Friday, 10 June 2011

I have just read

Annabel Pitcher's "My sister lives on the mantelpiece". It is a debut novel for older children and it has been reviewed elsewhere in glowing terms by both children and adults.
The Whirlwind could not finish it. She was too upset. I am not sure how far she reached into the book but she passed it over to me and said "It's horrible." Had she reached the point where the author kills off Roger (the cat) she would have been even more upset - and rightly so.
As I was reading this book there was an article in the Wall Street Journal by Meghan Cox Gurdon that has also caused a rash of comments on the internet. It claimed that modern teenage novels were "rife with depravity". The counter claims were that they are not, that they help, and that this is what teenage life is like.
I am not a teenager. I do not know what teenage life if like now. I can only observe it from the outside. I rather doubt it is like Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. I could not read those. I borrowed Breaking Dawn from the library. My father and I both tried to read it. Neither of us could. In our view it was, quite simply, badly written. The language was stilted. It did not flow. Despite this the books have proved immensely popular with some teenagers, mostly teenage girls. They are best sellers. I do not understand why. The subject matter is dark and depraved. I do not want to read that sort of thing.
I skimmed the first of the books in "The Hunger Games" trilogy. The writing was better but the subject matter did not appeal to me. Again however it is popular with teenagers.
Or is it just possible that these things have been made popular with slick marketing? Are teens being told that these are the "inside" books, that these are the books they should be reading?
When I was working as a school librarian there was a huge fuss about a book called "The Dolphin Crossing" by Jill Paton Walsh. This was because it was set in war time. It dealt with death. Now the book would scarcely raise a ripple. Judy Blume's books were causing a stir because they dealt with equally taboo topics (sex and masturbation). They still cause ripples in the Bible belt states of the US but even Walsh's book is acceptable there.
In my opinion Neil Gaiman's "The Graveyard Book" is far better than anything Stephenie Meyer has written. No doubt however the marketing gurus would tell me "but it is not a series and it cannot be marketed in the same way". No, of course it cannot be.
I think of the writers I know here on the internet, Nicola Morgan, Keren David, Gillian Philip, Lucy Coats, Katherine Roberts and others. They have not written mega-series that can be slickly marketed with the accompanying merchandise but they are all, at least in my not so humble opinion, better writers. Nevertheless they are much less likely to appear on the shelves of Australian bookshops. I am told "they do not sell well". They should - but they are not given market attention.
It is an unfortunate fact of life but undemanding rubbish will sell - and some of it will be rife with depravity.


Donna Hosie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree Donna! I liked Deathwatch and I did not like the Twilight series. Cat has a point about some teens reading what they believe they should read. (I work in a library and I do get "I s'pose I ought to read that" about some of the "popular" books. I tell them "yes, perhaps but read what you want to read too".
But you are right about the WSJ article - although I will read the second part because I want to be informed. Ros

Jenny said...

Ros, I think you are missing the previous point. Donna pointed out that literature is subjective. It is why one agent will reject and another will request. Some teens may read what they think they should read but then so do adults. I am tired of reading on blogs about top 100 books that I should read. It isn't a trend for just teens.

As for the Wall Street Journal article, what is there to be informed about? It is gutter journalism that is poorly researched. Far removed from being informative.

Donna Hosie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
catdownunder said...

Yes Donna, subjective. You are quite correct with respect to that - and I did say "in our view" when talking about Breaking Dawn. Other people may think the writing is brilliant. (I think our tastes might be rather different.)
I get very little time to read fiction so I read what I want to read. That said I also look at a lot of things I then choose not to read.

Lucy Coats said...

Thank you, Cat. I'm very flattered to be mentioned in the same breath as NM etc. Reading tastes are indeed subjective, and this has turned into an excellent if sometimes emotive and quite emotional debate on the #YASpeaks hashtag--lots of understandable passion. I do think books like Laurie Halse Anderson's 'Speak' and Cheryl Rainfield's 'Scars', forinstance, have helped more teens than they've hindered. As you know, I've written elsewhere about 'Speak' and the courage it gave me as an adult to speak about things that happened to me in childhood.

Teens will read what they want to read and always have. If some of that is badly written, well, at least they are reading. I remember being banned from reading Enid Blyton as a child--because of the quality (or otherwise!) of the writing. I read it anyway, secretly, under the bedclothes. My own daughter (17) reads Austen and Bronte for preference. She also reads Meyer. She's just won a creative writing prize.

As for me, I'm a voracious reader with catholic tastes. I've read both Meyer and Collins, in part because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I enjoyed both for the story, even though Meyer sets my teeth on edge with her attitude to women. In the end, all I hope is that the reading habit sticks with the teens who buy and love all this paranormal/reality YA. In the end, as writers, we can only tell the stories which are in our heads. Even though I'm not in the ranks of bestsellerdom (yet--but who knows?) I'm lucky enough to have plenty of readers who tell me how much they love my books. That will always be my biggest prize.