Tag Archives: ya

An evening with David Levithan at Waterstones Piccadilly, the Place Where I Work Now (I Work At That Place)

3 Oct
Photo by Selma.

Photo by Salma.

David Levithan is the best-selling US author of over 15 books for young adults, including ‘Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist’ (upon which the twee film starring Michael Cera was based). Last night he appeared in conversation with fellow author Phil Earle, discussing his career and new novel ‘Every Day’. The event took place at Waterstones Piccadilly – where I now work as a bookseller.

(Did I mention that I work at Waterstones Piccadilly now? I work at Waterstones Piccadilly now.)

The two writers were super likeable, making jokes about ‘The Hunger Games’, fellow writers and Justin Bieber, and obliging their fans by staying to sign books at the end of the event. They even coordinating their checked shirts and blue jeans! I think I saw Patrick Ness in the audience as well, dressed in a similar attire, so I guess it’s the required uniform for male YA authors attending London book events.

The two hour event just breezed by, helped in part by the elderly woman sitting in the front row who provided much comic relief. The discussion and Q&A were bookended by chapter readings from ‘Every Day’ and ‘Two Boys Kissing’; both passages were really effecting and beautiful and I could tell immediately that Levithan is going to be one of my new favourite writers.

levithan2Earle and Levithan talked a little about his method, his penchant for blasting Tegan & Sara when writing, and his day job. It’s refreshing to hear of a best-selling author who still works a 9-to-5 and writes on the weekends!

I found the discussions of the politics surrounding queer identities in YA fiction particularly interesting. Some of Levithan’s books aren’t named too subtly, but he does this intentionally so that the young gay boy who sees ‘Two Boys Kissing’ in the library knows it’s there. Maybe he doesn’t check it out, but just seeing it on the shelf could give him the strength he needs to get through the day. I think that’s a nice sentiment.

levithan1

On the other hand, ‘Every Day’ has a vague and ambiguous title, but I suspect that pertains to the vague and ambiguous protagonist. He says he wrote the novel with two questions in mind:

  1. Who would you be if you had no body?
  2. You fall in love with the person from the last question. Can you?

A, the protagonist, is a genderless being who wakes up each day in a different host body. It’s a pretty neat concept. Almost all of the discourse in the novel is about gender, and there’s even a secondary transgender character in the book which is pretty spectacular. And it’s not just a one off! Even in ‘Lover’s Dictionary’ the gender of the lover is never specified.

It seems Levithan likes experimenting with style like this. In ‘Two Boys Kissing’, narrative is delivered from a chorus of last- and next-generation gay men. In ‘Lover’s Dictionary’, chapters were improvised from words picked at random from a dictionary. Levithan is also no stranger to collaboration either, having worked with a handful of other authors during his career.

According to Levithan, he realised he was a writer in the third grade when he felt disproportionately pleased with himself to have one of his characters “scamper” through a hotel lobby in one of his many chase scenes. I’m glad he’s still writing all these years later. He’s an important voice, not only for the queer community, but for anyone who likes plain old good fiction.

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Are Book Covers Gendered?

15 Jun

The answer is… probably. YA author Maureen Johnson set her Twitter followers the challenge of the ‘Coverflip‘ — taking a book that is marketed for one gender and then imagining it in reverse. She explains:

the simple fact of the matter is, if you are a female author, you are much more likely to get the package that suggests the book is of a lower perceived quality. Because it’s “girly,” which is somehow inherently different and easier on the palate. A man and a woman can write books about the same subject matter, at the same level of quality, and that woman is simple more likely to get the soft-sell cover with the warm glow […] This idea that there are “girl books” and “boy books” and “chick lit” and “whatever is the guy equivalent of chick lit” gives credit to absolutely no one, especially not the boys who will happily read stories by women […] I would love a world in which books are freed from some of these constraints.

It turns out that the results of Coverflip are a bit like the male pinup project Men-ups!, meaning that they’re a sad and absurd insight into how gender is represented, commodified and exploited… but they are also undoubtedly hilarious. Here are a few of my faves from Johnson’s Twitter followers (the original cover will appear first):

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The ‘Lord of the Flies‘ one just kills me.

