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Jia Tolentino Wants You to Read Children’s Books - The New York Times
““A really good middle-grade novel,” says the New Yorker essayist, whose debut collection is “Trick Mirror,” “will supersede a lot of contemporary fiction in terms of economy, lucidity and grace.”

What books are on your nightstand?

When I like a book, I carry it around everywhere until I finish it, like a subway rat dragging a slice of pizza down the stairs. So usually if a book is living on my nightstand, it’s not my thing. Right now, though, I’ve got a galley of Anna Wiener’s “Uncanny Valley” keeping me company — it’s so deft and stunning that I started rereading chunks of it as soon as I was done.

What’s the last book that really excited you?

“Death’s End,” the final installment of Liu Cixin’s Three-Body trilogy, in which the narrative and conceptual momentum of the series takes off at a scale and velocity I couldn’t possibly have imagined before reading. The Three-Body trilogy makes insignificance and unknowability and futility seem so spiritually exciting that I felt breathless. I’d join a book club that just discusses it every month for a year.

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

Rebecca Stead’s “When You Reach Me” won the Newbery Medal, so it’s certainly not unheralded, but everyone tunes me out when I recommend it, since it was written for kids. Their mistake! A really good middle-grade novel — and this book, a “Wrinkle in Time”-esque mystery set on the Upper West Side in the late 1970s, is a phenomenal one — will supersede a lot of contemporary fiction in terms of economy, lucidity and grace.

What book should everybody read before the age of 21?

“Random Family,” by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. It’s so spicy, so riveting, so empathetic and devoted, so alive in the world as it actually is. No shots to Chaucer and “A Separate Peace” and all that, but I think a lot of people might be far more interested in reading (and possibly more interested in other lives in general) if they got to read books like this in high school.

What book would you recommend to people over 40?

“Kids These Days,” by Malcolm Harris. Most writing about millennials has tended to focus on effects rather than causes: After all, it’s easier to make a spectacle of the ways instability manifests itself in young people than it is to really reckon with the fact that capitalism has reached a stage of inexorable acceleration that has broken our country’s institutions and (arguably) my generation’s soul. “Kids These Days,” thankfully, goes straight for the point.

[ Tolentino’s new book, “Trick Mirror,” was one of our most anticipated titles of August. See the full list. ]

Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?

Ocean Vuong, Jenny Odell, Doreen St. Félix, Vinson Cunningham, Bryan Washington, Tommy Orange, Jenny Zhang, Ross Gay, Zadie Smith, Rebecca Solnit, Emily Nussbaum, Rebecca Traister, Brit Bennett, Caity Weaver, Rachel Aviv, Kathryn Schulz, Pamela Colloff, Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Patrick Radden Keefe, Patricia Lockwood, Samantha Irby, Leslie Jamison, Lauren Groff, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Wesley Morris, Meg Wolitzer, Marlon James, Ted Chiang, Eula Biss.

You once described yourself as “an obsessive and catholic reader.” What moves you most in a work of literature?

Bravery and surrender, which can manifest in so many forms.

Do you prefer books that reach you emotionally, or intellectually?

I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a purely emotional or purely intellectual reaction to anything, let alone to anything I was reading. Systems and concepts are always inextricable from the way they shape our hearts, and I love books that demonstrate this, like Matthew Desmond’s “Evicted,” or George Saunders’s “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.”

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

From Casey Cep’s “Furious Hours,” that Harper Lee was once neighbors with Daryl Hall and John Oates. What?!

Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

I’ll read almost anything, though I don’t love reading about history and science as much as I love whatever I learn. The only books I actively avoid are the “how X explains all of human civilization” books — the type seemingly written for men who love a counterintuitive idea but find complex thought disturbing — as well as those “how to be a perfectly imperfect goddess who doesn’t give a f**k” books. I don’t like anything with a sales pitch that’s like, “Hey, you’re a woman!” These books feel like dolls of Frida Kahlo dressed as Rosie the Riveter or something, like display objects that chirp the word “badass” when you press their hand.

What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?

My boyfriend got me a first edition of Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio” — one of my favorite books of all time — about seven years ago, and this past year, he gave me a copy of “Eve’s Hollywood” with a note in it for me from Eve Babitz herself. I almost keeled over on the spot.

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?

Turtle Wexler from “The Westing Game” and Undine Spragg from “The Custom of the Country.”

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

I would read while Rollerblading around my neighborhood, read while eating, read in the car, read in the bathtub — my books were stained, swollen, ripped to shreds. I was always just desperate to be constantly reading. I’d memorize the copy on the Herbal Essences bottle in the shower; I read “Gone With the Wind” about 20 times in fourth grade. I remember things from kids’ books much more clearly than I remember anything about my life even a few years ago. I’ve got a mental encyclopedia of useless sensory details: the lavender-and-black bathroom in “Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself,” the tin peddler’s wares in “Farmer Boy,” the meals that Francie Nolan helped her mother make from stale bread.

You’re a digital native, and your publisher describes you as “what Susan Sontag would have been like if she had brain damage from the internet.” Do you find it difficult to tune out distractions and sink into a book?

