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Thursday Midday Links: Authors & Morals

Publishers Weekly is offering the chance at getting a review in a new issue called PW Select. The PW Select is a self publishing supplement to be released in December. It will cost $149 to get listed although if you are a subscriber, you get one listing for free. Out of the listings, PW will review at least 25 books. PW plans to release four of these a year. Expect more of this “pay to play” to come in the future.

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Shannon Hale polled some of her fellow YA authors about morals and lessons in YA books. She received an interesting and varied response. One author commented that it seemed like too many books seem to encourage sex without consequences. Shelf Awareness had a small piece today on how no one seems to be commenting on the ultraviolence in the Hunger Games trilogy. One person shared with me that they wouldn’t read the Hunger Games because of the extreme violence toward children in this series. It’s certainly not a series I would want a young reader to read.

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Random House has come to terms with Andrew Wylie over the books Wylie had planned to publish exclusively in digital form through Amazon. Random House will now make these books available digitally to all its vendors. There is no word on the royalty rate that was agreed to although there was some speculation that new deals from Random House would entitle backlist authors to reach 40% royalty quickly.

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The PWxyz blog takes on the issue of serious readers. There are serious readers, the author of the piece suggests, and there are serious books. Serious readers are readers like her mother who reads all the time and spends quite a bit of money on books. Her mother, though, reads primarily bestsellers and Oprah blessed novels. I think it’s an interesting distinction between serious reader and serious books. Romance, for example, often does not deal with larger societal issues like hunger, poverty, war, racial inequality that say a fiction book or fantasy book does.

However, it does deal with micro societal issues. Can people of strong class differences overcome prejudices to stay together such as in Susanna Fraser’s The Sergeant’s Lady. Can someone emotionally stunted overcome his barrier to feeling to actually allow himself to be loved such as in Caitlin Carew’s Katrakis’ Last Mistress? Because these aren’t sweeping issues or big issues, they aren’t deemed to be serious and the fact that the end game is for two people to fall in love (or more) makes it even harder for critics to assign the label serious onto these books.

What remains unanswered in the PWxyz blogpost is what constitutes a serious book.

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Finally, I found this article to bring up a lot of thoughtful questions with no clear good answer. What rights do people have when they invite a journalist into their home? Asne Seierstad, the author of The Bookseller of Kabul, wrote a story based on the thoughts of a female Afghan refugee with whose family Seierstad lived for three months in Kabul. Some of the book portrayed the woman’s husband poorly and hinted at darker deeds. The husband sued for this depiction and the Norwegian court ruled against Seierstad and ordered her to pay a money judgment.

Finally, after years of litigation, a Norwegian court last month ruled against Seierstad and ordered her to pay 250,000 kroner (Dh148,000) to Rais's second wife Suraia. (Seierstad says she will appeal.) The court found that what Seierstad had written about Suraia Rais's private thoughts was sensitive and concluded neither Seierstad nor her publishers "can be considered to have acted in good faith to ensure they were correct and accurate".

This issue is slightly different than when Turcottes sued Augusten Burroughs and St. Martin’s Press for publishing “Running with Scissors”. The suit alleged Burroughs defamed them and was ultimately settled out of court. It’s always, always risky to base a story on real people without a consent and a waiver. But the Seierstad issue brings up cultural issues even if true for the repercussions may be severe such as the claim that Seierstad’s book made it impossible for the Afghan woman to live in Afghanistan any longer. Further, Seierstad revealed some of the most intimate details about this family including a description of the genitals of a woman which would be verboten in Afghani culture. But the ending of the article brought to mind what some of the YA authors said in response to Shannon Hale’s questioning about morals in YA books. An author almost always leaves a footprint behind in her words:

For the truth is not a blank slate, not the mere absence of fabrication. It is, rather, always edited, always selected. We choose what to ask and what to omit, what facts to weave into a narrative, what to leave implied. All of us who try to write about other people in other cultures are also writing about ourselves: our art is a self-portrait, so we are never neutral. In telling other people's stories, we always tell part of our own.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

34 Comments

  1. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 12:48:46

    Re YA lit. I don’t read it. Didn’t read it when I was a YA or a teenager. This is a weird take on sex and violence in books geared for teens, but bear with me:

    When I was a tween, FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, and assorted bodice rippers were a rite of passage. It was about rebelling, about breaking away, about reading scandalous things your parents didn’t know about. It was adult reading we read as tweens. All the girls I knew/hung out with–somebody was reading something equally shocking to us at that age.

    My mother refused to let me read Judy Blume (because she KNEW what those were, having been an elementary teacher), but there were copycats I read, which were designed to be instructive and informative (usually teen pregnancy, birth control, abortion) rather than straight stories. We knew that. We got tired of it and went for the narratives that didn’t preach. The ADULT ones.

    (Shoot, the romance novels of today [even some of the erotic romances] are a far cry from the novels we read in that they’ve became rather MORE moralistic.)

