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  • Tara Sonin 4:00 pm on 2018/02/12 Permalink
    Tags: a line in the dark, a separation, , , andrew aciman, , , bad love, , call me by your name, caroline kepnes, celeste ng, , , , everything I never told you, , , graham green, greer hendricks, , , , , jacqueline carey, , , jessica knoll, katie kitamura, , , , , malinda lo, my husband’s wife, , , , , , the immortalizes, the magicians, , the wife between us, , tiffany jackson, , white oleander, , you   

    Bah, Humbug: 25 Unhappy Books for Valentine’s Day 

    Love is in the air…but that doesn’t mean you have to drink the Kool-Aid. If you’re not feeling all the lovey-dovey stuff this year, that’s cool. Sometimes other people being happy is the worst. So here’s a list of tragedies, thrillers, and romances that do not end well for you to relish instead. Misery does love company, after all.

    The End of the Affair, by Graham Green
    This novel begins after an affair has already ended, but of course the question is why? Taking the reader back in time, this historical epic romance follows a vengeful man determined to bring down the woman who broke his heart…but when we learn the reason why she did, it will break ours instead.

    Kushiel’s Dart, by Jacqueline Carey
    Not a tragedy per se, but since this fantasy romance involves a special woman who feels pain as pleasure, it felt appropriate to include. Phedre has spent her life in the service of pleasure, but when she has an opportunity to use her talents for political gain, her entire world collapses and she must fight to rebuild a broken kingdom she leaves behind.

    The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
    Clare and Henry are in love, but timing is not their strong suit. Henry is a time-traveller, cursed to travel to different times in his life without warning. That’s how he met Clare, when she was a little girl…and how when, she grew up, they found one another again. In this lyrical, beautiful novel, what was the unique beginning of a love story soon becomes the unraveling of one.

    A Separation, by Katie Kitamura
    A Firestarter of a novel in which a woman’s ex-husband goes missing and she goes to search for him. The story of a marriage is never understood by anyone but the two within it…but the story of a separation is even more mired in mystery.

    Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn
    Gone Girl is where most people’s familiarity with Flynn begins and ends, but she wrote two earlier thrillers that are on the same level. Her debut, Sharp Objects, may in fact be her best, a taut psychological thriller about an unsteady reporter who returns to her hometown to write about a past tragedy there—and must face her own demons in the process.

    Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty
    If you haven’t watched the TV series…I won’t blame you if you want to check that out first, it’s that good. But the book is just as intriguing; the story of a group of women in a community held atop pillars of class and status, and what happens when those pillars are shattered. What begins as a series of small untruths and deceptions grows beyond the scope of what they can handle, and someone ends up dead.

    Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll
    A piercing portrait of a woman determined to outrun the shadows of her past, but forced to confront them. Ani FaNelli suffered a mysterious trauma during high-school and has successfully managed to reinvent herself as someone who would never be humiliated like that again. But all that effort is about to become undone when the opportunity to get even with the people who harmed her becomes too tempting to ignore.

    The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn
    A twisty thriller about a woman with agoraphobia (and a drinking problem) sees something in a neighboring house. She sees something devastating, something she should never have seen—and suddenly, her life is upended.

    Atonement, by Ian McEwan
    One of the most tragic stories of sisterhood and first love involves a misunderstood moment which builds to a lie, and then a war comes along and lays waste to already ruined relationships. Briony is an observant child, always in the background—and when she sees what she thinks is a man assaulting her sister, she tells an adult. But is that what she saw? And is that why she told? The past and present intertwine in a moving portrait of what happens when jealousy gets in the way of love.

    We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart
    A genre-defying story that is part thriller, part romance…and 100% captivating. A privileged family spends a summer on an exclusive island, uniting a group of friends. But secrets twist their friendships into something rotten, something dangerous…a lie that unless confronted, will leave them forever adrift.

    The Wife Between Us, by Greer Hendricks
    A co-written tragedy about a wife, her ex-husband, and the new woman he loves…in which nothing is real, or true, and each page keeps you guessing.