In part because I am very aware of what the internet is doing to my sense of scale and reason, I spend a good amount of my life seeking out states of being — like reading — that are so consuming and pleasurable that I won’t grab my phone and interrupt. It also helps that for most of my life I’ve read a paper book for an hour or two every night before falling asleep: It was always a way of managing my insomnia, which I’ve had since I was little, and is now a regular reminder of how much more like myself I feel when I’m not shattering my attention to bits.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

There are plenty of beloved books I don’t like at all — the most demographically fine-tuned version of this for me is probably Chris Kraus’s “I Love Dick.” But I have a hard time accessing a sense of “supposed to” with pop culture. I read whatever I feel like reading, and if neither the book nor my reaction to it interests me, I put it down without another thought. I’m a big believer, anyway, that reading is like eating: The most fun lies in finding a match for your mood. If I read 20 pages of something people love and I can’t get into it, then I welcome the possibility that a few years from now it could be the perfect thing.

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

Nearly everything about being alive feels embarrassing, but the enormous gap between what I’d like to have read and what I have actually read does not. As it is, I read a hundred books a year and it doesn’t seem to matter — there will always be so many books I haven’t read yet, and I will always be kind of stupid no matter how much I read. For example, I only recently realized that when people turn 30 they are completing their 30th year of life rather than beginning it. It’s possible that I’d have grasped that basic fact and many others much earlier if my head weren’t so stuffed with so much minutiae about the Shackleton expedition, so many descriptions of light from James Salter short stories, all these invisible psychosocial landscapes from all these books.

What do you plan to read next?

I’ve got to read the Lydia Davis translation of “Madame Bovary.” I’m having physical cravings for it. If I could stop time right now I’d lie down in the grass somewhere and go straight through from beginning to end.”
jiatolentino  howweread  reading  books  2019  internet  susansontag  web  online  digitalnatives  attention  yafiction  genre  malcolmharris  adriannicoleleblanc  tebeccastead  liucixin  oceanvuong  jennyodell  doreenstfélix  vinsoncunningham  bryanwashington  tommyorange  jennyzhang  rossgay  zadiesmith  rebeccasolnit  emilynussbaum  rebeccatraister  britbennett  caityweaver  rachelaviv  kathrynschulz  pamelacolloff  gideonlewis-kraus  patrickraddenkeefe  patricialockwood  smanthairby  lesliejamison  laurengoff  johnjeremiahsullivan  wesleymorris  megwolitzer  marlonjames  tedchiang  eulabiss  bythebook  georgesaunders  matthewdesmond  caseycep  sherwoodanderson  thewestinggame  chriskraus  lydiadavis  madamebovary 
29 days ago by robertogreco
The Plot of YA Novels If They Actually Reflected Real Teenagers' Lives - Mic
"Fiction is powerful. In fact, studies show that reading literature fosters valuable qualities like empathy and social skills. Young adult fiction especially has the power to instill these values and shape the world views of future generations — and yet, it often fails to represent the realistic experiences of diverse teens and may even perpetuate negative standards.

While many are fighting against this lack of representation, teen author John Hansen — who identifies as a feminist, queer and an ally — is addressing the representation of teenage life in a clever new Twitter hashtag, #VeryRealisticYA.

The conversation began with Hansen's observation that, despite being geared towards young adults, this genre generally doesn't reflect the reality of being a teenager. Hansen's observations quickly evolved into #VeryRealisticYA — a widespread exploration of the many sexist, heterosexist and overall problematic social norms young adult fiction often perpetuates."



""It began largely as a loving joke about how different YA books would be were they extremely realistic, in that instead of saving the world the main character would probably just be scrolling through Twitter all day," Hansen told Mic in an email on Monday. But as the hashtag evolved, it began to highlight actual social issues coded into many YA plots, like:

The way in which YA often romanticizes unhealthy, inequitable relationships...



...and upholds heterosexist relationship norms and homophobia.



Not to mention puritanical ideas about sex and teen sexuality...



...and, of course, stereotypical gender roles, into which female characters are still routinely confined.



In the spirit of the creative, quirky joy that is often at the heart of the best young adult novels, contributors also used the hashtag to generate plenty of plot lines that would better resonate with all young adults, no matter their background.



"Books transmit values," acclaimed author of children's and young adult fiction Walter Dean Myers wrote in a 2014 New York Times op-ed. "They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books?" Myers' observation is backed by fact: Studies show that representation in the media has an impact, both on making marginalized groups feel fully realized and on dominant groups recognizing their value.

Thankfully, there certainly are young adult fiction authors who recognize this, as evidenced by various markers of recognition (like diverse book lists), public declarations of support for diversity and even their participation in hashtags such as #VeryRealisticYA. "Many YA books deal in an honest way with the complexities of the world, whether it's through a contemporary or fantasy setting," Hansen told Mic, citing books such as Pointe by Brandy Colbert and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz as prime examples of texts in the genre incorporating more diverse characters and journeys.

It's inspiring to see that even when mainstream mediums fail us, there are plenty of individuals, within the YA community and beyond, who are willing to raise their voices and create the change they wish to see —in an abundantly creative, thoroughly delightful way, no less. Let's hope that some of these Very Realistic plot lines are expanded beyond 140 characters and will grace our bookshelves in years to come. "
fiction  ya  yafiction  humor  2015  realism  johnhansen  values  reality  culture  gender  stereotypes  sexuality  youth  teens  youngadults  relationships 
april 2015 by robertogreco

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