12 December 2011

Wisest Thing I’ve Read Today

I much enjoyed editor Andrew Karre’s essay “#yamatters” at Hunger Mountain:

I’ve made the joke several times that there are two sure-fire ways to drive traffic to a blog or newspaper website. Barely informed speculation about a new Apple product is the first. Second is a half-baked analysis of the state of YA literature (“Think of the children!”). Sometimes this joke gets laughs. . . .

More than any other tech company, Apple thrives on disruptive technology. Remember the music industry before the iPod and iTunes? Remember what your cell phone looked like and what you expected it to do in 2006? Remember netbooks? And the list goes on. In short, a disruptive technology is some device or system that, when it enters an established market, changes everything. . . .

I believe modern novels for young readers—particularly YA novels—are a disruption in children’s books and maybe in books in general.
And just imagine what sort of disruption there will be when those crazy kids can read their books on their iPhones!

What? . . . Really?! . . . Oh, my god, the disruption!
Novels for teens and younger readers are substantially less intermediated and substantially more anticipated in real time. For affluent audiences of avid young adult readers, teachers and librarians no longer act as gatekeepers. They are still there, but now they’re just one of dozens of avenues for discovery. Fifteen years ago, authors were abstractions; today, they’re friends on Facebook, and we stay up until midnight to buy their new books at the moment of release.

Additional evidence of this disruption is abundant: Look at children’s and teen sections in stores and libraries now and fifteen years ago. Look at the sizes of book advances and print runs. Bestselling adult authors are writing YA novels (or feeling the need to deny that they’d ever do so—it’s the same thing really). Etc, etc. YA has disrupted children’s books.
Of course, this disruption follows the disruption of the Harry Potter series, with each volume rewriting the rules of publishing. Remember when it took months for books to be published on both sides of the Atlantic, when there was no New York Times best-seller list for children’s books, when everyone knew that eight-year-olds couldn’t possibly read more than 160 pages? And the scary part is that it’s the same readers!


Glenn Ingersoll said...

What will the Harry Potter generation do when they hit politics? Occupy?

J. L. Bell said...

Can we draw a line between the shared generational experience of staying up late to buy the next Harry Potter volume and staying out to Occupy Wall Street? Both involve the absolute necessity of standing up for justice and a certain amount of magical thinking.