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.

fire bad, tree pretty

Date: 2009-11-16 03:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] handyhunter.livejournal.com
I've been reading your posts/rants on this topic with interest. Mostly, I find genre that pigeonholes readers to be a bad thing, and genre that makes books easier to find a good thing. I have a great resistance to the idea of "middle readers" (I think that's what it's called), for example, which is supposed to fall somewhere between childeren's and YA books. I don't particularly see the need for it -- but then, I'm not at that age anymore, I'm not a parent look for age-appropriate books for my kids to read and I don't think there's such a gap between children's and YA that another genre needs to be created. Ditto YA and Adult. But I'm not sure how much of my reaction to the New Adult thing stems from seeing too much of "YA is only for kids"; I don't know why closed-minded people would keep themselves from reading good books that way.

I think genre is such an odd thing, anyway, or focused on marketing, rather than what the actual content of the story is. Sometimes I wouldn't mind if it went away altogether, except I think that would make books harder to find.

Date: 2009-11-16 04:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ithiliana.livejournal.com
Definitely ranting away with you.

I think ever since publishers started defining "marketing categories" with "children's literature" (19th century) and then the "Great Books" series, things have been doing downhill--it's nothing about the writers or readers, it's all about marketing widgets and making product niches.

My best friend and I had finished all the books in the "children's library" of our small Idaho town when we were in 7th grade. Back then, we had to get official permission (involving meetings and debates) from the librarians, at our parents' request, to allow us to check out books from the "adult" stacks--which didn't keep me from rereading all my favorite "children's" books (I still reread them).

This new adult thing strikes me as utterly utterly utterly without merit.

Date: 2009-11-16 08:59 pm (UTC)
ext_22798: (Default)
From: [identity profile] anghara.livejournal.com
With you on this one. When I was growing up there was no such thing as "YA". I read kids' books when I was a kid - blew through the children's section of my local library before I was ten - but the adult books in my parents' house - books for and by "grown-up" people - had never been taken from me, and the mantra in my house was that anything I wanted to read I could read. I picked my own reading level. I was reading Howard Spring and Pearl Buck and Sigrid Undsett and Henryk Sinekievicz (three out of the four there are Nobel Lit prize winners - and yes, I grew up in Europe, reading European writers...) by the time I turned ten, in translation, and then I learned English and I was reading John Galsworthy and Evelyn Waugh in the unabridged original English by the time I was thirteen.

I was not remotely an "Adult", not even a "new adult". But I had enough smarts and maturity to read those books, and therefore they appealed to me. And I was never hobbled by "Age appropriate" reading material.


And as for this -
"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."
- all I can say is, WORD. What you said.

Date: 2009-11-16 09:21 pm (UTC)
manifesta: (Default)
From: [personal profile] manifesta (from livejournal.com)
I too, have been following your posts with interest. I particularly agree with this:

"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."

(Long quote, I know, but it's so on the spot I had to include everything.)

I fit the almost exact demographic as you. And on a similar vein, I don't feel the lack of 20-something characters and stories. Are they as popular as YA-aged characters? No. But we're not lacking. In fact, I know I've heard and read multiple cries for older characters that weren't the stereotypical golden age of 20-something. Do they have their own genres? No, not yet anyway--not until the current 20-somethings enter their 30s. Eventually we won't have genres. Just age brackets.

I also agree with your point that creating a 20-something genre could effectively function as a quarantine for all the stories parents deem inappropriate for young adults, a form of censorship made worse because it would be at a systemic level. This makes me nervous more than anything else.

Date: 2009-11-17 01:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fiction-theory.livejournal.com
I also agree with your point that creating a 20-something genre could effectively function as a quarantine for all the stories parents deem inappropriate for young adults, a form of censorship made worse because it would be at a systemic level. This makes me nervous more than anything else.

Which is why I'm so surprised to see YA writers becoming so excited about this prospect. I can understand a writer of 20-somethings being excited that a new, more target marketing category will be available for them - but YA writers should really be afraid of it.