    YA literature (at least, as it was then) subverted our subversion, took away that thrill of what we weren’t supposed to be reading.

    I guess now it’s a different proposition, but that’s kind of my take on it. Maybe YA literature now IS the subversion from the more moralistic adult books? I don’t know.

    So with all that in mind, I heartily agree with Megan Whalen Turner, who said in the blog post, “I believe that the person who determines the right time is the child reader.”

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  2. Isabel C.
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 12:56:59

    Well, I’m kind of in love with Megan Whalen Turner now.

    I also read all kinds of books that my mom didn’t approve of, back in the day–oh, she *tried* to stop me from reading romance novels for a while, but she never got too Nancy Drew about what was under my bed–and I turned out, I think, okay.

    I disagree, I think, with the “sex without consequences” thing: most of the YA fiction I read doesn’t show anything similar. There are characters who have *protected* sex without consequences, but…okay, most of the people I know had protected sex as teenagers (for some value of “teenager”) and do now, and nobody’s had their lives OMGRUINED as a result. “Be careful, be responsible, but don’t be afraid if it’s what you want,” seems like a pretty good message to me!

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  3. Isabel C.
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 13:00:00

    Oh, and on the seriousness issue, I’ve read a couple romances that handled issues–Loretta Chase’s Miss Wonderful, for example, has a hero with PTSD and some pretty squalid descriptions of war–and I think it works fine there, too. Honestly not seeing much difference between that sort of thing and a lot of the Serious Literature I had to read in college–much of which concentrated on interpersonal and often romantic relationships–except that romance ends happily more often.

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  4. Jen Armintrout
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 13:14:23

    I think I would be more comfortable with my teenagers reading a book in which the characters have sex and nothing horrible happens than books that constantly stress how horrible sex is.

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  5. John
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 13:33:00

    @Moriah Jovan: Despite all the YA out there, I read FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC before I started reading YA. So it was more of a step down in disturbing. ^.^ Meghan Turner’s viewpoint is spot on, in my opinion. I can regulate what I am ready for quite well, and I don’t regret a single book I read (unless it was horrendously bad). I think YA is pretty on par with adult books in terms of morality. Some are highly moral, others are just stories.

    @Isabel C.: @Jen Armintrout: Agreed on the secks bit. YA shows it more realistically than non (with no horribly written bits that use food words as bad descriptors for body parts).

    The serious book thing brings up some interesting questions. I personally find most books to be serious in some way.

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  6. Aoife
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 13:43:56

    Concerning the violence in the Hunger Games series: POSSIBLE NONSPECIFIC SPOILERS

    It’s interesting to me how much of a pass it’s gotten, at least up until now. I can’t say it bothered me much in the first 2 books. It wasn’t graphic, and there was always a reason for it, in the sense of moving the plot along. It will be interesting to see if that lack of criticism continues for Mockingjay, because that is one very, very dark book, and the violence, while still not described in detail, is unending, and doesn’t in a lot of cases do much except reiterate the whole did-you-know-that-people-die-in-a-war? message. I hesitate to use the word gratuitous, but considering this is supposed to be a YA series, if I still had kids that age I’d really hesitate to let them read it without the agreement that we needed to discuss it after they read it.

    END SPOILERS

    I always think attempts to specify who is or is not a “serious” reader or a serious book are pointless. Who does it serve? And that is a serious question, not a rhetorical one!

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  7. Janet P.
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 14:08:03

    Decades ago Judy Blume wrote Forever simply to present the viewpoint that a 17 year old girl can and often does have sex without consequences. Here we are in 2010 full circle. I wonder what kind of consequences this author feels should befall a sexually active teen? Pregnancy, STDs, a broken heart, a scarlet A sewn upon her chest?? I myself am far, far away from those teen years and even back in the old days, very few of us graduated High School as virgins and the consequences were more exceptions than rules.

    Hunger Games, I certainly wouldn’t want my younger child reading it but I feel it is appropriate for the High School set. I can’t see my kid’s High School assigning it simply because our English Department has learned to run fast and hard from anything controversial.

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  8. dick
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 14:27:59

    I’m certain that some books should be taken more seriously than others, but I’m equally certain, having taught lit. courses for many years, that does not make those who read them serious readers. I’m always indecisive about the matter of keeping younger people from reading some books because of their content. I do know that there are books I regret having read, for they left behind images I’d rather not have in my head. I have the same problem trying to figure out how “forced seduction” isn’t rape, though, and reconciling an occurrence of it to an HEA.

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  9. Leslie Dicken
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 14:28:31

    One person shared with me that they wouldn't read the Hunger Games because of the extreme violence toward children in this series.

    I think the person you are referring to here is me. I’d never heard of the series, much less the book. But with all of the buzz, I googled and tried to find what it was about. What I read did not give me any interest in reading it. Let’s see: is it something about kids killing each other to a post-apocalyptic world?

    Maybe I’m a wimp. I don’t do horror and I can’t stand much violence. And I certainly don’t like them together involving children. My teen hasn’t expressed any interest in reading this series.

