May 27, 2011
I had an excellent time at BEA this year! I scoured the booths for ARCS (Exhibit A):
Very difficult to know where to begin! They are all, as you see, YA or children’s books, with the exception of The Swerve (written by Stephen Greenblatt, my former professor). I was most eager to get Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone (I love her books), and was delightedly surprised to find a new one by Catherine Murdock, Wisdom’s Kiss. I’m curious about Maile Meloy’s Apothecary. She’s obviously an amazing writer for adults. Can she write for our audience? We shall see. Meloys are in the air this season; her brother, Colin, lead singer of The Decemberists, also has a book coming out this fall, illustrated by his wife, Carson Ellis. I’m no expert on The Decemberists, but I have played C. Meloy’s live version of “On the Bus Mall” over and over, and the first time I heard it, I thought, He could be a writer (yes, yes. Songwriters ARE writers, but you know what I mean). In other ARC news, there are quite a few dystopian novels in that picture above (no surprise there. It’s the biggest trend, it seems).
But, of course, the best part about BEA is the people. I had a lovely time doing an “author speed-dating” session with 19 tables of librarians and booksellers, who were so charming. And I saw many friends, including (Exhibit B):
In other news, I know that many of you have waited for a while to hear who won the three ARCs I’m giving away. I got a little tidal waved by end-of-the-semester stuff, but I finally put the names in a hat (mixing bowl for making cookies, really) and drew them. Here are the winners (Exhibit C):
That’s Claire L. Young, Eddie Garcia, and Monica Pelegri. Congratulations! You know, one of the reasons it took me so long to draw the names was because I kept thinking about all the names that would not be drawn, and the people who might be disappointed. There were many entries, and I wish I had an ARC for every single one of you. I’m sorry for those who did not win!
There’s been a recent (perennial, in fact) discussion about whether children’s/YA books should feel an impulse to have some kind of “message” for their readers. It was sparked by this opening line from a New York Times article by Lisa Belkin:
“The purpose of young adult literature is often twofold: to tell a story, and to send a message, usually in the form of a much-needed lesson.”
Sarah Ockler has responded to this and other problematic parts of the article here and Bennett Madison, here (scroll down past the picture of Roseanne Barr). Thanks, Bennett, for bringing the debate to my attention! I suppose, if anyone were to want my two cents, I would say, as Ockler does, that the story has precedence over any message. That said, I personally feel that any work of literature, for any age, should give me a deeper understanding of the human condition. That sounds weighty, but it’s the truth, at least for me. I want a book to touch me, mold me, change me. So, in that sense, I do want something larger than the story—or, rather, I want that something to be intrinsically part of the story. I do learn when I read, all the time. When I read Alice Munro’s “Wenlock Edge,” I learn about the way women can be with one another, about power, sympathy, revenge, secrecy. So while I don’t feel any pressure to give a message with my books—and I wouldn’t say I send “messages,” not in the way that Belkin means it—I do often have an ethical question I am asking myself as I write, such as How can we assert ourselves as individuals and still be part of a community? (a question lurking beneath my 2012 YA novel, The Shadow Society). I ask myself these questions whether I’m writing something for young people, or for adults.
Writers, readers, what do you think? Do books, regardless of their audience, have an ethical component?