    White Oleander, by Janet Fitch
    A mother and daughter’s tumultuous relationship is explored in this haunting novel about a woman jailed for murder and her daughter passed between foster homes in search of the happiness she never had at home.

    The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
    All’s well that ends well where magic is concerned…perhaps in books like Harry Potter. But this is not that story. When Quentin is suddenly spirited into a world of magic, validating a lifetime of believing he was different and special, he also finds himself at the center of a terrible battle for power that will take everything from him—including the love of magic he once had.

    Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
    A powerful novel about a Chinese family in the 1970’s, whose lives are ripped apart when their child is found dead. Each of them with their own perspectives, and their own secrets, the entire family is gripped by the need for the truth…and the desire to run from it.

    Call Me by Your Name, by Andre Aciman
    The Oscar-nominated movie should definitely be on your viewing list, but in the meantime, read the book it’s based on! This story of an unexpected romance between two young men during a hot Italian summer is as riveting as it is erotic.

    In a Dark, Dark, Wood, by Ruth Ware
    A night of revelry and excitement and old friends…that’s what was supposed to happen when Leonora shows up to celebrate an old—and estranged—friend’s impending marriage. But what happens is the exact opposite, and it leaves Leonora wondering what the truth is, and what she may have done to cover it up.

    In the Woods, by Tana French
    Mystery writer extraordinare French’s novel about a detective who returns to the town in which he himself was the survivor of a violent crime to investigate another. But the present is often a mirror of the past, and he finds himself growing unstable in the proximity of the case.

    Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
    A tragic origin story of one of the most captivating villains of all time: the Wicked Witch of the West. Meet Elphaba, who would grow up to face off with Dorothy…before the girl with the pigtails rode a tornado into Oz. An upbringing as an outsider, with magic she does not understand, Elphaba craves acceptance, and will eventually fight for it no matter the cost.

    You, by Caroline Kepnes
    A man becomes obsessed with a woman in New York City, following her on social media in order to orchestrate the perfect relationship…and if necessary, the perfect murder.

    The Lying Game, by Ruth Ware
    Here are the rules of the lying game: no lying to your friends and ditch the lie if you get caught. In this hypnotic and fascinating portrait of friendship, four girls used to play this game until they got the rulebook thrown at them and were expelled after the mysterious deaths of one of their fathers. Now, years later, that past is coming back to haunt them, but will they play the game again to survive?

    My Husband’s Wife, by Jane Corry
    Lily loves Ed, and wants nothing more than to be a wife and a lawyer.That is, until she meets Joe: a convicted murderer, and a man she finds herself drawn to. Carla is just a kid, but she knows a liar when she spots one. Years later, their paths collide, and nothing will be the same.

    Room, by Emma Donoghue
    The harrowing journey of a mother and son living in captivity thanks to a mysterious man who kidnapped her when she was a teenager. When she sees an opportunity to free them, she risks it all in order to give her son a chance in the real world beyond their room.

    The Immortalists, by Chloe Benjamin
    The decision to hear a psychic tell them when they will die changes the lives of a group of siblings, all of whom pursue different paths—and are haunted by lives they could have lived—in this stirring tale of family and fate.

    A Line in the Dark, by Malinda Lo
    This YA psychological thriller puts two friends to the test when a third comes between them. Jess and Angie have always been best friends, but Margot’s spell takes Angie away. In a striking structural shift, the novel switches from the perspectives of the girls to court records and transcripts…when someone in their circle ends up dead.

    Allegedly, by Tiffany Jackson
    She only allegedly killed the baby. But then why did she confess? In this book that will make you forever distrust…well, practically everyone you know—Mary has been in group homes and institutions since she was convicted of murdering the baby her mother was charged with caring for. But now she is pregnant herself, and has decided to tell the truth before her own child is taken away.

    What Anti-Valentine’s Day novels would you recommend?

