Darkness Too Visible

Darkness Too Visible

Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?

Authors and publishers are all atwitter about this article that appeared over the weekend in the online edition of The Wall Street Journal. Meghan Cox Gurdon, who writes regularly about children’s books for the WSJ, asks:

How dark is contemporary fiction for teens? Darker than when you were a child, my dear: So dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things in novels directed, broadly speaking, at children from the ages of 12 to 18.

She attributes this trend to the 1967 publication of S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.

And I don’t know quite what to think about Gurdon’s argument because I can see both sides of the issue.

On the one hand, as a writer, I’m against all forms of attempted censorship. Every year I blog here about Banned Books Week, and during that week I wear my red button that proclaims “I read banned books.” In my opinion, censorship has no place in American society.

On the other hand, I have a 12-year-old niece and 10-year-old nephew for whom I have always enjoyed buying books as birthday and holiday gifts. But just recently, for my niece’s 12th birthday, I resorted to the cop-out of a book store gift card because I don’t want to give a book I know nothing about and I haven’t had time to keep up with what’s current in children’s and young adult (YA) literature.

But is censorship at the library, school, or bookstore level the answer to the problem of graphic YA literature about incest, pedophilia, eating disorders, and other mental health issues? Gurdon seems to support those who would stop access to such books:

everyone does not share the same objectives. The book business exists to sell books; parents exist to rear children, and oughtn’t be daunted by cries of censorship. No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children’s lives.

Yet the issue isn’t quite this simple. Gurdon is correct that availability of violence and depravity on the Internet and in videogames does not justify their appearance in YA literature, but she completely ignores the fact that most adult objection to the content of children’s literature involves not the subject matter itself, but concern by the religious right over what they consider to be unchristian–for example, condemnation of the Harry Potter series because it deals with witchcraft. When this type of concern enters the equation, it’s not so easy to tolerate censorship in public schools or public libraries. While parents certainly have the right to try to prevent their children from reading works that they consider sacrilegious, those parents do not have the right to decide which works are available for my children to read.

That decision is my right–and my responsibility.

And I guess that’s why I find Gurdon’s article so frustrating: She does not offer a single practical suggestion for how I can fulfill that responsibility. Sure, she seems to favor censorship, but her argument is so facile as to be meaningless. And yes, it would be nice if authors and publishers of YA literature would censor themselves and stay away from such dark themes. But does she really think that is going to happen? In the meantime, all parents can do is pay attention to what their kids are reading and talk with them about the issues those books contain.

Borders Files for Chapter 11, Announces Store Closings

Borders Group, Inc. Website

The book world has been speculating on this for a long time, and now it’s official. Borders will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and, as part of its reorganization strategy, will close about 200 stores nationwide. You can download the store list from the sidebar on the left of this page.

I was dismayed to see that my local Borders store, where I’ve attended book discussions and made many friends over the last 12 or 13 years, is on the list. Another store not too far from my house will remain open. I’ve often gone to this other store to study, and it’s a fine place. But it won’t hold the same memories for me that “my” Borders has.

My LIst: Best Books Read in 2010

This has been an abysmal year for me in terms of pleasure reading: I read a mere 18 books. The reason for this low count is that I’ve spent the entire year researching and then writing my dissertation, which I hope to finish up in early 2011. So I’m looking forward to 2011 being a better reading year for me.

Here are the best of those 18 books that I read this year (listed alphabetically by author):

  • Bradley, Alan. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
  • Brooks, Geraldine. People of the Book
  • Lamb, Wally. I Know This Much Is True
  • Lamb, Wally. Wishin’ and Hopin’
  • Larsson, Stieg. The Girl Who Played with Fire
  • Larsson, Stieg. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
  • Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day:

International Women’s Day (8 March) is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, IWD is a national holiday. The first IWD was run in 1911. Next year is IWD Global Centenary 1911-2011.

Check this site for more on the history of International Women’s Day and on the current plight of women around the world.

For ‘Shutter Island,’ the wait may be worthwhile

For ‘Shutter Island,’ the wait may be worthwhile – latimes.com:

Just six weeks before director Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel about the criminally insane was scheduled to hit theaters last October, Paramount Pictures pulled the Leonardo DiCaprio-starring movie from its year-end lineup.

I had started seeing trailers for this movie last fall and wondered why its release had been postponed. Dennis Lehane is one of my favorite authors, and this book is particularly–well, it’s hard to say more without spoiling both the book and the movie. But the postponement gave me time to reread the book before the movie release, for which I’m grateful. I’m eager to see how this film adaptation works.

‘Conversations With God’ Author Accused of Plagiarism

‘Conversations With God’ Author Accused of Plagiarism – ArtsBeat Blog – NYTimes.com:

Neale Donald Walsch, author of the best-selling series ‘Conversations with God,’ recently posted a personal Christmas essay on the spiritual Web site Beliefnet.com that was nearly identical to a 10-year-old article originally published by a little-known writer in a spiritual magazine. He now says he made a mistake in believing the story was something that had actually happened to him.

Oh dear. People who do this are always sorry–when they get caught. I stand firmly with Candy Chand, the woman whose work was lifted:

“I have strong issue with anyone who would appear to plagiarize my work and pretend it is his own,” said Ms. Chand. “That takes away from the truth of the material, it takes away from the miracle that occurred, because people begin to question what they can believe anymore. As a professional writer, when someone appears to plagiarize, they damage the industry, they damage other writer’s credibility and they hurt the reader because they never know what to believe anymore.”

And the fact that the man who got caught doing this is supposedly a man of God–well, I stand with Candy Chand on that point, too:

She added that it was ironic that Mr. Walsch in particular had been the one to appropriate her writing. “Has the man who writes best selling books about his ‘Conversations with God’ also heard God’s commandments?” she asked. “’Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not lie, and thou shalt not covet another author’s property?’”

My Best Books Read in 2008

Most of the year’s best books listed compiled by book reviewers cover only books published during the current year. My list, however, includes books that I read during this past year, regardless of when they were published.

Being a full-time student has cut way, way down on my pleasure reading. This past year I only got through 38 books (exclusive of textbooks, of course!). Here’s my list of best reads for 2008, arranged alphabetically by author’s last name:

The Top 10

Honorable Mention

  • Barry, Brunonia. The Lace Reader
  • Botton, Alain de. How Proust Can Change Your Life
  • Cheever, Susan. American Bloomsbury
  • O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried
  • Tyler, Anne. Saint Maybe

Happy New Year to all!