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A Little Defensive

Last week all sorts of things got librarians riled up and other people defensive. My favorite might have been the guy at a library conference who called a female librarian an “ignorant slut” onstage.

He then said, “Just kidding! I don’t think you’re ignorant!”

Okay, I made that second part up, but it would have been the perfect followup.

But it sort of wasn’t his fault. If only his audience had been composed of people who watched SNL in the 1970s. And if those tweeting librarians would put things in context instead of saying, “this guy just called someone an ignorant slut,” which of course he did. Darn those tweeting under-50s.

And now people are being real meanies and saying bad things about him. Don’t they get it that calling women sluts is funny? Maybe these days men calling women sluts brings to mind less Dan Ackroyd and more Elliot Rodger.

That one I found out about on a blog, but the other lively librarian debate I discovered only because of a Kind Reader leaving a comment about it.

Apparently, YA librarian listservs were all aflutter about this article from Slate arguing that adults who read YA novels should be ashamed of their reading tastes.

I read through the article and didn’t find anything to get upset about, but then I’m a grown up so I read grown up books, at least when I can get to them once I’m finished with email, news, professional reading, and few magazines. On second thought, I don’t read a lot of grown up books, either.

I didn’t track down the librarian discussion, but if it was anything like the 2,000 plus comments on Slate it was probably pretty hostile.

Reading through the comments, we can easily tell a few things about some of the adults who love to read YA novels: they’re very defensive. Also, a lot of them are really bad at defending their reading habits and yet feel compelled to.

For example, in response to a comment that people kept citing certain classic works of fiction as YA reading that weren’t intended to be, we get this:

The point is not that classics were intended as YA fiction, but that they are guilty of all the “sins” Graham complains of: Pat satisfying endings, instant gratification, escapism, and so forth. If you took “Romeo and Juliet,” updated the language, and cast it in novel form, it would be indistinguishable from a modern YA book. I’m not impressed by an article that tells me I should feel guilty for enjoying Shakespeare.

There’s a lot wrong with that response. First of all, it misses the point of the article. The article itself wasn’t defending all adult fiction. It was criticizing YA fiction. Just because a lot or even most adult fiction is also formulaic, escapist, and so on isn’t a defense of YA fiction.

Instead, that’s more an admission that a lot of adult fiction is just as trite as YA fiction, if indeed YA fiction is trite. I don’t know because I don’t read it.

That fits in with one common but stupid line of attack. “Oh yeah, well there are bad grown up books, too!” Okay. If people didn’t like stale, formulaic, repetitive plots, the sitcom would never have become so popular. However, we’re talking YA books here. Stay on topic.

But it’s the reference to Shakespeare that floored me. It’s like the commenter is unfamiliar with “Romeo and Juliet” except as a common way to refer to a teenage romance story.

Romeo and Juliet definitely doesn’t fit this description of YA lit, at least as far as I can tell. What poorly read folks who want someone to be their Romeo or their Juliet forget is that Romeo killed two men and that they both commit suicide in the end. Is that a “pat, satisfying ending”?

If anything, Romeo and Juliet is the perfect Shakespeare play to support Graham’s point in the Slate article. Read the play as an adult and it’s hard not to think of Romeo and Juliet as a couple of hapless, impulsive fools. That’s because as adults we know that all that stuff we thought was soooooo important when we were thirteen really isn’t that important.

Thus, when I read, “I’m not impressed by an article that tells me I should feel guilty for enjoying Shakespeare,” I know I’m hearing from someone who hasn’t really enjoyed Shakespeare. Using that reference was just a way to make it sound like the person reads something other than YA novels.

But mostly what I noticed was the defensiveness. People who are proud of their reading taste typically don’t get defensive. People who read a lot of Shakespeare probably wouldn’t care if someone said, “Shakespeare sucks!” That could be dismissed with a shrug and a “whatever” and everyone moves on.

Even the people who read comic books and pretend they’re “graphic novels” don’t get defensive anymore. They just read what they enjoy.

The only kind of defensiveness on this topic that makes any sense would be uninformed criticism from someone who has never read a YA novel. “YA novels are trite.” “Have you read any?” “I don’t have to because I know it without reading any.” “Are you as stupid as you sound?” “Maybe.”

But the writer has read some, and even some of the defenders of YA fiction admit that some of the criticisms are true. So why not just admit YA fiction doesn’t deal with adult themes and move on? Why would hundreds of people feel compelled to comment so foolishly on this?

The most likely reason is that they do feel a little ashamed of themselves for enjoying books that were meant for teenagers, who inexplicably got renamed “young adults.” If they weren’t a little ashamed, they’d just shrug and move on.