    The post Bah, Humbug: 25 Unhappy Books for Valentine’s Day appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Joel Cunningham 5:00 pm on 2014/08/22 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , the magician king, , the magician's trilogy, the magicians   

    The Magicians Trilogy Will Redefine Your Relationship with Fantasy 

    The Magicians

    Like a lot of kids, there were times in my childhood where I was convinced some grand mistake had been made, and I had been plopped down with the wrong parents, in the wrong world, and that someday, someone far more important and interesting would come along and claim me, so my real adventures could begin. It’s a longing that fuels so much of children’s literature, from Narnia to Oz: that something more exciting is happening just over the rainbow, and you, the chosen child, will be the one to discover it. There’s even a name for it: portal fantasy, the dream that another world exists just beyond the confines of our own, and that great discoveries await us there.

    Lev Grossman was definitely that child. The fiction book critic for Time, he has devoted his life to exploring invented worlds, and fantasy has been his passion since his childhood, which was filled with the works of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Ursula K. LeGuin. But the older he got, the more he couldn’t help but notice that he never did discover that promised door into another world. The back of his wardrobe (a closet, really) remained unfailingly solid and impenetrable. And so he channeled that disappointment into a most unusual fantasy trilogy, a series of books  (including The Magicians, The Magician King, and the newly released The Magician’s Land) in which the characters do get to visit a world of wonder and magic, only to discover they can never quite shake off the weight of the mundane lives they’ve left behind.

    The first book’s initial buzz was built on the back of its apparent existence as a reaction to the allure of the Harry Potter franchise. Grossman’s proxy is Quentin Coldwater, a spoiled, somewhat insufferable rich kid living in New York City. Like Harry, Quentin has spent his whole life dreaming of being whisked away from his unsatisfying life into a world of fantastical magic, preferably to the land of Fillory, a quasi-Narnian realm full of legendary weapons, questing beasts, and talking bunnies that he grew up reading about in a series of popular (though sadly for us, fictional) books. His real life has fallen so short of the one he feels he deserves, in fact, that he hardly seems surprised when, on the eve of his high school graduation, he is recruited (via the mysterious delivery of a hitherto unknown sixth Fillory book) to take the rigorous entrance exam to attend Brakebills, the Upstate New York version of Hogwarts. Finally, he thinks, I will get what I deserve.

    Real life does have a way of falling short of fantasy, however. Quentin quickly discovers that attending a school for magicians is filled with as much tedium as the days he spent in prep school with stuck-up rich kids. Contrary to popular belief, magic isn’t all waving wands and shouting funny words; it’s difficult, and tricky, and intricate, and kind of dull. You’ve probably dreamed of soaring across the Quidditch pitch on a Nimbus 2000, but no one will ever dream of playing Welters, the Brakebills version of a magical sport, which is basically a very slow-paced game of 3-D chess, except not as action-packed. The quirky house competitions of the Potter series are replaced by hormone-fueled backbiting between social cliques; it’s Hogwarts meets The Secret History.

    Later on (and here there be spoilers, though I won’t give too much away), Quentin and a few of his Brakebills graduates even figure out a way to travel to Fillory itself. And though Fillory is admittedly pretty great (there’s a gleaming castle that rotates on dwarven gears! A grove of clock trees! All the talking animals you could ever want!), it’s also a far grimmer spot than described in the books, and the Fillorian analogues for the Pevensie children of Narnia didn’t get away clean, either (life makes monsters of us all).

    This could all be viewed as deeply cynical. Quentin gets what every kid dreams of, finds out that even casting spells gets pretty boring after a while, and proceeds to Holden Caulfield himself through an experience many would kill for. But like any good fantasy, this trilogy is also about the journey, and Quentin does a lot of growing up over the course of three books. The series only gets better as it goes, as Grossman gets a better handle on his characters and figures out how to fit the Important Points he is making into a highly addictive plot. The Magician King is more ambitious than book one by half, bringing in a new point-of-view character, Julia, one of Quentin’s prep school classmates who didn’t make the cut at Brakebills and had to discover magic the hard (often brutal) way. Julia both embodies and subverts genre tropes, and her deeply troubling, risky storyline reveals Grossman’s commitment to follow his thesis—that we are, ultimately, the sum of the choices we make—to its logical conclusion. By the end of The Magician’s Land, Quentin and his fellow Kings and Queens of Fillory have changed the world, but not without being profoundly changed (and damaged) themselves, and that maturation is something we all must face eventually, even if it usually doesn’t involve a ride on a hippogriff or a standoff with a giant talking turtle.

