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Raise Your Hand if You’re a NYT SF/F Book Reviewer Who Hates Young Adult Fiction!

NYT SF/F book reviewster Dave Itzkoff is at it again

As someone whose subway rides tend to resemble scenes from an “Evil Dead” movie, in which I am Bruce Campbell dodging zombies who have had all traces of their humanity sucked out of them by a sinister book – not the “Necronomicon,” but “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” – 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?

How can anyone take this guy seriously? This is like a repeat of Clute!

[Brought to you via the letter “L” (as in “Loser”) and also via the ever-diligent Antick Musings, who points at Itzkoff and says “Look at the funny monkey!” Heh-heh. I wish I wrote that. As it is, it’s taking every iota of strength not to photoshop Itzkoff into a monkey. Hmmm…I think I sense a Photoshop challenge… :)]

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

19 Comments on Raise Your Hand if You’re a NYT SF/F Book Reviewer Who Hates Young Adult Fiction!

  1. If the issue here is Young Adult fiction and how depressing it is that so many adults read it . . . . yeah, I agree – it’s depressing.

  2. Anonymous // February 3, 2008 at 4:16 am //

    What do you expect from anyone that writes for the New York Times? Just be glad they’re not so busy pushing Communism that they have to make stuff up and report it as news anymore — reviewing fiction is probably the best they can do, someone else already did the making stuff up part!

  3. I started to say this is the problem with genre categories like YA, and I think it is, but then I realised that’s not what Itzkoff illustrates.

    That being the problem with reviews written to make sweepingly negative or positive statements in order for them to be newsworthy. They’re designed to get a reaction, even if the reaction is “Itzkoff maybe needs to examine his logical reasoning facilities”.

    And, to be fair, that job has been done.

  4. General X // February 3, 2008 at 9:40 am //

    Harry Potter is YA. Hmm.

  5. I think Clute had a point and I think that the NYT guy has a point too.

    YA fiction is a bit like “children’s videogames”. In truth all those are is watered down version of other games and cheap cash-ins aimed at easily influenced kids. Whenever I see a game “designed for kids” I remember that I used to play videogames as a kid and I never once wished that something more obviously aimed at my level would turn up.

    In the case of YA I think that there are adult genre works that cover the same ground and that the adults should really be reading those books.

    I also find it funny that young adult fiction, a genre that isn’t entirely SF or fantasy or horror, now gets protected by the (largely self-defeating) Umbrella o genre protection. Let young adults defend their own fucking fiction.

  6. Itzkoff also seems to forget that Sid & Nancy died close to 30 years ago…

  7. Young adult here. Defending my fiction.

    Itzkoff’s little rant is interesting, because it’s a SF/F reviewer (so, presumably a person who likes genre fiction) using the same argument against YA books that most reviewers use against genre fiction. You’d think he of all people would realize what a crappy argument that is.

    Obviously, there are a lot of crap books aimed at kids. There are also a lot of crap books written for adults, so that doesn’t mean much. There are also a lot of “media tie-in” books written for kids, but adult fiction isn’t free of that either. (Star Wars & Star Trek, I’m looking at you.) So what? The fact is, adult fiction needs children’s and YA fiction, because that’s what generates adult readers. I read through most of the books in the children’s/YA section of my library before I moved into the adult section. The children’s section is where I learned to love reading, all reading, all genres, well-written, badly-written, everything. It’s where I learned what good and bad writing were.

    I see a lot of dignity in that, and a lot of artistic satisfaction.

    (PS: I’m twenty years old. I read Harry Potter. I make no apologies for that.)

  8. I think it’s a waste of time to trash on adults for reading YA novels. Let’s just be glad they’re reading at all.

  9. I have to agree with “bloginhood”. Itzkoff is missing the point. Kid’s reading is better than kids not reading. Sounds to me like his last masterpiece hit the trashcan at his publishers office and now he’s projecting his dissatisfaction.

    Bitter old man syndrome.

  10. To pan young adult fiction as a whole is silly. Like any other genre, there’s a wide variety, some good, and some not so good.

