17 September 2003

Sigh. An article in yesterday's Boston Globe further demonstrates just how blindered the so-called "publishing press" remains about publishing, particularly publishing categories. In telling a bit about one YA author, the Globe proclaims:

[Beverly] Horowitz[, vice president and publisher for Delacorte Press/Random House's young reader's division,] says the young-adult fiction market is not only growing but widening: "The readership is getting younger and older. We have readers as young as 11 and some as old as 17."…. While there seem to be no industry-wide figures that break out that category from the $1.8 billion juvenile publishing segment (according to the Association of American Publishers), there's no question that publishers are investing in it. The success of J. R. R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and J. K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series has stoked young readers' and publishers' appetites for fiction, especially dreamlike tales about other worlds.

David Mehegan, "Young Adults Are Reading One of Their Own," Boston Globe (16 Sep 03).

   Kids don't give a rat's ass about the category, or category listings—or, at least, kids who select their own reading material don't. Unfortunately, the various "age" categories have, over the last decade, become highly correlated with the silly "age" categories established by the MPAA for movies. "YA" and "teen" appear to be code for "PG–13", but without the intellectual honesty to admit that that is what is going on. The Puritanical prejudices behind the MPAA rating system appear, based on what I am seeing in the chain stores, to be at least as strong in written "kidlit." Sex is right out, but healthy gore is fine. Glorification of drugs is right out, but so is questioning of plutocracy or American hegemony (even in those works that come even close to those subjects that somehow sneak into kidlit). Authority figures, however, are very black and white: they are either entirely good, and therefore to be completely trusted, or entirely evil, and therefore to be opposed by all means (usually involving any child-protagonists having to educate their parents or other adults about just how evil the authority figure really is). And overt questioning of Judeo-Christian values, doctrine, or religious hierarchy… are you out of your mind?

   The story in question concentrates on the semi-celebrity of one particular author without ever asking if there is anything else going on here. That is the problem; it's that whole "cult of the author" again. Of course, since author identity is treated more and more as a brand name, that should not really surprise anyone.

   There is a point here. It's a point related, believe it or not, to Nike. And telemarketers. And the tension among marketing strategies, the First Amendment, and fraud.