Monday, June 6, 2011

The Light and Dark of Lit

I was totally confused by the outrage I read expressed last week at the Wall Street Journal article on young adult literature. So much anger expressed toward the author. You would think these people were influenced by the all the darkness in teen fiction.

But this is what I took away from the article: "The book business exists to sell books; parents exist to rear children, and oughtn't be daunted by cries of censorship."

I am not a parent. I was one, but I traded my children a long time ago to a witch who lived in the woods for the power to give David Caruso his comeback. I admit it was a stupid thing, but man, I really thought he deserved another chance. Ironically, I've never seen even one episode of CSI Miami. Is it any good?

I am not a parent. That's not my job. But the librarian's job, my job, is to support the freedom to read.

So my job is not to be a parent. My job is to buy quality books. And if not quality books, popular books that may or may not be of any great quality.

Librarians are continually stating that it's the parents' responsibility to monitor what their children read. But how can parents make these judgments if they get criticized for making these critical decisions? Even the recent NPR article criticizes parents who keep kids from reading what they want, "Banning is banning, not guidance, and if the suggestion is that that's the parenting role, it has to be done ... regretfully, I think. Even for parents acting with regard to their own kids, the act of one human being actually preventing another human being from reading a book is a grave decision." Even though the next sentence says, "Obviously, not everything is appropriate for every audience..."

So if something isn't appropriate, how is the parent supposed to direct the teen toward something else without seeming like a monster?

But this isn't my battle. I still feel that this is an area for parents only. I would never criticize a parent for judging a YA book as inappropriate for her child. It is only my job to find books which ARE appropriate for my patrons.

But for these parents who want to keep their kids from reading literature that's too dark, maybe they can find a way to do it while avoiding any of the intellectual freedom "black list" terms:
Don't say you won't let your teen read the book because it has too many vampires, zombies or werewolves; say it's not vegan friendly.

My job is to help people find something to read. And if your library has teen reading lists for "dark" books but can't offer a parent a similar list for books that don't dwell in the darkness, then I'd say you need to work on that part of your job because there's one patron your library isn't helping.


  1. Dear the.effing.librarian,

    This comment is not about the substance of the issue raised.

    This comment is my chance to tell you that I really enjoy your tweets. They are really funny yet topical. I recommend everyone in the library community subscribe to your tweets. Even your Twitter graphic is funny.


  2. Well, effing librarian, I'm a parent of teens and also a librarian and I happen to agree with your bewilderment. I took that article a totally different way than so many of the outraged responders. I don't think that the writer was saying that parents should censor or ban books from their children, rather they were remarking on the fact that there is such a preponderance of dark and dystopic YA Lit dominating the new book shelves lately that it is difficult to find anything else. Parents and children should have plenty of choices in both directions and it seems to me that the selection out there is overly-balanced towards the dark and grisly. Maybe I'm wrong, but I see a lot of YA lit getting checked out and that is my personal experience.

    I refuse to limit my girls' reading--no one ever limited mine as a teen and I turned out okay-- but I can wish that there was more publicity for new YA books with less darkness and brutality, yet without some smarmy, sweet social message. Thank goodness for Terry Pratchett and Megan Whalen Turner, and others like them.

    I also think that people who look back nostalgically on their own risky reading as teens forget that they weren't quite as connected, worldwide, as teens are right now. Not only are teens getting a dark worldview from books, they're getting it from the internet and television. That's a big burden to carry on thirteen-year-old sensitive shoulders.

    (Revie1 on Twitter)