Saturday, April 29, 2006

One of those rare, more serious posts....

A good time was had by all at the L.A. Times Festival of Books today, and despite my planning otherwise, new books were bought. Sigh. But instead of talking about the Festival, I'm going to turn my attention to a column I read in today's LA Times Calendar section. Written by Tim Rutten under a "Regarding Media" supertitle, the column was called Literary scandal speaks volumes and jumps off from the recent plagiarism scandal in the Young Adult literature world. Unfortunately, the link I've posted requires (free) registration. I apologize for that, but some of you might find the article worth reading. Why? Well, there are a few paragraphs in it that simply struck me as headscratchingly odd and wrong. To wit:

What this unfortunately driven young woman's rather sad little story suggests is that one of the major reasons other young people don't read books is that most of the stuff published for children and adolescents is abysmal, self-regarding trash.

While he follows this up with a dig at packagers and a point I do agree with (kids don't only want to read about people just like themselves), that comment was the type that forced me to keep re-reading to see if I missed some sort of set-up. But I don't think so. Perhaps Mr. Rutten has read "most" of the books being published today. I've read some. Others who read this blog have read more. I'm curious if they agree with him. I don't.

Mr. Rutten notes how corporations have taken over in many fields, and makes some comparisons and observations I found interesting. But then, his conclusion:

Whether you're talking about books, films or newspapers — as it turns out — much flows from that decisive moment when "the business" passes from the hands of people who have found a way to make a living doing something they love and into the hands of folks who only love making a living. Some of what results is truly noxious, some is distasteful, most is merely dreary. The majority of books aimed at today's young people fall into this last category.

It's hard to blame readers of any age for voting with their feet when they see what's seeping toward them and realize they're about to be ankle deep in bilge.

So is "most" differnt from "a majority" and is "self-regarding trash" different from "merely dreary"? But forget such parsing...

I ask again, particularly to my fellow kid-lit bloggers... any opinions here? I hope you read the full article to make sure I'm not missing something... and then feel free to share this with the myriad blogging authors who defy both of Mr. Rutten's categorizations. I wonder if anyone will have anything to say to or do such broad brush statements not even deserve e-mail responses?

(For those here for Fibbery, there are links on the right hand side of the blog under "The Fibs." Also, if you scroll around on the blog main page, you'll find lots of Fibbish fun, including hundreds of Fibs in the comments of various posts. Enjoy!)


Anonymous said...

I was very tired when I read the article the first time, and could only respond in a sort of stuttering anger.

Maybe I will be more coherent tomorrow... or maybe he doesn't deserve my time.

Chris Barton said...

Well, I, for one, think that most gross generalizations are completely accurate, so I really don't see the problem here.

OK, so I do. And it's this: If Rutten's highly informed opinion is that "most of the stuff published for children and adolescents is abysmal, self-regarding trash," how can he not think the same of what gets published for adults as well?

Is the ratio of Rutten-Certified Good Stuff to Abysmal, Self-Regarding Trash in children's and YA literature really any different than in publishing as a whole?

Anonymous said...

err, sorry, that was meant to be a living link to my post about the article.

There, now, that should do it.

Unknown said...

I'm currently reading the first of a series about a character called Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo. I'm a children's bookdealer and have read thousands of children's books over the years, but this is easily the worst piece of hack drivel I've ever come across. The only reason I feel it got published is because it's helping to ease the Harry Potter withdrawal symptoms for fans of magical adventure. This book SCREAMS for an editor. I can't even be sure it ever was edited beyond spell check. I've actually checked the cover twice to make sure I'm not holding an advance reading copy. At this point I'm reading simply out of morbid rubbernecking fascination.
Anyway, my point is that it seems a lot of "genre" books are being rushed to the market without much attention to quality.

fusenumber8 said...

I'm sputtering so hard that I'm afraid of shorting out my computer with an overabundance of spittle. MOST of the stuff printed today for children and adolescents is "self-regarding trash"???? Most? I'm reading every children's book printed in 2006 I can get my hands on. Some is trash, yes. Of course. Some. And some is brilliant. I would love to sit the author of the article down and quiz them on exactly how they reached that theory. If they respond that they walked into their local Barnes and Noble and paged through the celebrity picture aisle, I will respond with language not suitable for a family friendly blog such as this.

*growl grumble, grumble growl*

Bkbuds said...

Oh, I'd much rather chat about the L.A. BookFest -- a much better use of the Times' money than Mr. Rutten's salary.

What lovely weather. I spent most of my time by the Target stage watching toddlers bop to music and eating drippy ice cream.