Tuesday, March 14, 2006

From Tween to Teen and the Sex In Between

In Sunday's NYT Book Review, Naomi Wolf shared her thoughts on the popular books in the teen market. The article entitled, "Young Adult Fiction: Wild Things," takes to task Gossip Girl, the Clique and the A List for promoting sex, drugs and a materialistic culture, while desecrating the importance of parent/child disciplinary relationships. Read the article, check out Lady T's response "Is Naomi crying Wolf over Teen reads?" and then head back here and share your thoughts. I'll be back with my own thoughts after I get back from work, but I will share with you this:

Wolf says in her opening paragraph that:

They [the books] feature sleek, conventionally beautiful girls lounging, getting in or out of limos, laughing and striking poses. Any parent — including me — might put them in the Barnes & Noble basket without a second glance.

My response is what? What are you doing picking up a book for your kid without at least reading the back? Aren't the words Clique, Gossip, and A-List representative enough of what they are about? When have those words (with the possible exception of the A-List) had positive connotations?

Let's here your thoughts on Naomi's teen reads. Oh, and while you're at it, go vote.


Book Nerd said...

I LOVE the conversations you get going here! Your blog is a real forum for discussing the meaty stuff in the world of books. Thanks for getting things started -- you're my bookseller blogging idol!

I spent a day recently working in a store that carries these teen girl series, and I have to admit my first encounter left me a little nauseated. Not only the mindless (and totally unrealistic for inexperienced teenagers) sex, but the crazy materialism! Credit cards and clothes as the point of life! It reminded me of all the ugly parts of being a girl, and for a moment I despaired of my younger sisters.

But at the same time, Lady T is totally right -- there's no way trying to censor these books is the right answer. We have to give girls some credit for knowing the difference between an accurate representation of their experience and a fantasy. I think Wolf makes a step in the right direction with her list of alternatives -- teen girl type books that DO offer a more nuanced version of teen life. Just like I try to steer fans of Sex & the City toward the smarter chick lit of Kate Christiansen, booksellers can take girls' desire to read about their lives and turn it into a chance to pitch stronger, smarter women -- not just prettier and richer ones.

lady t said...

That except you qouted,BSC is all too true-I've seen too many parents just get whatever their kids are bugging them for without batting an eyelash. Thanks for giving me a link there:)

Book Nerd,I've just read the article in PW about you and I have put you on my Top Ten Cool Blogger List(BSC is there,too!). I like the book talk that blogs like this are encouraging and hopefully,keeps the average reader informed of what's what at their bookstore.

Eileen said...

At the risk of dating myself- I remember when Judy Blume's "Are you there God, it's me Margaret" was quite the racy tale. I have no kids- but keep a careful eye on what things my two dogs drag home. If I see poodle monthly it will be time to have a talk. Parents can censure- book stores shouldn't.

jmc said...

Mass market paperbacks for YA are no different than mmp for adults -- you have dreck mixed in with gold, and it is up to the reader to analyze what s/he is reading, and determine its worth, both to herself and in the hierarchy of books available. Is the materialism in those YA books any worse that the stuff that appears in a lot of chick lit? or in old Judith Krantz novels? Not really. Is the issue the audience and its impressionability? Yes. I've picked up at couple of the books in the series mentioned. And I've put them back because they seem plastic and artificial. Will a teenager make the same analysis that I did? Probably not in most cases, just because a 16 year old has a different perspective than a 32 year old. But I do think some teenaged readers are capable of making what adults (including Wolfe) would deem "better" reading choices.

I don't think it is the job of the book seller or the publisher to censor the reading material of teenagers...or anyone else's reading material. It is a parental obligation.

Clicked over and read Wolfe's article, but I'm not sure who the recipient of the diatribe was supposed to be. The authors for writing what she thinks is materialistic crap? Parents for not paying attention to what their kids are read? Publishers for putting a product on the market?

Bookseller Chick said...

Thanks ladies, I really enjoyed reading your opinions and I used them in the next column (I hope you don't mind, gave credit where it was so very due).

Book Nerd, thanks for the shout out on your blog, and congrats on the write-up in publishers weekly. Because I'm a dork, and rather oblivious in all things, I didn't make the connection until Lady T said something. If anyone is an idol, it's you, what with working your way through all the different indies and getting your name out there. It's people like you who make a difference. You might want to also hit a chain or two, just to get a feeling of the corporate mandates and life you'll be up against when opening your own indie. In the end we all have a symbiotic relationship with the readers and I think there is room for the chains and indies (I've seen it work), we just need to open up lines of communication with one another (each other?).

I, too, try to direct readers to make the smarter choices when asked for suggestions, and I think that's all we can do on our end of the book world. I think it's up to the parents and the teachers to take it from there. If I had the power, pull/connections and money, I would love to get together with some of my local high schools and middle schools and discuss the things that make these books distressing to us, and socially current to the students.

Lady T, your column brought up two very excellent points. Parental responsibility and the cost of hardbacks. As my boss pointed out, chances are most kids are buying their own books and they are going to go for the ones they can afford. In the case of the Rainbow Party, a hardback would be a deterent (as would, apparently, the way the subject matter was handled. Check out Candy's--of smart bitches fame--review of the book on her website. She claimed that not only did it take the moralistic high ground, which was expected, but it did it with wooden, two-dimensional, holier-than-thou attitude), which then begs the question of why so many Teen books are being put out in hard back now. My belief is that it is because of the cross-over appeal to the adult market.

Eileen, you've always got to be careful about those poodles that your dogs bring home. God knows where they've been. ;) You're totally right on the parent censorship, but I would go further to say why censor when you can use it as a topic to have an honest discussion about. Besides nothing turns a teen off something faster than parental interest.

jmc, you've nailed several relevant points, and I kind of feel like I just expanded on them in my column above. We have to trust kids and we have to realize that we need to discuss issues instead of denying them access or ignoring them completely. There is a difference between pov at 16 and 32, which is why discussion and open communication are necessary. Wolf's article failed to look at the whole picture that these books represent.