Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
    Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld
    The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon
    The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
    The Fermata, by Nicholson Baker
    The Hakawati, by Rabih Alameddine
    The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead
    The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
    The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov
    The Quick, by Lauren Owen
    The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut
    The Time-Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
    Time and Again, by Jack Finney
    Tom Jones, by Henry Fielding

    Against Being Against YA, by Dahlia Adler

    There’s a strange phenomenon in the journalistic world of reporting on Young Adult literature: reading it doesn’t seem to be a requirement of writing about it. All you really need to do is throw around the word “vampires,” either implicitly or explicitly discuss the silly trivialities of being a teenage girl (whether or not you once were one, because of course You’re Very Above That Now and aren’t teen girls silly, thinking they’re real people), and assess whether John Green is YA’s savior or if the category is just beyond saving. Voila! Instant byline.

    These articles that denigrate YA based on minimal knowledge and palpable bitterness at the category’s success pop up about as often as Now, That’s What I Call Music! comes out with albums, and after a while, they become like flies at a picnic—they’re everywhere, they sure aren’t welcome, and they’re just leeching off of other people’s sustenance. But ultimately, they’re so irrelevant that you halfheartedly swat at them and ultimately learn to deal.

    Then along came the Slate article “Against YA,” and it wasn’t just about the books: it was about the people reading them. It was a call to adult readers to feel ashamed for our love of YA. It was, perhaps, the most condescending, patronizing, shaming article yet, disguising itself as maintaining a shred of credibility because unlike those other articles, which waste their time making claims against “the transparently trashy stuff,” this author didn’t like The Fault in Our Stars! Or Eleanor & Park! Now that’s real YA derision.

    Way to dig deep, Ms. Graham. Alllll the way into…the New York Times best sellers list. Maybe I’ll get embarrassed to read the brilliant work of authors like A.S. King and Melina Marchetta when you get embarrassed that you wrote an article disparaging readers and could only address titles coming to a theater near you.

    The thing about book-shaming—whether YA or Romance or comic books—is that more than anything, it just declares to the world that the person doing the shaming isn’t well-read enough to have found the gems. Because every category and genre has them. And if your response to 50 Shades of Grey is to go off on how Romance is awful, rather than saying, “Maybe I’ll try The Siren instead,” or if Twilight makes you think all YA is about vampires (and even if it were, at least try Holly Black’s Coldest Girl in Coldtown before making blanket YA vampire declarations), how have you managed to convince yourself that you’re any kind of literary expert? In what world does the equivalent of “That was bad pizza—Italian food sucks” make you a legitimate critic?

    For me, the most hilarious irony of the very existence of this Slate piece came to me in the form of it having been posted while I was knee-deep in I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, an incredibly beautiful YA novel that comes out this September and blows many, many works of “acceptable literature” out of the water. And as I was reading it, blissfully unaware of this stupidity happening on the internet, I thought, “This is exactly the kind of book I would recommend to anyone who ever thought YA was ‘Less Than.’”

    Then I went online and thought, “Never mind, you don’t deserve it.”

    When an article includes claims about the universality of “likable” protagonists in YA, those of us who are actually familiar with the category have to think, “Who on earth are you reading?” Because you’re not reading Courtney Summers, one of my absolute favorite YA authors, who’s notorious for her wonderfully layered, “unlikable” characters who never get neat, easy endings. You haven’t read Pointe by Brandy Colbert, one of this year’s best debuts, which is rife with explorations of the consequences of poor decisions. You certainly haven’t approached any of the thoughtful, brutally realistic books addressing the complexities of living in a culture of sexual violence, such as Fault Line by Christa Desir, Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian, or Leftovers by Laura Wiess.

    But literary merit aside—and I could go on about YA books with unquestionable literary merit—there are so many reasons for adults to read YA that have nothing to do with wanting things to be “satisfying.” (Though I’ll unabashedly cop to liking that “general feelings of malaise and suburban ennui, with an affair and some metaphors in there” would never fly as a sufficient plot for a YA novel. And as much as I love contemporary fiction, I do mean unabashedly.) As a woman in the same 30–44 age bracket as the author of the Slate piece, I may not be or feel adolescent, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still possess rawness and malleability as an adult. Who you are as a teenager doesn’t completely and utterly disappear in ten or twenty years. The frank, emotional, at times brutal delivery of YA speaks to me as a person who still feels, as a person who enjoys reliving experiences of youth, as a person who appreciates the ability to look back on her life through a variety of lenses, as a person who thinks teenagers written like teenagers are very worthy subjects.

    I’m thrilled that Ms. Graham agrees with me that there’s no shame in writing about teenagers, although in her version, it’s only okay if done for adults. Looking at a slightly more modern example than “Shakespeare,” Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt has a teenage protagonist, was marketed as general fiction, and has been roundly and rightfully applauded. But the truth is that had it been marketed as YA, I wouldn’t have blinked. If you don’t think those kinds of deeply complex relationships or social issues are all over YA, you’re just. Not. Reading it.

    Which we already knew.

    But at least one great thing came out of that Slate post: this hilarious, phenomenal rebuttal by No One Else Can Have You author Kathleen Hale. And yes, that’s YA.

    You should try it sometime.

    Is reading YA embarrassing?

     
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