megwrites: Reading girl by Renoir.  (Default)
[personal profile] megwrites
Wow, I bet y'all are getting very tired of hearing me talk about this topic, but it's kicked off a lot of contemplation in me as a writer and reader, and those are both things that are dear to me as part of my identity.

At the core of my issues with new adult is that so far the celebration of it has focused on it being a reflection of the readers rather than a landing place for those stories which fall in between categories.

If this were just about giving writers who's stories aren't quite YA and aren't quite full-on adult (in any genre) a place of their own and a name to call themselves, I would be joining in the celebration. I really would. Because that's great. Anything that gives writers the security to tell their stories authentically, without having to rearrange fundamentals to put, as the inestimable [livejournal.com profile] fashionista_35 says, 30-year-olds in high school or taking a story for teenagers out of their hands to avoid controversy, is a good thing.

So far, it seems like the theory behind new adult has precious little to do with the stories, with the idea of giving shelter and nourishment to the seeds that sometimes fall on the path and not the soil. Instead, it seems like new adult has been focused on defining readers rather than stories.

And any time any one tries to use any genre, whether it's romance or YA or SF/F to say, "Those who read X are Y", I lose it.

The theory of new adult assumes, for one, that readers of my demographic are automatically going to be searching for literature that reflects them and their experiences - that we can't handle literature that does mirror our own images back to us. And this is not true of me. I cannot and will not speak for others, but I personally do not feel any pressing need or lack of books that reflect certain aspects of me. Part of this is because I am a white, cisgendered, able bodied native English speaker living in America. I do not tend to lack for books that have at least some commonality with me.

I think I might feel different if I were a person of color or transgendered or disabled or had English as a second language. I certainly know that I crave more books by and about LGBT, fat, disabled, and female persons.

But part of it, I would like to believe, is that I know my own story. I blog, journal, write, speak, compose poetry, paint. I splatter my own story all over any blank page or canvas or clean surface I get my hands on.

Therefore, what I want when I sit down and devote time to a book are other people's stories.

The books that have had the largest impact on me in the past year have been books which were nothing like me. Maxine Hong Kingston's book Woman Warrior: A Girlhood Among the Ghost left me seared inside. I still think of bits of that book, I still feel a mental dizziness, as if the world has tipped over a little bit when I re-immerse myself in it.

It's a book about the childhood of a Chinese-American girl in San Francisco. I've never been a Chinese-American person is San Francisco. Heck, I've never even been in San Francisco at all.

Octavia Butler's Kindred shattered me and broke parts of me, while simultaneously throwing open gates. I have never been a black woman in the South or in California. I have never been a slave. I have never had that history thrust upon me in ways subtle and explicit.

These books do not reflect me, and yet they are the kind of books I find myself increasingly wanting more of. The myth of reflective literature is harmful, because it tricks people into thinking that girls only want the girl books and boys only want the boy books, and thus that certain books should only be made available accordingly. I think it's the guiding principle behind sticking books by African-Americans or Latino authors in their own sections of a bookstore, away from mainstream and genre books. I think it's what publishers think of when the put white faces on books about protagonists of color. Because they believe that readers only want mirrors, not windows - that the gaze must always be inward rather than outward. That white readers can't handle stories with and by authors of color, that men can't handle women stories, that cisgendered folks can't handle transgendered tales.

I believe this is untrue. I think the success of YA books beyond their stated demographics is proof. I think the number of 40-year-olds (or 50 or 60!) who loved Harry Potter or Twilight - which my 40/50-something aunt and uncle devoured with great glee and anticipation - is proof that a category shouldn't about the readers, but the stories.

That's what any category, any label, any organization of literature should rest upon. The stories and perhaps the authors, but not the readers. Because I think we should encourage people to seek out the stories of others, to look outward at the world, to reach beyond stories that merely tell them things they already know and show them what they expect to see.

If this were up to me, I wouldn't call it "new adult", I would call it "Liminal Fiction". Because that's what it is. It's the in-between stories - which are meant for everyone. Not just in-between readers.
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