A Conversation on YA (Part II)

As has been widely reported, young adult literature is enjoying huge popularity at the moment with adults and teens alike reading YA books in droves. Consequently, the genre has become the target of some spirited debate (most famously from Slate’s Ruth Graham in her piece “Against YA”).

Source: Lynley Stace

Source: Lynley Stace

In that spirit, Literary Transgressions’ Kate and Corey staged their own conversation on the topic.

In Part One of this conversation, we discussed the differences between “adult” and “young adult” novels and decided YA is missing a degree of complexity (in characters and premise) that challenges readers of “adult” books.

Kate: So is this love of YA just an increased dumbing down of literature? Are adults so sick of asking questions and being challenged to think that they’ve fled to the children’s section, where they can find pure escapism?

Corey: I think when this interest in YA is reported on, it is often used as an example of the demise of western culture as we know it and, indeed, a dumbing down of literature. And a large part of me wants to put on my old man hat and shout at adults who read YA fiction to get off my porch. It is a genuine shame that people, in general, are no longer reading the classics like they used to. This isn’t nostalgia or sentimentality on my part—according to a recent study, “the complexity of texts assigned [to students] has declined about three grade levels over the past 100 years.”

Kate: NO, YOU’RE RIGHT! Schools are teaching The Fault in Our Stars and not Lord of the Flies. Every time I read a list of banned books, I’m half mad about the banning and half upset that these were reading list books in the first place.

Corey: I really think there is something to be said for a more classical education, even if it is less accessible to “kids these days.” (Sorry, still have my old man hat on.) (more…)

October 23, 2014 at 4:48 am Leave a comment

‘What We See When We Read’ by Peter Mendelsund

Peter Mendelsund’s What We See When We Read is an incredible book. In discussing ideas of what we as readers imagine to go along with whatever we’re reading, What We See is thoughtful, incisive, and challenging, in addition to being as beautiful as you’d expect a book from Knopf’s Associate Art Director to be.

And perhaps because it is so brimming with insights and beauty, it’s a hard to process all at once. The book is deceptively short and “easy” to read. With its big font size and sweeping visuals, you can breeze through the book, just straight reading without processing or thinking too much, in a few short hours.

However, such a reading would be a waste of what you have in front of you. A reader needn’t go more than ten pages into What We See to realize that this is a book that demands re-reading. (more…)

October 21, 2014 at 5:22 am Leave a comment

Library Loot: Week of October 13

Another great haul in from the Nantucket Atheneum today! I’ve discovered that inter-library loan is mighty speedy in the off-season—books that could take weeks to arrive in the summer are now piling up and I’m just trying to keep up.


Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
I’ve been feeling like the oddball quiet one a lot lately, so I’m looking forward to reading this justification for my existence.

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman
Ever since I heard that the author of the excellent The Imperfectionists had not only a new book, but one about a pastoral Welsh bookseller, I’ve been pumped.

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe
YES PLEASE! A ripped-from-the-headlines nonfiction book about lesbian love gone horribly awry in late-19th-century Memphis, Tennessee. Color me intrigued.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
How is it possible I haven’t read this book? (See also: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but that’s another story.)

Got any good loot this week, fellow readers?

October 17, 2014 at 1:29 pm 2 comments

A Conversation on YA (Part I)

As has been widely reported, young adult literature is enjoying huge popularity at the moment with adults and teens alike reading YA books in droves. Consequently, the genre has become the target of some spirited debate (most famously from Slate’s Ruth Graham in her piece “Against YA”).

Courtesy of NYMag

Source: NYMag

In that spirit, Literary Transgressions’ Kate and Corey staged their own conversation on the topic, asking themselves: what is young adult literature? What makes it different from “adult” novels? And is there really something inherently better or worse about either?

Kate: I think there are differences between adult and YA literature, but they are rather nebulous. I think YA novels tend to be more conservative than adult ones when it comes to sex, violence, sometimes happy endings. Bella and Edward’s relationship is prudish to the extreme in Twilight, as Bella gets pregnant the first time she has sex, then quite literally dies and gives birth to a monster, a great lesson for teenaged girls just learning to be ashamed of their sexuality.

