07 February, 2008

David Itzkoff exhibits his dimness

In the New York Times:
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.

5 Comments:

Blogger Tessa said...

Word, hear hear, and amen.

07 February, 2008 22:11  
Blogger Trowzers said...

Jeepers. Did he read when he was that age?
In my experience, there is a very narrow window in time as a child where a book can impact you in a way that it simply does not in adulthood. It can spawn reoccuring, rebounding dreams and images that haunt you if not for years then for your lifetime in an amazingly vivid way.
That not satisfying????? hmfph!

08 February, 2008 12:28  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, it's hard to say why we should waste time on such a thicko statement. But the fact that it comes via the NYT tells us it's not some minor rag. Would they dismiss a crime novelist with the same disdain? Such stupidity is breathtaking. Just a totla airhead, but why does the paper indulge him? They will probably say, well, the views of the reviewer don't necessarily reflect etc...Time to get another reviewer. One with a brain this time.

08 February, 2008 15:17  
Anonymous Keith said...

The guy sounds like a total wanker.

08 August, 2008 14:45  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an excerpt of an article he wrote this week ---

I HATE when people use lots of unnecessary "smart" words just to show that they are intelligent.

What a tool.

"Mr. Badgley plays Dan Humphrey, the perennially upstanding (if prolifically romantic) member of a cadre of privileged young New Yorkers."

22 October, 2009 10:22  

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