Johnson (whose book appears in the slideshow above) notices that “lots of times the ‘perceived good’ stuff goes to male authors, with the female authors falling in that ‘let’s sell it as romance, which is soft and silly’ pile, when in fact romance is fascinating. And not all women write it.”

Jodi Picoult weighed in over Twitter:

Why is it ‘domestic fiction’ if a woman writes about family/relationships, but if a man does that, it’s Pulitzer-worthy? … what would happen if a woman submitted a book under male pseudonym to a publisher? Would it be treated differently?

And Amanda Hocking blogged:

more women read books than men, more women write books than men, but only a small fraction of books that win literary awards are written by women. Women are the publishing industry’s bread and butter, we are the backbone of the damn entertainment industry, but we are constantly demoted to ‘fluffy’ to ‘light’ to ‘meaningless’.

So, question time! Is the publishing industry inherently sexist when it comes to women’s fiction? If so, do we only think this because we think that “girlie things” are considered inferior by default? Do you judge a book by its cover? And what would a nongendered book cover look like? Does such a thing exist? Will this argument become moot when the Kindle takes over the world and the last book has been used as kindling? Is that why they named it that? Let me know in the comments!

New Fiction Review: ‘Doll Bones’ by Holly Black

1 Jun

dollbones

I won my copy of ‘Doll Bones’ through one of Goodread‘s First Reads competition and it couldn’t have come at a better time, as I was in the stages of recovering from a particularly bad ‘The Graveyard Book‘-induced book hangover. I hadn’t read any of Holly Black’s previous works (no, not even the Spiderwick Chronicles) so I didn’t know what to expect, but I thought this book might make an appropriate supplement to Neil Gaiman’s novel. I was not disappointed.

‘Doll Bones’ is an unexpected coming of age story which follows three preteen BFFs who are on a quest to placate a ghost who may, or may not, be haunting them in the guise of a bone china doll. With a father like the one in ‘The Neverending Story‘ and a naïvety concerning his affect on girls his age, Zach is a cute choice for protagonist. I love that he wasn’t a bit ashamed to be carrying around this doll, and his concern about growing up and having to stop playing with the girls was touching and poignant. One particular passage near the beginning reminded me of the first half of the latest Hyperbole and a Half blog post:

That was why Zach loved playing: those moments where it seemed like he was accessing some other world, one that felt real as anything. It was something he never wanted to give up. He’d rather go on playing like this forever, no matter how old they got, although he didn’t see how that was possible. It was already hard sometimes.

Growing up is inevitable and sad. Something gets lost but it doesn’t have to be lost forever… not if you don’t want it to be. I find myself wanting to write this C.S. Lewis quote down and slip it between the pages of one of Zach’s books (like he was doing in one of the library scenes): “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

‘Doll Bones’ is different to other quest plots in that the characters actually know they are ‘questing’. The children are fans of J.R.R. Tolkein, Doctor Who and other fantasy worlds; they relish the idea of their adventure, and some of the themes about growing up and putting toys away etc. play into this hope against all odds that magic can be real. This can be a little postmodern at times, for example when Zach is wondering about all the questers who must have failed before the heroes finally prevailed in the stories he loves, but it’s a nice touch and very fun to pick up on while reading.

I definitely wouldn’t recommend this book for children under the recommended reading age as it’s quite creepy – unless they’re connoisseurs of Goosebumps or whatever the contemporary equivalent is. I think a child revisiting this book when they’re fully grown will find it even more precious, after they’ve lived their own bildungsroman. Older readers should be able to get through this book in a couple of days. It’s really that absorbing. When you’re not reading it you’re wondering about the characters and their plight, and I think that’s the mark of a good novel. Black is clearly brilliant at creating story worlds, and despite the fantasy element of this one it was still totally believable. I’ll certainly be checking out her other writings – especially now as I have another book hangover to deal with!