DWJ: OT Books set at universities

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Sat Feb 16 02:18:17 EST 2002

On Mon, 11 Feb 2002 12:30:00 -0500 (EST), lpuszcz at uoft02.utoledo.edu wrote:

>And can someone explain to me why there is such resistance by some people
>to YA books/sci fi/fantasy books? I suggested _Year of the Griffin_ to
>this person, telling her about the various ways DWJ criticizes the
>university, and she sounded really interetsed, then I let slip that it was
>a YA book about a university for magic, and you should have just seen the
>loook on her face.  

I know this is sort of a rhetorical question...or at least, it's effectively
a rhetorical question, because there's no knowing what some people think.
But it's such a common reaction, isn't it, at least in some circles?  I have
a few guesses about *some* of the reasons people might have this attitude.

About young adult books:

Some years ago my sister-in-law was at our house, getting ready for a long
road trip, and wanted to borrow a book.  "Something not depressing," she
said, and lacking a library of the kind of book she normally reads, I
offered her _Howl's Moving Castle_.  (Years later, I was astonished at
myself--what if she'd lost it, or worse, ruined it?  At the time it was
nearly impossible to replace.)  She gave me That Look (I know exactly the
one you mean, Laurie) and said, "But this is a KIDS' book!"  I just told her
that it had a good ending, that it was worth reading, and said not a word
about how it was much higher in quality than the kind of "adults'" novels
she usually read.

(She loved it.  Loaned it to another sister, who also loved it and
eventually got it back to me only a little dogeared.  It's never happened
again.  If my husband's family didn't actually enjoy reading so much, I
would take steps to prevent them ever owning books.  _Queen of Sorcery_ and
_Sorcery and Cecilia_ were hashed.  _Dune_, _Lost Boys_ and _Jurassic Park_
disappeared entirely.)

People have a lot of unsupported notions about what grownups are supposed to
read.  I'm reminded of Susan Pevensie from the Narnia books, all eager to
grow up and wear lipstick--but what saddened me wasn't her desire for the
trappings of adulthood, but how much she despised her childhood (in the
sense of "holding in despite," not reckoning as worth much, rather than
"hated," because she liked her Narnia adventures when she was in them).  I
think some people think of childhood as a stage you endure so you can become
an adult, rather than a foundation upon which your later life is built.  And
it's certainly true that there's a lot of YA fiction that is fluffy and
irrelevant after you've learned the lessons it tries to teach.  I wonder if
many of the people who snub YA books do so because they only ever read
_Sweet Valley High_ or Lurlene McDaniels or V.C. Andrews.  If you don't know
the amazing variety and depth that's out there, there's little reason as an
adult to prowl the young adult section.

But my sister-in-law was just uninformed.  Active snobbery comes from
something else: the desire to be superior to someone else.  There are a few
adults who would like to believe that reading YA fiction is an inferior
mental exercise to reading "grownup" books.  These people should be locked
in a closet with _Hexwood_ and sufficient food to survive on until they
figure it out.  :)  Others seem to think that only books that are overtly
about adult issues are of value to adults--that you can't learn anything
about, say, raising a family from _Archer's Goon_.  Ha.  Think about what an
uncritical mind that reveals.  It takes *more* thought to find relevance in
a story that isn't directly about you or someone like you.

Science fiction and fantasy:

It was in my teens that I was embarrassed to be caught reading science
fiction and fantasy, not as an adult--and that was because I could stand
being teased myself, but hated having my favorite books ridiculed.  In
college I discovered how to wield critical rhetoric in defense of anything,
and in addition to this I went to Brigham Young University, which has a
THRIVING fan population.  (Their annual symposium on science fiction and
fantasy is next weekend.  Larry Niven and Jennifer Roberson are guests of
honor.)  So I can't say that I know a lot of adults who deride SF and
fantasy the way I've heard YA books mocked.  But when I have, it's been
along the same lines: ignorance and snobbery.  One man who had read some SF
in his teens said something like "once I figured out that all SF novels are
metaphors for real-life problems, I decided I didn't want to waste my time.
If I want to read a critique of racism, I'll read a historical novel or a
biography, not _Ender's Game_."  He really thought he was superior in
intellect to the poor idiots who had to have their sociology cloaked in
metaphor.  There's not much you can do with this attitude.  Other people,
again, simply have no idea what SF really *is* and aren't interested in
finding out.

But I can only guess.  I would really like to sit someone like this down and
ask, in a curious and non-confrontational way, what she really thinks!  I
wonder how honest an answer I would get--not that I would expect the person
to be deliberately dishonest, of course.  But I think people tend to fool
even themselves about why they think the way they do.

Melissa Proffitt
(rambling late at night)
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