Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Book pitches for "engaging" recalcitrant readers at any cost

We return to an old theme of this blog, YA lit. The author of an apparently pornographic YA novel that his publisher decided was too objectionable for even this genre that exists solely to raise objections laments in the NYT that his publisher has missed an important pedagogical and social justice opportunity by refusing to market his books to kids.

The social problem, you see, is that adolescent boys are not very enthusiastic readers. But, as we all know, reading is the highest moral virtue of children. If children do not express an unbridled enthusiasm for reading, they will not go to a Good College, and will thus be consigned to a life of sociopathy. So it is absolutely essential that we coax a love of reading into every child.

The good news is that when we say we want kids to read, we mean we literally want their eyes to scan words on pages - any words, on any pages. For the most desperate cases - and that includes pretty much all boys - it doesn't at all matter if what they read is good, so long as they read something. Anyway, since reading is a virtue, even bad books can never do any harm.

So why not bribe boys who don't like to read with things they do like, only bound in volumes with pages and words?
It’s also offensive to pretend, when we’re ostensibly wondering how to get more young men to read, that they’re not interested in the thing we all know they’re interested in... 

My new novel portrays a young boy’s emotional, heteroflexible sex life — and I’d like young people to read it. But it’s being published for adults, partly because the guardians of young people’s literature get so easily riled up about sex, preferring to recommend, say, books about teenagers slaughtering one another in a post-apocalyptic landscape, rather than books about kids masturbating at home.

To which many would say, so what? Don’t we have more important things to worry about than giving sexually explicit literature to young people? Shouldn’t we be more concerned about, say, the rampant misogyny of everyday life, in a nation led by a self-admitted sexual predator?

Which to me is precisely the point. I believe in the power of literature to connect, to transform, particularly for young minds beginning to explore the world. I want books to be an unlimited resource for young people and their curiosity, not a sphere restricted by how uncomfortable some curiosities make adults feel.

The books I read as a teenager, sex and all, made me a better boy and then a better man, just as literature continues to make me a better husband, a better father, a better feminist. I want that for my son, and for all my young readers of every gender. Let’s not smirk at their interests. Let’s give them books that might engage them.
An important point! We do have more important things to worry about than what kids read. For example, we have to worry about what they think, as it contributes to "the rampant misogyny of everyday life." Good thing there is no connection between reading and thinking.

But, Miss Self-Important wonders whether there aren't more adolescent boy "interests" that we could "engage" through YA lit, so that books may truly be "an unlimited resource" rather than a "sphere restricted by how uncomfortable some curiosities make adults feel." There are lots of things that make adults feel uncomfortable but that boys might be interested in. Violence, for example.  Mischief, havoc, things that go boom. We need to supply books on these topics to meet the teenage demand. How about an ISIS beheading manual? A guide for making explosives out of regular household items and using them against your annoying siblings? A guide to setting your house on fire? (This last would also teach them a lot about science - flammability and other such physical properties. Intellectually enriching!) Maybe child pornography is an untapped demand among adolescent boys, who are, after all, underage themselves. That it makes adults uncomfortable is no measure of its value for the young. What do adults know about such things anyway? And what does it matter, when ideas and images can never do harm so long as they're contained within that most sacrosanct of educational objects, the book?


Alex said...

My boy child will not be like this, right?

Miss Self-Important said...

Like the author? Like a person who doesn't like to read? Or like the boys who want to read erotic novels about the emotional lives of heteroflexible teenagers?

Andrew Stevens said...

Or like the boys who want to read erotic novels about the emotional lives of heteroflexible teenagers?

I suspect there are actually virtually no such boys. He is trying to lure in boys with the story of a teenage lothario seducing girls and then he's going to spring the homosexuality on them. To teach them tolerance or something. I doubt I would have wanted to read the book as a teenager and I actually was a bisexual lothario (or perhaps heteroflexible is the better word, since I met at least twenty girls who wanted to have sex with me for every boy I met who did).

In any event, he is thinking of his own childhood which, like mine, was in prehistoric times. I don't think he realizes how much the internet has completely changed the game as far as access to porn is concerned and therefore the size of his potential audience.

Miss Self-Important said...

This is probably more than we hoped to know about your childhood, but yes, I agree that this does not sound like an interest entertained by many adolescent boys who don't like to read, or like a topic that will draw them to habitual reading. It is also true, as several commenters to this article pointed out, that it's easier for most boys to access porn on the internet than to get a copy of this book, regardless of whom it's marketed to, and this will satisfy their "interest" in sex more intensely than this or any YA novel.

Withywindle said...

The Screwtape YA Novel begs to be written.

Miss Self-Important said...

Isn't the original aimed at the young? But if an adaptation is necessary, I would think you'd be the one to do it. Among all of us, you're the only one who's done anything that could cause an adolescent boy to read.

Andrew Stevens said...

This is probably more than we hoped to know about your childhood

Oh, come on. Prozac Nation sold like a billion copies; my childhood was way more interesting than hers. Granted that I lack the style to write a best-selling memoir. And I doubt I could get adolescents of either sex to read it.

Withywindle said...

I meant more that Daniel Handler's arguments were very Screwtapish. As is the entire genre of YA lurid verisme.

Miss Self-Important said...

Andrew Stevens: But it sold zero copies to me.

Withywindle: I thought it was supposed to be a satire? Lurid YA is all about VERY SERIOUS problems. Trauma is NOT funny.

Andrew Stevens said...

Ah, well, I didn't know you were using the royal "we."