Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Sunday, January 27, 2013

On Literary Genre

I was told to read Pure by Julianna Baggott, because it is an example of literary genre. I know that in the bookstore I work at we shelve Pure in Novels rather than Sci Fi or Teen. But as I read Pure (I finished it but minutes ago), I couldn't figure out why this book was literary fiction when books like The Hunger Games and Wither are not. It would fit perfectly in the Teen section alongside those two books. The quality of writing in Pure is no better than The Hunger Games—which isn't to say the quality of Pure isn't very good, but instead that the quality of The Hunger Games is good. The point of view isn't that which is typical of YA, but it is typical of Sci Fi, and it does have a couple teenagers as dual protagonists. It's more grotesque than the average YA, but again, it would fit in Sci Fi or horror. The themes, issues, political concerns—they are all the same as ones found in The Hunger Games and Wither.

So all this isn't to say Why is Pure literary genre? The question is Why are books like The Hunger Games and Wither not literary genre? Why are they YA? What's the difference between YA and literary genre? I could ask the same thing about John Green's The Fault in Our Stars.

People who discount genre, people who only read what has been deemed "literary," are doing a disservice to so many books. They don't even know what they're missing. You shouldn't be allowed to talk about the differences between literary and genre if you don't ever read genre. You are out of the loop. As John Green likes to remind us, YA is a force to be reckoned with. Sci Fi, fantasy, middlegrade fiction, romance, mystery, and horror—they have value. And this is where the  important work is being done. Books that lots of people enjoy, books that people stay up all night reading—these are the books that are influencing culture and getting their ideas into people's heads. You do not have to sell your soul and throw out literary merit in order to write books people want to buy.

I could rant about this for hours. I'll just end by saying that I loved Pure and can't wait for the next book in the trilogy to come out.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

a quote from Austen's Northanger Abbey about Mrs Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

You express so little anxiety about my being murdered under Ash Park Copse by Mrs. Hulbert's servant, that I have a great mind not to tell you whether I was or not.

—Jane Austen, in a letter to her sister Cassandra

Thursday, January 3, 2013

On the Bookshelf—Interview with John Green

NUVO did a great interview with John Green recently. It's a fairly long interview, so below are some of my favorite excerpts. I particularly like when he talks about how the high brow/low brow literature/genre distinction isn't valuable.  Also, I passionately hate dream sequences in books. I think they are useless and boring. Writers, find better ways to express your characters' mental and emotional states!

NUVO: A representative quote about your work: "Adult readers need to look in the teen section if they're tired of what passes for literary fiction."

John Green: I like adult literary fiction a lot, and I feel bad when people say to adult readers, "You should also consider this novel, this novel and this novel" which are published for teenagers because adult literary fiction is bad. Much of it is—there's no question that a lot of it has become very disconnected from emotional reality, but also very disconnected from this kind of pleasures and consolations of storytelling and story reading. But not all of it; I mean there's tons of it. There's no shortage of good, living, American novelists who write great fiction for adults.
That said, I like being published for teenagers. I don't want to be published for anyone other than teenagers; I don't want to write any other kind of books. But most of my readers, of this book at least, are adults. And I like them, and I'm grateful for them, and I'm glad that the book is finding so many adult readers. In the end, a really good book, if it's a good book, it doesn't matter. My friend said something that at the time I thought was a little bit pretentious, but now I find myself agreeing with it. He said, "When someone reads my book, and then puts it on their bookshelf in their home library, I don't want it to go into the young adult fiction section or the adult fiction section. I want it to go into the 'my favorite book section,'" and that is true. That is what you want.

Green: I don't like flashbacks and I don't really like dreams. I wrote one dream in Alaska. I still kind of regret it. ...

NUVO: Your assistant says your favorite movie is Die Hard 4?

Green: (Laughs as his assistant comes in to confirm that he did actually make such a statement in public, at VidCon 2012.) Well, for the record, my favorite movie is not Die Hard 4. I say that because...they expect me....

NUVO: Like David Foster Wallace picking Tom Clancy as one of his favorite novelists?

Green: Exactly! When Hollywood people ask you who's your dream director and then they mention this very mediocre independent film that came out five years ago. But what would be really great is if Bruce Willis was in [that dream movie]. I say that mostly because I want to make the point that I want my books to be fun to read, and I don't buy this whole high culture-low culture distinction. I'm grateful my books are taken seriously but I really don't like it, particularly in Hollywood, when they're like, "This is a high culture book so it has to be a certain kind of movie." I did like Die Hard 4 very much; I like The Expendables too. I like pop art, and I don't think it's bad just because it's populist. I always say that. My actual favorite movies are Rushmore and Harvey, but I can't say that because they'll think...well, of course, Wes Anderson...


Green: I think [Indianapolis is] a very American city, which is a very good place to live if you're an American writer writing about America, as opposed to New York or Chicago, which are very different from where most Americans live and from where American life is really taking place, in my opinion anyway.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

On the Bookshelf—A Symbolic Love Triangle

I'm currently reading The Madman's Daughter (to be published February 2013) and it's got a familiar love triangle, the one we see in The Hunger Games and Twilight.

This triangle is presented when our protagonist (Bella, Katniss) is at a transformative stage of her life, 16 or 17 or 18, on the precipice between childhood and adulthood. She must choose between a young man she has known all her life and a young man she has just met. The one she has known all her life (Gale, Jacob) represents childhood, the familiar, safety. He's almost brotherly. The new guy (Peeta, Edward) means change, what our protagonist can become, adulthood. Edward and Jacob don't need to be fully fleshed characters because their role is to mirror the protagonist, to present an integral choice. Does our protagonist choose to go with the safe option, or does she choose new experiences? Will she allow herself to mature, or will she remain a child? (Hunger Games spoiler alert) The Hunger Games irrevocably changed Katniss; she can never go back to that girl hunting in the woods with Gale. She has to choose Peeta.

When I finish The Madman's Daughter we'll see if I'm right. Will Juliet Moreau choose brotherly Montgomery, or as I think will happen, the mysterious castaway Edward?