Because I can see it now. Some editor is going, "Yeah, this story about this kid facing racism or this kid discovering their gender identity when they're just 14, that's not gonna go over too well with parents and school librarians. So can you make this a story about a 22-year-old so we can stick it in the adult section under "New Adult"?"

And then YA readers (not just teens of color or transgendered teens, but cis and white teens who could use a broadened horizon) won't have that available to them because it's now a "new adult" book. Because the honest discussion of how racism and transphobia and homophobia function in high school when you can't just move away or get away from your tormentors, when sex takes on different connotations is gone.

Date: 2009-11-17 01:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fiction-theory.livejournal.com
And I was never hobbled by "Age appropriate" reading material.

That, I think, is a big key to helping kids read. Is to stop with the idea of age appropriate material all together. Because what it usually does is shoe horn kids on either end of the spectrum into books they don't want and won't enjoy, thus making them resent reading.

I grew up in the age of "Accelerated Reader" programs, which were programs to sort of force kids to read library books, and you had to stay within your age range. So there were kids who had problems reading or just naturally needed a lower end kind of book at their stage of mental development who were forced to read books that they didn't really understand or want. So they HATED reading.

And kids like me (and you) who weren't allowed to read above a certain grade level. Which meant I was stuck with really boring books that didn't stimulate me and felt like an insult when I really wanted to get my hands on something juicy. If not for the town library and my parents' and grandparents' willingness to let me read whatever I wanted, I would have gone nuts.

I think it's one thing to scale books for younger readers by difficulty or subject matter and say to parents and teachers, "Evaluate your individual child and see where their levels are" - but to presume that every kid who's in grade 7 or is 12/13 years old will be at that level and want THAT kind of reading is absurd and insulting to them.

Just as saying that everyone who's 20-26 will be at THAT level and want that kind of reading is absurd and insulting.

Date: 2009-11-17 01:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fiction-theory.livejournal.com
I agree with everything you just said. I find it interesting that a lot of the protest and grumbling has come from people who were themselves precocious readers who went above what the "age appropriate" level was and quickly learned that age - especially when it comes to reading levels - really is JUST a number.

I, too, resent anyone who tells me that "oh, you're THIS MANY YEARS OLD, you should be reading this, not that."

It pissed me off when I was eight and twelve and sixteen and it pisses me off now. And it'll be piss me off when I'm 45 and want to go browsing the latest YA reads for something wonderful.

Re: fire bad, tree pretty

Date: 2009-11-17 01:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fiction-theory.livejournal.com
I'm with you in resenting the "YA is only for kids" thought patterns, and the problem of parents/teachers wanting to find age-appropriate reads can be fixed.

We group, categorize, and market things by grade level, when that's stupid. Because I don't think you can say that every sixth grader who reads the English language is going to be at that level, or even MOST of them.

It would be just as easy to come up with a scale that marks books not by age, but by basic difficulty and subject matter. And say that this is a red level books, this is a blue level book, this is a green level book, etc, etc. This way, if a kid is only on the red level, but other peers are on the green level, neither of them are being told "you're not reading what a sixth grader should read! You're too far behind or you're too far ahead!"

But that would force parents to actually evaluate their kids and learn what their individual levels are, and that would mean spending time with them and couldn't they just go sit in front of the computer or play on their Wii or something? (Please note my sarcasm). I mean, geez, who expects parents these days to waste the time on knowing about their kids' reading and education and be involved with it?

Which is to say: Fire bad, tree pretty, I agree.

Date: 2009-11-17 04:54 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Because the honest discussion of how racism and transphobia and homophobia function in high school when you can't just move away or get away from your tormentors, when sex takes on different connotations is gone.

Yes, exactly this. The types of discussions that occur or can occur more often post-high school (and especially in college) are much different than the conversations that occur, if they occur, in high school.

Thanks again for posting about this.

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