    Also, I find it strange that later in the article, Itzkoff praises some instances of the genre he dismissed at the beginning. I think Andrew Wheeler hit the nail on the head when he said Itzkoff just needed to fill his column space. I agree with Andrew’s whole take on the issue, in fact.

  11. Brrr… That was one lousy article. The guy seems to be entirely clueless, pointless, and self-contradictory. I think I’ll join with Neil to the “Itzkoff maybe needs to examine his logical reasoning facilities” club.

    As for reading YA, I don’t see the problem. Badly written books are bad. Well written books are good. That fits whether they are YA books, or not. I read through YA books that were good, and I read through YA books that were idiotic, and in the latter cases the fault wasn’t with the genre but with a writer going about it the wrong way.

  12. Much as I agree that Itzkoff seems out of touch with the speculative genre, you’re taking that quote and presenting it out of context. It’s pretty clear (to me at least) when you read the whole article that he uses the quote in a tongue-in-cheek way to wonder out loud what the value is, and then he answers by pointing out two examples of YA fiction that contradict his cursory thoughts on YA fiction in general.

  13. Noosh, that’s not how I read this article, at all.

    He does present two examples of YA books that he likes, yes. But throughout the text he keeps claiming, time after time, that the things he likes about them is how different they are from most everything else in YA, and that those differences are the only/main thing that make these books good. (And never mind that while Un Lun Dun is indeed very different, it is a Miéville after all, InterWorld doesn’t sound very far from well established ground and from other YA books in SF).

    So maybe he doesn’t claim all YA is without value, without dignity, and without the possibility of artistic satisfaction for the writer. He just claims that ~99% of it is, but if someone really tries to be different then it’s actually possible to write something good and squeeze it into the YA genre.

    Not what I call a warm endorsement. Quite extreme in the other direction, actually. Which is where we have the problem.

  14. Interesting article that gives a great deal of insight on just what kind of (bad) fiction this author enjoys. I was certainly enlightened by his description of what Mieville was trying to do with Un Lun Dun. I have to admit that I haven’t finished the book…I found it so exasperating (moments of brilliance followed up mid-thought by moments of excrutiatingly poor writing) that I had to put it down half way through. It was a book that had so much potential and I felt its flaws were way too glaring to make me want to continue. And Interworld. I am a huge Neil Gaiman fan and Interworld was just not a good book. Not at all. It had moments, but overall it was an unsatisfying book and a huge disappointment. If those are his examples of good YA fiction then I think his credibility as a reviewer we should listen to is certainly in question.

  15. Anonymous // February 5, 2008 at 2:04 pm //

    Yaron, fair enough. I do see how you can interpret it that way, I just felt most of the comments were attacking that particular quote without reading the whole article. I still feel Itzkoff was trying for something a little different than his normal moronic opinions, but, to be honest, I’m not quite sure why I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt.

  16. oops, last post by Noosh.

  17. He starts off by trashing Potter and then praising Un Lun Dun. A worthy task, in my opinion. Un Lun Dun was great.

  18. Noosh, don’t be so hard on yourself for giving people the benefit of the doubt. I agree that it’s a major character flaw, but usually it’s not treatable, so you may as well forgive yourself. 😉

    Ed, It’s true that Potter are far from being the best urban fantasy books I’ve ever read. But they’re not that bad. And should be great (sales data would indicate are great) for the YA crowd, and anyone else who is interested in a relatively light and easy to digest fantasy. Those qualities are not necessary to be good, but they’re also emphatically not bad. I think the craziness over this series may deserve a little trashing, but the books themselves don’t.

  19. As long as someone is READING, then who cares.

    Personally I run through they Heinlein books just for fun, and the YA books are a pretty good read.

    Though HIS books also have astrological calculations that you can read inter spaced in between things (I’m too stupid for that I don’t need to stretch my brain while reading a book about Mars/Venus with intelligent life

    I read for FUN, not to say “hey look, I read that book TO”

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