Nov. 16th, 2009

megwrites: Reading girl by Renoir.  (Default)
So, I've seen a lot of people who are very excited about the prospect of there being a "new adult" genre in bookstores as some kind of extension of YA, meant to cover a supposed age gap between the under-18 YA genre and 20-somethings.

My reaction has been decidedly negative, because I don't see that the category is necessary. I think it's pure marketing, and I think it's going to cause problems for authors who get caught up in it. I think it's going to cause actual YA readers to be deprived of books that are meant for them because "new" adult can afford to be sexier. I think it's going to cause adult books to be wrongly revised or aged down, giving YA readers books that weren't really written for them and thus books that may not be what they deserve and may not respect them completely.

More than that, it worries me that this "new" adult, this sort of adult-lite genre is focused on women. That it's females telling other females of a certain age that we're still not adults. Even when we live independently and support ourselves economically, we're still not really adult yet. Even when we're moving up in our careers and doing incredible things, we're STILL NOT FULLY ADULT. Because we're "new" adult.

It worries me that this "new" adult is targeted toward a largely female audience and touched up with female sensibilities, with covers and stories meant to be targeted toward women.

And it has my feminist alarm bells going off. For centuries and centuries, women were basically considered slightly larger children who the head the house - the father/husband - was expected to rule over. Husbands were given varying degrees of control over their wives, and were sometimes expected to spank them as they would spank children for misbehaving. Women were considered unfit, naive, innocent, unworldly because of their gender. Unlike men who could be trusted to handle the serious adult things of the world. Things like voting or owning land or being trusted to go outside with an escort.

So anything that tells me that I'm more immature and hints that it's because I'm female that I'm supposed to be lost or not settled or insecure or less certain of myself than a man or a person older than me really gets me angry.

I'm not seeing a lot of books targeted towards males of the same age, nor male sensibilities. I'm not seeing a lot of 22-26 year old men jumping on the bandwagon and agreeing that they're still very immature and don't know their place in the world.

I see a bunch of young women who apparently want to be branded as slightly larger children just because they like a certain genre.

Let's get this straight. If you're an adult who reads YA, that's NOT a measure of your maturity in life. If you like reading that genre, more power to you. There's some awesome literature there. But what it does not mean is that if that's your preferred method of getting literary joy is that you're anymore lost or uncertain or less adult than people of a similar age who read "adult" books.

While we're at it, can we please make this idea that YA books are always fun and whimisical and more enjoyable and adult books are always stodgy and serious DIE IN A GIANT FIRE? Please, can we get together to do this. Because it seems to me that these "new" adult proponents are trying to say that if you're not writing about a teenager or 20-something protagonist or not writing for those sensibilities, that your works are dull, staid, too difficult to understand.

I resent the idea that somehow, you're only fun until you're 30 or 35 or 40 or whenever the hell you become an "old" adult

Most of the reads I have enjoyed were adult reads. They weren't staid or stodgy, they weren't "new" adult either. They were just good frickin' literature. I don't see the problem with keeping it that way.

I'm not a large child. I'm a woman. An adult. I may not always feel like I'm measuring up to society's standards of what an adult female should be. I'm not particularly thin, have no interest in bearing children, and shopping bores the sweet hell out of me. But that means that there's an issue with society's expectations. It means that society needs to wrap it's head around the diversity of women.

Not that I need a new label because I was born in 1984.

So to all those who are touting and promoting and thinking that this "new" adult thing is a great new idea: it isn't. Especially if you're female. It's just another patronizing voice telling you that instead of owning who you are, being firm in it, and making your way through the world with pride, dignity, and a demand for the respect you are entitled to that you ought to feel immature and not ready yet. That your anxieties mean you're not fully adult yet.

This new category is a patronizing pat on the head that say, "Oh, there dear, I know the world is so big and hard and you're just a wittle bitty girl. Here are some books about other wittle bitty girls, go over in that corner and read them until you're old enough to feel grown up. Leave all this hard adult stuff to us boys and older people."

Because you know what? Adulthood is not really all that much harder or worse than childhood. I remember childhood and my younger years and I really WOULDN'T ever revisit them. High school was miserable, my college years were forgettable at best.

I ENJOY being an adult, I ENJOY that I can take firm stances, that I can completely own myself, my beliefs, my actions, and my life.

And I don't need anyone telling me that because I'm 25 and I've got a vagina that somehow, it's supposed to be otherwise.
megwrites: Reading girl by Renoir.  (Default)
As you may have noticed, I am not fond of the whole New Adult idea. I've said my piece on that.

And some of you may well be wondering why I feel the need to get so up in arms about it. So what, they have a new category of books. If I'm not going to be reading it, what's the harm?

Generally, I try not to piss in other people's sandboxes, because you know what? We all need our spaces. But when folks start making big widespread "we" statements and try to suck me in to said sandbox? Then I get angry and I start gnashing my teeth and letting my displeasure get shown.

Especially when someone wants to try to make a movement out of it and rearranged entire bookshelves based on what one publishing company (and one subsection thereof) wants to do.

So, yeah. If you're a reader who wants such stories, I wish you luck in finding them. But please, don't go around saying "we" like you've got my support in this. You don't.

Also? I'm a little more than worried that this will lead some well-meaning soul down the road to ask me why I'm not enjoying all these new adult novels because "zomg, you're totally the right age and they're ZOMG so much better than adult books" - and I just don't want to have to smack somebody like that. I do not need the assault charge on my record, okay? Okay.

You may commence with your regularly scheduled Monday.
megwrites: Reading girl by Renoir.  (Default)
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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