    In the end, any accusations of cynicism seem unfounded. Grossman’s intent goes far beyond letting the air out of our collective modern myths. This isn’t a story about how life is terrible here, there and back again, but how sometimes the answer isn’t finding an escape from your problems, but growing up and figuring out how to deal. And while it takes Quentin most of three books to do that, it took me a lot longer than three books to figure myself out. In fact, I’m pretty sure George R.R. Martin will finish his story before I’ve got a handle on mine.

    Have you read The Magicians Trilogy?

     
  • Joel Cunningham 5:00 pm on 2014/08/20 Permalink
    Tags: carol berg, , , , , , , patrick swenson, peter watts, , , , , the magicians   

    August Sci-Fi/Fantasy Round-Up: Introverted Warlords, Reluctant Assassins, and Space Monks 

    August SciFi roundup

    This roundup of August’s most exciting sci-fi and fantasy releases features the latest installments of your favorite ongoing series, a few that will kick off your next obsession, and one with a new fictional disease scary enough that you won’t leave your house for a month (or at least until you’ve finished reading it).

    The Mirror Empire, by Kameron Hurley
    Infested with themes of the divisiveness of religion and feminism, not to mention a world built on a creepy-crawly, bug-fueled technology, Hurley’s debut trilogy, The Bel Dame Apocrypha, offered up some of the weirdest, most provocative, downright angry sci-fi in ages. Her new book, billed as an epic fantasy but oceans away from your typical story of feuding kings and magic quests, is just as compelling. With a magic system based on the movement of the heavens and no-sacred-cows storyline built on clashes between cultures and genders, it’s both entirely new and exactly what you’d expect from the author of God’s War. (Available Aug. 26 in paperback and NOOK.)

    The Widow’s House, by Daniel Abraham
    I love a good fantasy, but lately, many epic fantasies have gotten a little too epic for my tastes (which doesn’t mean you should stop writing, George R.R. Martin). That’s why I love Daniel Abraham. His first series, The Long Price Quartet, jammed four books into the page count of one Patrick Rothfuss novel, and managed to build an entirely unique world doing so. His follow-up, The Dagger and the Coin, is projected to be five volumes long, and by the end of book three, we’ve already witnessed the beginning and end of multiple world-altering conflicts and the lives and deaths of a whole host of characters. The penultimate installment, The Widow’s House, is just as compelling as the rest of the series, with a particular focus on the grassroots efforts to combat the maniacal rule of Geder Palliako, fantasy’s first introverted book nerd despot. (Available Aug. 5 in paperback and NOOK.)

    Dust and Light, by Carol Berg
    Carol Berg is one of my favorite fantasy authors. She manages to write books that twist genre conventions, creating strong, complex characters tinged with shades of grey, but never treading too far into “grimdark” territory. Her new book revisits the world of her Lighthouse Duet (Flesh and Spirit/Breath and Bone), running parallel to the original books but focusing on an entirely new set of characters. (Available Aug. 5 in paperback and NOOK.)

    The Magician’s Land, by Lev Grossman
    What started out as “Holden Caulfield goes to Hogwarts” quickly became my favorite lit-fic fantasy series, maybe ever, when the first volume turned out to be nothing less than The Secret History with real, actual magic. Book two raised the stakes with the introduction of a damaged, righteously angry female protagonist that really put Quentin Coldwater’s whining into perspective (“Waaah! This magical land isn’t as magical as I thought it was going to be!”). As the final volume starts, Quentin has been banished from the mythical realm of Fillory and is once again trapped in our world, just another ordinary human. But as much as he wants to return to the way things were, he can’t escape the darkness in his past, a darkness that threatens to destroy what remains of Fillory forever. (Available Aug. 5 in hardcover, audiobook, and NOOK.)

