Archive for April, 2006

April 28, 2006

As of Five Minutes Ago

I’m living in a solar-powered house. The meter’s running backwards.

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April 25, 2006

Art imitating life, imitating art, imitating . . .

According to this New York Times article, Kaavya Viswanathan has admitted copying from Megan McCafferty. The copying was, she insists, unintentional and unconscious. After giving the “young author” her say, the Times goes on to print a few more identical passages and highlight plot similarities.

To me, the oddest thing about that article is the final sentence from Viswanathan’s agent, Jennifer Walsh, “Teenagers tend to adapt each others’ language.”

See? It’s, like, mimetic. Her teenage client’s fictitious teenagers have, just like real teenagers, adapted the language of the fictitious teenagers in another author’s books.

Art imitating life, imitating art. Kinda.

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April 21, 2006

How to Polish Your Credentials for a Presidential Run

Pour money into abstinence sex education for teens.

I’m all for teens making informed, thoughtful decisions about their sexuality. But how sad is it that with all the problems this country faces, this is what you do if you want to run for president? For president.

As for the effectiveness of the just say no approach? Pro. Con.

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April 19, 2006

I Love Fay Weldon

And I think she’s right about humor and literary esteem. (Yes, there are exceptions. Many, I’m sure. But in general.)

Elinor Lipman is a far more serious novelist than she pretends to be or is allowed to be by reviewers. (I learned a long time ago that to be taken seriously you need to cut back on the funny lines. I once all but won the Booker Prize for a novel from which, on Kingsley Amis’s advice, I had removed anything remotely mirthful. Alas, it was still “all but,” so I reverted to my old ways.) Lipman, declining to learn this worldly wisdom, goes on making jokes and therefore tends to get described with adjectives that are good for sales but bad for literary reputations: “oddball,” “hilarious,” “over-the-top,” “quirky,” “beguiling” or, worst of all, “summer reading.” The prose slips down too easily and pleasantly to allow her to rise into the literary top division, where the adjectives become “piercing,” “important,” “profound,” “significant,” “lyrical,” “innovative” and so on. Dull, in fact.

from last week’s Book World

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April 17, 2006

Tomorrow, at The Lafayette Library

I’ll be appearing along with three Stanley Middle School students, to discuss Skater Dude. It’s part of the Friends of the Lafayette Library’s Tuesday’s Child series, where the community meets its area childrens and YA writers. Books will be available for purchase and signing. And light refreshments will be served.

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April 16, 2006

I Should Know Better

I first heard about The Bedford Diaries when I read that the network carrying it, The WB, had insisted on cutting a few provocative scenes from the first episode in the wake of the three million dollar fine the FCC hit CBS with for their allegedly obscene depiction of a teen orgy.

When I heard that it was created by Tom Fontana, who produced, among others,St. Elsewhere, Homicide and Oz, I had high hopes for a well-written, quality show about contemporary college life.

Now, I know it’s television and that it’s aimed at the coveted 18-35 demographic, and the point of the show isn’t really the classroom, but the out-of-class experiences of the students. But geez, couldn’t they have put a little more effort into creating a believable version of a college seminar?

Poor Matthew Modine.

Yeah, I know there are lightweight classes out there, for which students get full credit. But they usually have something resembling content. Books to read, papers to write (or plagiarize). This supposedly highly sought-after seminar consists solely of the students’ video diaries, in which they discuss the question of the week. “What Would I Change About My Sexual History?” “Sexual responsibility?”

When I was at Georgetown in the early eighties, there was a popular course on human sexuality (taught by a Jesuit, no less). I never took it. Maybe because I wasn’t ready to write my sexual autobiography, which was part of the class. But only a part. Students read psychology, philosophy, oh, and what’s that stuff called? Oh yeah, literature!

