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Big Books Feature


City Paper's Big Books Issue 2008

Big Books Issue 2008

YA City Paper's Big Books Issue 2008 | By Bret McCabe

When Books Could Change Your Life Why What We Pore Over At 12 May Be The Most Important Reading We Ever Do | By Tim Kreider

The Invisibles Young Adult Fiction Has Yet to Hear The Voices of Young, Urban, and Black Readers | By Michael Corbin

The Big Questions Science Fiction and Young Adult Fiction Share Themes and, Hopefully, Readers | By Adrienne Martini

See Spot Rejected Some Helpful Don'ts For Cracking Into Children's Publishing | By Brian Sendelbach

Teen Screams Dark Young Adult Fiction Captures Rudderless Horrors of Contemporary Adolescence | By Ian Grey

Little Golden Books It's difficult to imagine an American childhood without Little Golden Books--you know, the ubiquito... | By Michelle Gienow

Maurice Sendak Somehow I had always assumed that Maurice Sendak was French. Even as a child, I found Where the Wil... | By Lee Gardner

Nausicaa of The Valley of Wind In 2008, Spirited Away director Hayao Miyazaki probably needs little in the way of an introduction,... | By Jess Harvell

By Bret McCabe | Posted 9/24/2008

Living in a world where Gap Kids, the Jonas Brothers, and the Teen Choice Awards are the inescapable givens in order to train the pop-culture consumers of tomorrow, it's sometimes hard to remember that it wasn't always so. As in, the tastes and disposable income of teens didn't always dominate and dictate the trends of popular culture at large. Yes, yes, yes, I know: Ever since the 1950s "youth culture" has been fairly synonymous with "pop culture," but I know I'm not the only--or the first--adult who feels like the increasing demands to appeal to a youth market is making entertainment ignorant, awful, and downright offensive.

I'm not trying to sound like a cantankerous lout slouching toward impending middle age romanticizing a time when PG movies had smoking, nudity, and rampant profanity. Nor am I trying to claim I'm above a good dose of teenage brain rot every now and again (I did buy the import of the Veronicas' Hook Me Up, for crying out loud, and I can't believe I just said that in my out-loud voice). But surely everybody, even parents, have noticed the accelerating dumbing down of mainstream entertainment, the bowdlerizing of any content that might be seen as child unfriendly. It leads to the eradication of any challenging ideas to present a whitewashed lie of the world in which everything is beautiful and all you have to do is be obedient to thrive in it. Only predominantly positive, uplifting stories can be told, to ensure that nobody is offended, ever.

At least adults can still turn to books to be challenged, engaged, and, in general, treated like a sentient human being who has the option to choose how and what to feel about what may be presented inside its pages. I mean, since the teen demographic has already taken over music, television, and the movies, we can at least have books--can't we?

Apparently not. The past few years have witnessed an explosion in publishing for teens, to the effect that this past May Newsweek reported that books for teens is one of the few booming publishing niches. And while, yes, it's great that young people today are reading and not just whittling away their brain cells on social-networking sites or video games or text-messaging, as a nonprocreating, taxpaying, voting citizen who both pays attention and sincerely enjoys consuming pop culture, having my peers recommend me the latest vampire novel-qua-metaphor for a teenage girl's sexual awakening as a book to check out is unacceptable. I didn't like young adult fiction when I was a teen--let's just get this out of the way now: fuck Holden Caulfield--and I'm not about to start now.

Perhaps, though, I just don't know enough about so-called YAF. Perhaps I'm reducing young adult fiction to yet more unfounded childhood nostalgia for simpler, better times. Perhaps I'm merely snottily deriding but another book niche in which I'm not personally being published. Perhaps I just don't like kids. Whatever the case, young adult fiction is becoming an incontrovertible narrative force, and it's time to adapt or become extinct.

For the 2008 Big Books Issue I asked the City Paper's stable of books writers to explore young adult fiction, but not merely its aspects celebrated by mainstream culture guards. In this issue, Adrienne Martini reports on the increasingly large crossover between science fiction and young adult genres. Michael Corbin examines why so few YAF titles adequately address young, urban African-American readers. Ian Grey reports back from the darkest recesses of the YAF repertoire. Timothy Kreider examines why books we read as teenagers influence us more than books we read as adults. Brian Sendelbach offers a few pointers on how not to break into this market. And Lee Gardner, Michelle Gienow, and Jess Harvell fondly recall titles adored in youth. Love YAF or hate it, these kids are staying in the publishing picture.

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Big Books Feature archives

More Stories

Going Short (9/23/2009)
Some authors simply prefer compact storytelling over the novel's wordy road

Let's Get Short (9/23/2009)
City Paper's Big Books Issue 2009 takes a look at fiction's overlooked gems

Neverending Stories (9/23/2009)
Short stories continue to be where sci-fi writers explore their big ideas

More from Bret McCabe

Unnatural Wonders (7/7/2010)
Soledad Salamé's works become more persuasive through distortions

That Nothing You Do (6/23/2010)
Will Eno embraces the banality of everything

All Eyes on Him? (6/16/2010)
John Potash's The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders offers a different version of the slain rapper

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