Saturday, July 19, 2008

Pedestals and Landfills

I have for you today a couple of neat posts from Guys Lit Wire.

The first one is about the private identity crisis of children's and YA librarians, also known as "Do the awards we spend most of the year arguing about actually matter to the kids?"

As a former child, I feel qualified to comment. I rarely noticed whether a book had an award or not, especially when it was something like the Tri-County Stan Handford Award for Achievement in Excellence. They serve mostly as a tip-off to grownups that this is likely be a quality book, but even that comes with caveats. Some of the older Newberys have not aged well.

This is not to say that awards are crap. Recognition is good, and we shouldn't discount the grown-ups' need for a little help in picking books for their kids. Some of my old favorites were winners (The Blue Sword, for instance, may actually be buried with me. Ditto A Wrinkle in Time.) But that has more to do with the content of the stories and my own personal tastes than the fact that they were award winners. I have never gotten a child saying to me, "I want an award-winning book." They usually say something like, "I want a good book." Their definition of a good book (much like an award committee's) is subject to all sorts of personal quirks and preferences.

Okay, from one extreme to the other. The second post concerned that most historically reviled genre of kid's lit, comic books. It's only been in the past decade or so that libraries have begun to add graphic novels to their collections, and even so, it's done in a sort of appease-the-masses spirit. If they come in for Spider-Man, they may trip over Dosteyevsky on the way out, and then we have them MUAHAHAHAHA . . . ahem.

But Kristopher talks about what reading comics taught him about literature. He points out that comics readers rarely close the book without an opinion, or the desire to share that opinion with his or her fellow readers.
They’ll dissect plot arcs, character developments, and the internal logic of a comic, changes in costume and changes in tone, all the basic building blocks of a narrative. They will cite back issues as precedent.
You guys, I had that experience. It was called Literary Theory 101. And I have to tell you, it takes some wicked quality writing to support that kind of analysis.

So what do these two posts mean? Comic books good, award winners bad? Up is down? Bad is good? Black is white?

No. Black is still black, and white is still white. But literature, and people, exist in shades of grey. I am not arguing that books (and comic books) have no intrinsic value. They sure do. There's some real crap out there, people.

But the other half of the equation is the reader. And that, of course, is why we're all here.

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