But it’s more freeing in other ways. It can be more imaginative, because teenagers are better at suspending disbelief than most adults, still caught between fairy tales of childhood and questions they’ll have later, like “How does no one notice that half of the Cullens are banging the other half, even though they all claim to be siblings?” And I think the “hero” story can be more blatant, because teenagers are still trying to figure out who they are, and the idea that an ordinary person could become, well, anything (vampire, witch, revolutionary, etc.) is very appealing to a teenager determined to do something meaningful.

illusive papermagicianCorey: Absolutely! The more imaginative nature of young adult fiction is fascinating to me. Some of the most creative writing being done in the realm of “imaginative fiction” these days seems to be happening in YA. From my recent reading experiences in the genre, both Illusive and The Paper Magician have wonderfully creative premises—the former has been billed as X-Men meets Ocean’s 11 and the latter is an Edwardian mix of Susanna Clarke and C.S. Lewis.

Meanwhile, Neil Gaiman seems to be the tent-pole supporting all of adult imaginative fiction on his own with Salman Rushie leading the charge in magical realism. Why is there such a small pool to choose from for “adult” books in this vein? Is this because of the sudden interest in the publishing world for YA, so all genres are benefiting? Or is it just that authors of a certain imaginative bent are writing YA these days? Chicken or egg? (more…)

October 16, 2014 at 5:39 am 1 comment

Library Loot: Week of October 6

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

After promising myself to not go quite so overboard with interlibrary loan henceforth, last week I subscribed to the amazing Book Riot and got completely sucked into their excellent and seemingly endless stream of book recommendations. The long list of books I requested started coming in this week, so I’ll just be holed up in my room reading for the next few weeks. In case you were looking for me.

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
I’m actually not 100% sure about this one and may end up swapping it for Beukes’ earlier novel, The Shining Girls. Both seem a little violent for my taste, but come so highly recommended! Can anyone who has already read either one assuage my concerns (or warn me off!)?

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
I actually found this one on the Indie Next list from IndieBound, not Book Riot, but all the same it sounds super-charming and very Beginner’s Greek-ish. I haven’t actually seen many books in that ilk (i.e. novels that are unapologetically romantic without veering into sex-obsessed romance novel or chick lit territory) in the intervening years, so I’m really looking forward to this one.

What did you all pick up this week? I still have five books en route to me as I type this, to prepare for further adventures in library books coming soon!

October 10, 2014 at 10:36 am 2 comments

‘The Boys in the Boat’ by Daniel James Brown

boysintheboatAs far as I can make out, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is a Very Popular Book. Over the past six months or so, it feels like it has shown up on practically every bestseller and recommended reading list, from Real Simple to the New York Times to IndieBound to my best friend’s mother-in-law’s book group. It’s everywhere. Given that the book came out last year, I’m not sure what to blame for this recent surge in interest, but I do know that it engulfed my own Nantucket book club, too.

For those of you living under a rock, The Boys in the Boat tells the tale of the nine improbable young men who rowed for the US Olympic team at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 and (spoiler alert?) trounced the Nazi team (and everyone else) to win the gold.

This is a plenty interesting story, but author Daniel James Brown also made the very good call to keep the book firmly grounded with broader context. Thus, in among the directly-relevant topics like biographical information on the nine “boys” and their coaches, history of competitive rowing in the United States, and technical explanations of rowing as a sport, Brown also intersperses tales of the Great Depression, the rise of the Nazi party (and its associated depravities), and the great East/West cultural competition. Rather than distracting from the boys’ story, these asides actually strengthen it substantially. Knowing more about all the odds the boys defied makes their accomplishments, even the small ones, all the more incredible. (more…)

October 7, 2014 at 6:12 am Leave a comment

‘All Passion Spent’ by Vita Sackville-West

allpassionspentAll Passion Spent was my very first Vita Sackville-West. She’s a figure of some intrigue who has floated peripherally around my studies and reading for many years, but I’d never read any of her books until now, which, as it turns out, is a real shame.

My New York Book Club chose All Passion Spent as their September read and I’ve been loyally reading along, long-distance. So while I don’t know what they made of the book, I certainly enjoyed it.

All Passion Spent has been described as the literary companion to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, which is a pretty accurate description. Passion tells the story of the eighty-something Lady Slane who, having spent her entire life denying herself in service to her politician husband and string of children, decides to move out on her own to a cottage in Hampstead after her husband’s death. It shocks her children, but, so close to death, she decides she has well-earned the right to make her own choices.

Stylistically, Passion isn’t a very novelish novel—the entire middle portion is a philosophical musing by Lady Shane over the course of one afternoon about her life and feminism—but it is a very satisfying one. (more…)

September 30, 2014 at 5:52 am Leave a comment

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