Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

random, or maybe not quite

Thanks to Becca, I just read this fabulous story by Jenny Davidson, about reading books that don't yet exist. I am doing that myself right now in the normal way of things, that is by reading an ARC (advance reading copy) of a novel by Justine Larbalestier (whose trilogy I found out about by reading around in Jenny's blog, now that I think of it). I think all obsessive readers have found themselves wanting more of their favorite authors and books, which is why Jenny's story works so well--who among us hasn't, really, had this kind of fantasy in one way or another?

But I can't agree with her (or, to be fair, her character's) assessment of Summerland, which for me falls into the same category as Adam Gopnik's The King in the Window, of books written for children by authors who usually write for adults that I really didn't like even though I wanted to. Yes, that category. I actually (like the character in the story before she reads Summerland) haven't read any other Chabon, either. I've looked at the covers and thought I should, I've read his wife Ayelet Waldman's novels, I've even gone so far as to look at Chabon's novels in libraries and think, yes, when I have time, I should read that. And maybe I still will. But Summerland...well, it's been a while. But, really. I love books where kids save the world as much as the next person and, really, probably much more. I did just teach a whole class on the topic, more or less. But Summerland just didn't quite work for me. Is it because baseball was the instrument of salvation? I don't think so--actually that's quite a nice conceit. I think, though, as with Gopnik's book, that I simply didn't trust the author's sense of his audience. Now this is tricky. I loved C.S. Lewis as a child, but as an adult I find his attitude towards his audience offensive. At some level this shouldn't matter, as I am no longer that target audience. That is, when he condescends to children, and I find that objectionable, how could it matter when, as a child, I didn't find it objectionable? I don't know, and I don't know if I would have liked Summerland (or The King...) when I was a child. (Though is it fair to add that Mariah, who is closer to childhood than I am, was also underwhelmed by the Gopnik novel? I don't think she read Summerland. Also I should note that I do like Summerland better than The King in the Window, though I'm not sure why I think I should note that. I didn't, that is, hate Summerland; I just kind of went "eh.")

This issue of audience is vexing, and I wish I had a better set of tools to approach it. I feel as if I'm relying on generalizations and feelings that I can't support. I may try Summerland again; I may not.

[edited to add: I don't mean to say that either Gopnik or Chabon actually condescends to his audience in the books I mentioned in the way that Lewis does to his. But I do think they both bear some trace of the author thinking "this is not my usual audience," a trace that somehow for me diminishes the reading experience.]

1 comment:

  1. Interesting--I am glad you liked the story, though--I find that question of audience for YA books important but very difficult to pin down in terms of tone. Philip Kerr also wrote a YA book that had the problem you diagnose here, and I am not positive about Jonathan Stroud's either (I liked the first one very much indeed, the next volume not so much). I have been meaning to reread Summerland, will see what I think this time round....