Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sunday Coffee

Warning: Moral Outrage Ahead

The Latest Moral Panic
Something tells me the Wall Street Journal had no idea of the hornet's nest they were stirring up when they published an article about the supposed "dark side" of YA literature. This kerfluffle (or is it a brouhaha?) will probably have a beneficial effect on YA literature as a whole: if the response on twitter and the internet is any indication, people are fired up. In the end, more people of all ages will see what a wide and devoted following YA literature has. Here is the best thing I've seen on the topic so far today: Laurie Halse Anderson's post, "Stuck Between Rage and Compassion."

I was spending time with my young adult daughter this weekend, so I missed much of the conversation on twitter (#YASaves). I have a few thoughts on the topic, having raised two daughters to adulthood, having been a voracious reader from childhood, and being a high school English teacher. First of all, if you are a parent choosing books to share with your child (ages 8-13) there is still plenty of literature that is not dark. I'm thinking of some wonderful books my children and I loved, including Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Sydney Taylor's All of a Kind Family, and books like Caddie Woodlawn and the Little House on the Prairie books. There is C.S. Lewis--or maybe you prefer Philip Pullman. What about Chris Crutcher, and Jerry Spinelli? I don't have younger children, and I teach older teens, so I'm out of touch with the younger readers, but I know there is a wide choice of books available for readers in their "tweens."

When it comes to older readers, in my experience, readers find the books they need. My parents wisely never tried to censor or control my reading choices when I was growing up, and I treated my own children the same way. The most important advice I could give to concerned parents would be to know your children as people and as readers; if you have concerns or questions, an open, non-judgmental conversation is the best place to start. Maybe parents could go to the bookstore with their teens, and have conversations about what it is the teens like or love about the books they read.

My high school sophomores gave Book Talks last week, and I loved hearing their honest opinions about the books they choose to read. The classroom suddenly came to life with bubbly conversations as the students enthusiastically talked about the books they love.

When I was nine or ten years old I started reading adult literature; I read everything from Gone with the Wind to Victoria Holt. I also read what literature there was in the YA category back then: Go Ask Alice and The Outsiders. I can safely report that I remain uncorrupted. I do understand parental concern about what younger readers encounter, and to those parents I would simply say: talk to your children. Look for books together that reflect your family's values. But this manufactured outrage and concern about YA Literature as some kind of dreadful moral plague is misplaced, in my opinion. I don't think I have anything to say that someone else hasn't said better, but if you watch the video at the beginning of this post, you'll see that in the 1950's comic books sparked a similar "moral panic." (There's a book about this:  The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America by David Hajdu CS Monitor review here).

I really didn't mean to go on for so long, but the spirit moved me. In other news, I went to the beach, spent time with my lovely and brilliant daughter, and continued to be enthralled by The Idiot (for specifics on my enthrallment, see my posts on Part One and Part Two). I have lots and lots of books just waiting for the end of the school year (more on that tomorrow).  I can't wait to throw myself into a book (guiltlessly).

What's your take on the #YASaves conversation? Did a book save you?


Amanda said...

Hey! Just in case you didn't see already, I'm shutting down The Zen Leaf. I'm contacting all the people who signed up for the 52-52-52 Challenge to let them know. I'm still continuing on with the challenge, but it will be at my tumblr account (http://agignac.tumblr.com) rather than at The Zen Leaf.

Mayowa said...

Howdy do, Lisa.

Caught some of the WSJ piece and community outrage late last night. Stayed up pretty late reading responses. I kinda have three takeaways from the whole shebang.

- The piece is purely opinion, not much in the way of facts or figures. A lot of the subsequent bashing is well deserved.

- It's a little scary how organized the YA community is. It's great to be organized (literary fiction can learn a thing or ten about that). It's great to be organized but now i pity the author for raising the hackles of so many.

- Few of the outraged responses seem to do any soul searching. I might be a grumpy old man, but i there were some things i agreed with in the article.

Gah, thats me mouthing off on the subject. Hope you're enjoying the summer break.

Rummanah Aasi said...

Your advice about knowing your children as people and as readers are spot on, Lisa. As a teen, I didn't read YA. I jumped straight into the classics and contemporary fiction mainly because the YA books that were out all seemed bland but I backtracked when I started library school and visited YA again. It has changed profoundly and has impacted on how I view my students and other readers. Realistic fiction always seems to get a backlash but isn't life dark? Can't we use fiction to address some of the contemporary issues and make them palpable and poignant to start discussions? YA does save and it has saved many readers from readingcide. I've had many who couldn't finish 1 book now they have gone on and finished 30. That says something.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Loved this post. Either kerfuffle or brouhaha, I agree - WSJ had no idea the immense monster that was created because clearly, YA literature is fantastic, diverse, and not always dark. And besides dark is fine - life can be dark, and unfortunately everyone is exposed to it, whether an adult or child. Reading is an outlet, an ability to understand that others can go through something horrible, or that you're not the only one, etc., etc. YA Saves.

bibliophiliac said...

@Amanda-thanks for letting me know...

bibliophiliac said...

@Mayowa-I loved your tweets on this topic. The WSJ writer seems to have really underestimated the collective rage of the YA reader/writer audience. I did a little research, and she is a mother, and maybe she is coming from that protective mommy-place. I sympathize with her desire to protect younger readers, but her piece was not well thought-out or supported by fact. And the title, Darkness Visible (an allusion to Satan in Paradise Lost) seems a bit heavy-handed.

bibliophiliac said...

@Rummanah-since you are a librarian and someone who works with young people, I trust your opinion on this one. I do think the writer might have interviewed young readers (like my students) who are passionate about the work of writers like Ellen Hopkins. Listen to the kids!

bibliophiliac said...

@Coffee and a Book Chick-I did almost feel sorry for the writer of the WSJ piece, as I'm sure she never would have predicted the response to her article. But I see her piece as condescending in the end, and for older teen readers, hopelessly unrealistic about what teens already know, see, and experience in their lives. It reminds me a little of the Victorian attitude toward novels, which were thought to have a corrupting effect on young ladies.

BookQuoter said...

Great post. I don't understand why YA books are so maligned. I usually counsel parents of my teenage patients to read what their kids are reading. I cannot tell you how many times YA books have opened up difficult conversations for me.

bibliophiliac said...

@BookQuoter-I love your advice to parents! Teenagers can be very resistant, but if you want to know them, they will reveal themselves to you. Reading together is a great place for parents to begin a conversation with their kids.

Lisa said...

Well said, teacher! My parents were like yours in that I was largely allowed to read whatever I chose. And I did read all of the SE Hinton books, Go Ask Alice, V C Andrews...Kids are just like adults; they want to read things that speak to them and reflect the world they live in. Sometimes that will be light and sometimes it will be dark.

bibliophiliac said...

@Lisa-allowing teens to read what they like is the only way to develop a life-long love of reading. I understand the desire to protect, but with older teens, parents need to allow choice.