Wednesday, December 03, 2008

For Those Of You Who Still Haven't Had Enough Of Twilight

A couple of interesting Twilight pieces:

No Twilight for Reading at The Book Whisperer. Donalyn Miller says, "If we want to encourage students to read, we must validate some of their less-than highbrow reading choices when they do. Hopefully, due to the popularity of event-books like Harry Potter and Twilight, this generation sees reading as part of their culture—right alongside Guitar Hero and Facebook."

I thought the "event-book" comment was particularly thought provoking.

What Girls Want by Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic. I can't say I read all this one. This is one of those "reading and me" kinds of personal essays, in which the essayist brings in all kinds of material about herself while discussing her reading. If David Sedaris or Sarah Vowell had written it, maybe I'd have been more interested. The essay's main claim to fame on my listserv is this line: "I hate Y.A. novels; they bore me." But all essays about and reviews of YA in mainstream, what you might call popular adult magazines include some variation on that.

The author, Caitlin Flanagan, has a bit of a reputation for being outrageous, anyway. Metaphorically speaking, she's kind of like Ann Coulter's more coherent sister, the one who got married and had kids after college instead of going on to law school and hanging out making jokes about politics with the guys.

5 comments:

TadMack said...

...Yeah, I had to read up and find out who this woman WAS after reading that piece -- and Salon pointed me to a few of her more egregious essays and books, and I said, "Oh, I get it." It's the equivalent of seeing something by Phyllis Schlafly and saying, "Oh," and basically already knowing what it's going to say.

gail said...

That's my impression. Though I made the analogy with Ann Coulter because I wonder if Ann Coulter doesn't write the way she does in order to get people going. I wonder if there isn't a bit of that going on with Flanagan. Being outrageous makes sales for them. I don't recall so much of that kind of thing with Schlafly. Plus, I don't know if she was ever known for her writing.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, my bad. I haven't gone to read anything else that she's written, but I didn't see anything outrageous about this. I think she's spot on when she writes

"The salient fact of an adolescent girl’s existence is her need for a secret emotional life--"

So she hates YA books. I do, too. At least, I hate the ones she means when she says "YA." She means Go Ask Alice and all that kind of thing-- that's what YA was when she was a teen, and that's what it was when I was a teen. True, YA has changed. It's a whole new world now. But anybody reading the article should be able understand what she means. They can pretend they don't and insist that this is their field being put down, but I think it is a stretch.

gail said...

I'm not sure what Flanagan means when she says she hates YA. She seems to have enjoyed the reading of her youth, though I'm not sure how many of the books she listed as examples were technically published as YA. Certainly Rebecca, Gone With the Wind, and Rich Man, Poor Man weren't. I remember reading Mrs. Mike as a teenager, too, but it in hindsight it doesn't seem like YA to me. So what exactly is her experience of YA novels?

I think that because some children's titles have become wildly successful and, more importantly, crossed over with adult readers, publications that rarely carried articles about kidlit and YA lit in the past are now more likely to do so. But the writers the publications choose to write about them are the same writers they've always published, rather than people who are knowledgeable about the field. That's why when comments like, "I hate Y.A. novels; they bore me" appear in that kind of writing, it annoys people in children's literature so much.

Flanagan doesn't seem to say anything in this essay that suggests she has any particular experience with YA literature. I believe her turf is supposed to be women's experience, particularly women's experience in the home. I think it is certainly appropriate for her to approach Twilight from that angle.

But even there, I think we have to accept what she says in the context of a personal essay. For instance, the whole paragraph that begins, "The salient fact of an adolescent girl’s existence is her need for a secret emotional life--": One could argue that what she's talking about is her experience as an adolescent girl. And I would also argue that she romanticizes girl readers. A lot.

Since I think this is a personal essay, in which an author tries to take her own personal experience and relate it to every person's, rather than a piece of real criticism, there's nothing wrong with that. But it is about experience and opinion rather than knowledge of a particular field.

Anonymous said...

Gail,

I agree that it is an essay about personal experience. That's why I find it troubling that so many people in our field are so eager to be outraged by it. I don't have a problem with Flanagan generalizing to *all* teen girls her own experience. I think enough teen girls shared it to make the generalization valid, if not entirely accurate.

If Flanagan had only said, "I hate the kind of YA books I used to love when I was an actual teen," maybe people wouldn't be in such an uproar. I thought her meaning was clear, though.