David Itzkoff exhibits his dimness
I sometimes wonder how any self-respecting author of speculative fiction can find fulfillment in writing novels for young readers. I suppose J. K. Rowling could give me 1.12 billion reasons in favor of it: get your formula just right and you can enjoy worldwide sales, film and television options, vibrating-toy-broom licensing fees, Chinese-language bootlegs of your work, a kind of limited immortality (L. Frank Baum who?) and — finally — genuine grown-up readers. But where’s the artistic satisfaction? Where’s the dignity?I told myself not to blog about this because it's just too astoundingly irritating. But then I saw this on Neil Gaiman's blog and thought the two should be blogged together—as, indeed, they are, linkwise, by Neil himself:
I think that rule number one for book reviewers should probably be Don't Spend The First Paragraph Slagging Off The Genre. Just don't. Don't start a review of romance books by saying that all romance books are rubbish but these are good (or just as bad as the rest). Don't start a review of SF by saying that you hate all off-planet tales or things set in the future and you don't like way SF writers do characters. Don't start a review of a University Adultery novel by explaining that mostly books about English professors having panicky academic sex bore you to tears but. Just don't. Any more than a restaurant reviewer would spend a paragraph explaining that she didn't normally like or eat—or understand why other people would like or eat—Chinese food, or French, or barbeque. It just makes people think you're not a very good reviewer.I don't think he goes quite far enough, though. It's not Itzkoff's insult to the creators of the genre I mind, so much—I'm pretty used to people showing their ignorance of the nature, the effort involved in producing, or even the existence, of YA books. It's the insult to young readers. I object to the implication that a young reader isn't a 'genuine' reader, that it's undignified for anyone to consider her or to produce novels specifically for her.
Itzkoff reckons that people who do so are only in it for the money, just hoping hit the right formula so that they can make a Rowling-sized fortune, or for 'a kind of limited immortality'. When I think of the uncritical love I still carry for the favourite stories of my childhood and young adulthood, when I think that there's a chance that I might, without even knowing I'm doing it, give a young reader the experience of being seen, and spoken to, and respected, and companioned and transported the way the best books transported me, it's abundantly clear to me that David Itzkoff is talking through his arse.
I hope he lives long enough to squirm with embarrassment about what he's just shown about himself and his assumptions. I hope he has some children and they call him on it. Then again, I wouldn't mind if people went along and gave him a good pounding with YA books on the steps of the Times building. Readers of New York, take up your copies of The Book Thief, This Is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn, the omnibus edition of His Dark Materials—any big hardcover—and head down there right away.