Let's talk about the label-ization of books (and Kristin Cashore)

Friday, July 6, 2012

The other day I pondered my own capabilities as an interviewee and concluded that I still need a bit of work.

A lot of work?  Yes, indeed.  A lot of work.

In this New York Times By the Book interview, Kristin Cashore, author of the esteemed Graceling (which I read and loved) and Fire (and, now, Bitterblue) shows us how a real interviewee chooses words rightly.  For Cashore's unwillingness to cop to easy answers or generalizations, for her range of knowing and wisdom, I respect the whole conversation.  I especially respect Cashore's response to the question, What makes a great young adult book — as opposed to a great book for full-fledged adults? Her answer:
The fact that at the moment the distinction is being made, a young adult, as opposed to an adult, is the one reading it. In other words, I don’t entirely believe in the distinction. A great book is a great book, and it’s impossible to say what part of a person is going to connect to it. Age and experience aren’t always among the most relevant factors.
Perhaps I celebrate this response because I hold this opinion this myself—and have often tried to express it, with varying degrees of eloquence, in interviews and on panels.  Just as I have fretted over the labeling of individuals, the attaching of classifications or lower-case nouns (oh, he's a manic depressive, oh, she's a workaholic), I do not cotton to the label-ization of books, to distinctions between young adult books and adult books, say, or to the assignment of fixed and self-limiting categories.  

What adult, for example, should not read Thanhha Lai's Inside Out & Back Again, and what teen should not read the never-officially-stamped-or-stickered To Kill a Mockingbird? Why should the first thing one is told about Julianna Baggot's Pure be that it is a dystopian novel, as opposed to an intelligent and artful and imaginative novel? Shouldn't the readership of Vaddey Ratner's astonishing, forthcoming "adult" novel about a child growing up in the Cambodian killing fields, In the Shadow of the Banyan, be both teens and adults? Doesn't Ilie Ruby's forthcoming The Salt God's Daughter have much to offer any age, and can't we talk about its gentle mysticism, its magic as poetry as opposed to brand or tag?

Certainly, I know how hard this would make things for booksellers and librarians.  I know that commerce requires labels, depends on it.  But wouldn't it be lovely if readers talking to readers dropped the labels and distinctions?  If we said, among ourselves, You must read this book because it is, quite simply, a great book, and because it will transport you. 


Elizabeth Mosier said...

I couldn't agree more! Thanks for posting, Beth!

Serena said...

I really love some adult books and some young adult books and they both appeal for different reasons

Liviania said...

I am one of many adult readers who reviews young adult books. I wish people didn't ask us to justify our reading material. I choose to read young adult books because it is an exciting, amorphous label full of mind-blowingly good books. It's not because I'm stuck in my childhood.

Amy said...

I agree one hundred percent!

KFP said...

In addition to the YA/adult crossover and vice versa, I have always advocated that adults should read picture books—that they are not just for kids. Nor do you have to have kids to read them.

In an essay I once wrote on this topic I said that picture books can be beautiful, moving, funny, heartbreaking, inspiring, informative and full of insights about life. They [can] contain great characters and great stories, and, often, prose that reads like poetry. In short, they [can] do everything a good 'adult' book does—only in less space.

And, yes, as you said, they can transport you.

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