    Fool’s Assassin, by Robin Hobb
    Twenty years ago, Hobb’s debut trilogy, the Farseer series, predicted much of what has become the norm for the epic fantasy genre: sprawling story lines filled with richly developed characters and plotting that isn’t afraid to kill a sacred cow (or puppy) or two. Over the years, she’s dramatically increased the scope of the series and its setting, the Six Duchies, with multiple related trilogies, but with Fool’s Assassin, she finally returns to the characters that started it all: former king’s assassin FitzChivalry Farseer, and the mysterious, possibly insane Fool who has done so much to shape his destiny. (Available Aug. 12 in hardcover and NOOK.)

    Lock In, by John Scalzi
    Over the course of 9 full-length novels, Scalzi has become king of accessible pop sci-fi and one of the most influential writers working in the genre. His latest book is a bit of a departure, leaving behind the far-flung galactic locales and alien firefights of the Old Man’s War series to tell a near-future story about a strange new virus that sweeps the world, leaving most unharmed but trapping millions of sufferers inside their own bodies, fully awake but unable to move or talk. A new virtual reality technology is developed to allow the locked-in to interact with the world, through which it is soon discovered that some of the afflicted have the power to control the minds and actions of others. You can see how this could create some…issues. By toning down the fantastical elements without sacrificing his trademark rapid-fire plotting, Scalzi may have penned his first truly breakout work. (Available Aug. 26 in hardcover and NOOK.)

    Echopraxia, by Peter Watts
    Combining ultra-hard sci-fi concepts, a cast of characters as loathsome as they are fascinating, and, um, space vampires, Watt’s Blindsight is certainly one of the weirdest novels to take the genre world by storm (it earned a Hugo nomination in 2006). Things get even stranger in the long-in-coming sequel. To wit: biological terrorism, zombie soldiers, communication with the afterlife, and a religious mission to the center of the solar system led by a group of zealots in search of angelic beings. (Available Aug. 26 in hardcover, audiobook, and NOOK.)

    The Ultra Thin Man,  by Patrick Swenson
    This is one of those books I didn’t know I was desperate to read until someone actually wrote it. A sci-fi Dashiell Hammett pastiche featuring two gumshoes trying to crack a terrorist plot circa 2113? In which humanity has spread to other worlds, where technology controls the weather, drugs control the people, and alien separatists have the ability to use entire moons as projectile weapons? And it’s all narrated in the noir tradition of the world-weary sarcastic detective? When can I read it? (Available Aug. 12 in hardcover and NOOK.)

    What sci-fi or fantasy book are you most looking forward to in August?

     
  • Joel Cunningham 5:00 pm on 2014/08/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , shannara, , the magicians, ,   

    7 Book-to-TV Adaptations that Owe Their Success to Game of Thrones 

    From page to screen at B&N

    Four years on, I’m still shocked by the massive success of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Sure, I expected it to look pretty (it’s HBO after all), and as a fan of George R.R. Martin’s books, I knew the story and characters could more than sustain a weekly narrative. But the fantasy trappings—court politics, warring kings, magical priestesses, heroes of destiny, rapey barbarian cultures, Chekhov’s dragon eggs—didn’t exactly scream “water cooler buzz.” And yet it’s only gotten more popular with each passing season, this year surpassing The Sopranos as the network’s most-watched program ever (finally settling the age-old “mobsters vs. ice zombies” debate).

    Those impressive ratings are very good news for sci-fi and fantasy readers. For years, we suffered as adaptations of our favorite books languished in purgatory (The Dragonriders of Pern) or finally arrived onscreen so watered down that little of what we loved about them remained (The Dresden Files, a.k.a. “Dresden in Name Only”). But now, the pop-culture crater created by Game of Thrones has Hollywood seeing dollar signs, and TV networks are increasingly looking to the genre aisles for the next Khaleesi & Friends. In celebration of both the post–Game of Thrones adaptation boom and Page & Screen Weekend, starting this Saturday at your local B&N, here are 7 new and upcoming adaptations hitting a small screen near you. Will your favorite book be next?

    Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon (premiering August 9 on Starz)
    Both Diana Gabaldon and series executive producer Ron Moore have pretty much confirmed that the success of Game of Thrones played a huge part in proving that Outlander was a viable TV property. And why not? It has all the hallmarks: a richly described world (a historically accurate 18th-century Scotland), compelling character-based storytelling (Jamie+Claire 4eva!), a touch of magic (mysterious time travel!), and, oh yeah, a rabid fan base—the books are perennial best sellers, and the most recent volume, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, topped the New York Times list on release week. Early reviews indicate the adaptation is very good, and I would expect nothing less from the dude who managed to turn a show called Battlestar Galactica into one of the best dramas of the decade.

    The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey (premiering in 2015 on SyFy)
    The pitch that won this sci-fi adaptation a straight-to-series order from the SyFy channel included the phrase “Game of Thrones in space,” and if you’ve read the books, the incongruous comparison actually makes sense. Set hundreds of years in our future, at a time when most of our solar system has been colonized and fractious relationships have developed between the residents of Earth and Mars and the far-flung “Belters,” the series offers up complex characters with morality colored in shades of grey, interstellar political machinations, and a core mystery focused on a malevolent alien parasite that hints at worlds much larger than these. Get in on the ground floor with the first book, Leviathan Wakes.

    The Elfstones of Shannara, by Terry Brooks (premiering in 2015 on MTV)
    Over the past three decades, Terry Brooks has penned over two dozen novels set in the mythical land of Shannara, most of them best sellers (the latest, The High Druid’s Blade, hit in July). It’s a bit surprising that it took this long for them to make it to the screen, but various film studios were never able to get a movie off the ground. That’s where MTV comes in—eager to cash in on some of that sweet, sweet dragon blood, the network optioned the second book in the series, which focuses on a young cast of heroes and tells a self-contained story. With Brooks reportedly deeply involved in the process and the team behind Smallville on board, the show seems poised to deliver on a few decades worth of anticipation.

    The Magicians, by Lev Grossman (in development by SyFy)
    Lev Grossman’s dark literary fantasy trilogy, which has been likened to a grim, real-world version of Harry Potter, ranks among my favorite books in ages, so I was very disappointed when Fox passed on a TV adaptation in 2012. SyFy, eager to rebuild its reputation and make good on the books’ mix of Potter whimsy and Game of Thrones grit, recently resurrected the property and has ordered a pilot episode penned by a writer from Supernatural.

    American Gods, by Neil Gaiman (in development by Starz)
    Flush with the early success of Game of Thrones, HBO tried to turn Gaiman’s modern fantasy about forgotten gods roaming the American landscape into its next hit drama, but despite several years of development and multiple drafts, a pilot never went into production. Well, HBO’s loss is Starz’ gain: the network swooped in and acquired the rights in a script-to-series deal (meaning the show will go right into production once the network approves a script, skipping the pilot process). Hannibal and Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller is serving as executive producer.

    Redshirts, by John Scalzi (in development by FX)
    Scalzi’s metafictional comedic sci-fi novel, about a group of lowly crewmen on a starship not unlike the U.S.S. Enterprise who come to realize they are the unnamed, expendable background characters in a poorly written TV show, has been optioned as a “limited series” by FX with Ken Kwapis, an alum of the U.S. version of The Office, handling producer duties. True, comedy sci-fi is miles from Game of Thrones, but the business model—filming a whole season at once, sticking closely to the book, involving the author, and leaving room for more seasons if things take off—is nearly identical.

    The Ghost Brigades, by John Scalzi (in development by SyFy)
    It’s a good time to be John Scalzi. A few years ago, Paramount optioned the rights to his Old Man’s War novels, about a group of senior citizens who are transferred into young cloned bodies in order to combat an alien menace, with the intent to turn them into an action-packed military drama directed by Wolfgang Peterson. The movie was never made, but Peterson now plans to bring the story to TV instead, building the series upon the second book in the saga. Whereas once authors knew they had made it when one of their stories made it to the big screen, George R.R. Martin’s success has proven that a hit TV show might be the new bar for success.

    What sci-fi or fantasy novel do you think should be made into a TV series?

     
  • 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, , , 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, , , , , , 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 magicians, 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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