Pride doesn’t lead to defensiveness. Shame leads to defensiveness.

If that’s true, then all the hostile commenters are, ironically, agreeing with Graham, who apparently hit a little too close to home for some people.

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Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Clearly you have never been in a group discussion where someone loudly proclaims “Shakespeare sucks”. I have had this unfortunate experience and I can assure you, there was nary a shrug of the shoulders or a “whatever” in sight. There was, however, a lot of red-faced screaming, several obscenities and a slew of insults from some of the more passionate in the group. Most people fervently defend the things they love, guilt pleasure or not.

  2. Torsten Adair says:

    Sturgeon’s revelation:
    “I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud.

    Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.” [wikipedia]

    So, now we have “reader shaming”. Well, that’s been going on for centuries. Comics experienced it radically in the 1950s, with the bonfires and laws, to the point where the publishers set up their own censorship/approval board. SF and fantasy (see above) had it too, until the New Wave of writers and Hollywood directors radically killed off the BEMs with Big Ideas in the late 60s and early 70s. (Thank god for George Lucas kililng off dystopian cinema in 1977.)

    Personally, I’d love to invoke the “Thumper Rule” for criticism. You cannot criticize a creative work unless you write a detailed analysis and dissection of why it is such a textbook example of excremement. Otherwise, just post a list of works you didn’t like (maybe with a quick four-star rating), and then celebrate the stuff you enjoyed.

    In other words, life is short, TL;DR.

  3. As a librarian, reader and writer of YA fiction, I’d argue that some YA fiction deals with adult themes. John Green offers a good example. Here’s a quote from “Fault in Our Stars”:
    “The real heroes anyway aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention.”
    This is exactly why I enjoy and follow your blog.

  4. noutopianlibrarian says:

    Stephen doesn’t realize that there is a Brave New World voices itself mightily in the social media works with little use for individuals if they step out of the bounds of whatever ideology captures a particular crowdsourced stoning mentality in twittersphere. It matters little (none) what his intent was, nor what he offers as an apology. It was a dumb attempt at humor – he knows it, we know it, and those who verbally crucify him know it. Unfortunately, he is white, aging, and male. If only he could change two or three of those characteristics, he would more than likely have been understood and accepted as he apologized and explained in the aftermath, everyone would’ve learned a lesson or two (and enjoyed some SNL on Youtube along the way), and gone on. I’d say he is history, but as Aldous wrote “history is bunk.” Pehaps re-education would be in order but who would waste those resources on someone of his background. Ah, progress beckons. I’ll miss his presence – I find Stephen’s Lighthouse to be far more insightul and inclusive than most library blogs.

    Fire away!

  5. Ms. Manners says:

    Is Mr. Abram saying “Jane, you ignorant slut…” different than the AL saying “Don’t they get it that calling women sluts is funny?” We sophisticated adults recognize this as “irony” and perhaps “sarcasm.” We say the opposite of what we mean and provide contextual clues that we are doing so in an attempt to be funny or make a point. The Saturday Night Live phrase is likely a parody of an ad hominem attack and is an attempt to undermine the authority of whomever uses the phrase. We are expected to laugh at or dismiss the illogical, sexist person who said it. I’m a little puzzled by the AL using an ironic, sexist sentence to criticize Mr. Abram’s use of an ironic, sexist sentence. I think that we are supposed to understand that the AL thinks that calling women sluts is not funny. If Mr. Abrams is a tone-deaf and cruel sexist and the AL is a funny champion of the rights of women, that doesn’t seem super fair.

  6. noutopianlibrarian says:

    @Ms. Manners. I surmised long ago that there is little fair about life, other than those acts of kindness we as individuals can offer those around us.

    As for why the ironic language used by Mr. Abram and Ms. Annoyed Librarian might be perceived differently – I’ll think on that .

    It is effortless in our cultural reset to label Mr. Abram as a “tone-deaf and cruel sexist.” Let’s not forget that he is also emblematic of that scourge “white male privilege.” In fact, who wouldn’t put him in the same sentence as Elliot Rodger? Let’s throw in Will Manley for good measure. Good riddance – the world will be better when we can reprogram these supremacist attitudes and remove these people from positions of power and influence in the library community! I’m certain of it – aren’t you?
    “Great is truth but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth.” Aldous Huxley

  7. Sarah K says:

    The most annoying thing about the comment AL quoted is that you could take almost ANY of Shakespeare’s comedies, and the comment would be true. You mean all the main characters are paired off, married, and presumably live happily ever after? Talk about a “pat, satisfying ending.”

  8. dan cawley says:

    if i learned one thing in L-school, it was this: “never apologize for what you like to read.”

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