Now, I’m not suggesting that you could make interesting television out of a searching discussion of Freud. Actually, strike that, you could. I’ve had very lively discussions about Freud’s ideas about infant sexuality with scandalized students. (But surely a discussion of that idea, that children are highly sexual, would surely not make it past the network or government censors.) But could there be at least a passing reference to some actual thinking about human sexuality, thinking thought by someone other than the 18, 19, 20, and 21 year-olds? (No offense, 18-, 19-, 20-, and 21-year-olds.) Plato? Freud? What about Catherine Mackinnon and Andrea Dworkin? Camille Paglia? D.H. Lawrence? Socio-biological arguments about the “natural” monogamy of women vs. the “natural” promiscuity of men? You wouldn’t have to go into any great detail. Just one little snippet of an idea.

Fontana’s Homicide was based on a book which was based on a journalist’s spending a full year observing detectives at work. It was deeply-rooted in real police work. Medical dramas have their expert consultants. The West Wing had all those Clinton administration consultant/producers.

I’m sure I sound like my plumber who once went into great detail with me about how an episode of Desperate Housewives had gotten a plumbing situation all wrong. “Impossible!”

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April 13, 2006

I Wish Naomi Wolf Would Stop.

Just stop. Take a breath. Yes, yes, we know Gossip Girls are trashy novels with two-dimensional characters and sometimes graphic (but flat, uninspired, not-the-least bit erotic if you ask me) sex. We knew it before she did. < Wolf was on Oprah Monday, once again warning parents about dangerous books. “These books basically tell our daughters that their value comes from how high they are in the pecking order in their high school, whether they can afford all of the fabulous designer goods, and provide a hot sexual experience for the boys in their lives.”

Who died and left her YA spokesmodel?

Shouldn’t Wolf be required to sit down with girls who read these books and, oh I don’t know, maybe ask them why they read them before making these claims? Or at least read what teen readers themselves have to say about these books on Amazon? There are 259 reviews over there ranging from one to five stars, with titles ranging from variations on “one of the best books I ever read!” and “awesome book if you like short beach reads,” to “same old,” “ridiculous,” “guilty pleasure,” “waste of paper!” “No Morals, No Plot, No Brains in the Character.”

And shouldn’t Wolf be required to read around just a little bit more in the genre before presenting herself as the go-to gal on contemporary YA lit? Again, reading through the Amazon reviews, it’s clear that girls are reading a lot more than just these series. Many of the negative reviews offer alternatives–Cathy Hopkins’ Dates, Mates series, The Traveling Pants books, Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicolson books.

But here’s why I’m so bothered. Wolf’s warning to parents–first in the New York Times Book Review, now on Oprah–is going to inspire book challenges at schools and libraries across the country. And it won’t just be the Gossip Girls that people will want off the shelves or segregated or tagged with an astrobrite warning label. It’ll be books like this year’s Printz winner, Looking for Alaska, Golden Kite and ALAN Award winner A Room on Lorelei Street, Printz Honor books The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, and Fat Kid Rules the World, Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club (which has weathered several challenges already) or David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy.

They might even come after this:

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April 4, 2006

Them's Fightin' Words

“We’re planning to take the market down.”

That’s from Louise Burke, young adult book president at MTV in a somewhat jumbled, somewhat interesting Newsday article about racy YA.

What this piece brings up, that I haven’t much seen in others, is the influence of television on publishing. Sure, the increasingly racy content of t.v. pushes publishers to have to compete for teens’ attention. But there’s something else going on here, which if I were ever to write another dissertation (one was enough, thank you), I’d consider taking on. That is, how t.v has pushed and continues to push the form of the novel. Not only in YA and not only in the more so-called commercial books. Many, maybe even most, readers today expect books to move from the get-go. We don’t have the patience for long, lingering introductions to characters or their worlds.

I don’t think this is a bad thing. Fast-moving doesn’t have to mean superficial and insubstantial. That’s the challenge I feel writing YA today . How to get and keep my stories moving, while at the same time conveying more about a character than what she wears, what her daddy does, or how many boys she’s done.

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