    Anyway, perhaps I’m missing out on something spectacular and I should take off my rose-colored glasses. But my reading time is limited and so I’d prefer to read about something cheerier, like people falling in love and happily ever afters. ;-)

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  10. Ridley
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 14:33:31

    I haven’t read Hunger Games because it sounds exactly like Battle Royale, only without the guns. I saw the movie based on Battle Royale and won a week of nightmares, so Hunger Games doesn’t really appeal.

    It is, of course, another sign of how screwed up we are about sex in this country. Look at video games, and Grand Theft Auto in particular. There’s a game where you can run down, shoot or club bystanders for money. That’s fine. But when that Hot Coffee mod was discovered, and there was *GASP* nudity in the game, holee sheeeit did people have a fit. There were congressional hearings and everything.

    So, armed robbery and murder = fine. Sex = ban hammer.

    I’ll just go ahead and roll my eyes at the hand-wringing over “sex without consequences.” It’s just more puritanical belly-aching over something that humans are expressly designed to do. More often than not, if they take precautions they learn about if they’re not saddled with abstinence-only sex ed nonsense, teens have sex without negative consequences, and have been for years. Why make up dire results? Just to please the censors?

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  11. Isabel C.
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 14:43:55

    I’m of two minds about the violence. On the one hand, what I hear about Hunger Games puts me off–not so much for the explicit violence but because of the GRIMDARK nature of the setting and, as Ridley said, the resemblance to Battle Royale. I’ll give it a whirl because one of my friends with good taste really likes it, but it’s not something I’d seek out on my own.

    On the other hand, well, the “I read all sorts of books when I was young and turned out okay” thing applies to violence as well: I think I was eleven when I picked up my first Stephen King novel. I don’t have kids and don’t plan to, so this is kind of an academic issue for me, but I think kids can handle a whole lot more, fictionally speaking, than most people give them credit for, provided they have a supportive home environment.

    There are things I really wish I hadn’t read–Jesus, the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark pictures still feature in my nightmares, and it’s been years–but you take your chances with literature, as with life. As long as the back cover copy and covers aren’t deceptive, I don’t think anyone should try and restrict reading material.

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  12. Eva_baby
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 14:58:08

    Not surprised by the lack of brouhaha over the violence in Hunger games vs. the pearl clutching over sexxxoring in…well anything.

    A flash of male frontal nudity = NC17 rating and a banishment to a film showing after 8pm and bring three forms of ID.

    Limbs being pulled off, evisceration, and bullets plowing into foreheads in full slo-mo = PG13 rating, Saturday matinees and pass the popcorn please!

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  13. Ridley
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 14:59:50

    @Isabel C.:

    Funny you mention Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I’m pretty sure it was that book that had a story about two kids finding some sort of chest in the woods and unwittingly loosing murderous aliens bent on world domination. That story stressed me out for years.

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  14. Isobel Carr
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 15:01:11

    @Ridley: Are you talking about the Japanese film, Battle Royale? I’ve always thought it was a fantastic film. Not sure I have any desire to read a post-apocalyptic take on the same concept though (I did download the first few teaser chapters on Amazon though, to see if the voice appeals to me).

    You can put me down as another person who didn't read “message” books as a teen and would never buy them for a teen I know or encourage teens I know to read them. Kids get enough “messages”, and if it was my kid, I'm much rather know that they're getting the message I want them to get (which would be sex positive al Jen Armintrout) rather than down OMGRUIN.

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  15. Ridley
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 15:17:58

    @Isobel Carr:

    Yup, that’s the movie. It’s based off the book of the same name by Koushun Takami.

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  16. cories
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 15:59:52

    I referred to “Hunger Games” as “Battle Royale with fewer delinquents” in my review. :)

    Frankly, considering how much violence was in Suzanne Collins’ previous series (Gregor the Overlander) for even younger readers, I don’t know why people are griping about the Hunger Games series. At least the latter series are YA/Teen books, not just juvenile fiction.

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  17. Carin
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 16:16:52

    Sex & Violence – now I really want to read Hunger Games!

    Serious books – my life is full of serious. Full to tip top and spilling over. I don’t need to read serious, I live it. So, please consider me a very happy serious reader of non-serious romance.

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  18. Kim in Hawaii
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 16:48:00

    @Ridley:

    You wrote, “It's just more puritanical belly-aching over something that humans are expressly designed to do.”

    I somewhat agree with you – but we inherited the puritanical belly-aching from our Puritan fathers who first settled in the New World. Are Americans ready to give it up? Your comment reminded me of my time at NATO. A college friend worked in Brussels when I worked near Aachen. We traveled with her international co-workers to the WWII historical sites in France. They always booked hotels with spas. At the end of our day’s adventure, they would relax in the sauna. We declined to join them, clinging onto our Puritanical ideals – towels and bathing suits were verboten. I applaud anyone who is comfortable to go buck-naked into a sauna with strangers, but I was uncomfortable doing this with higher-ranking officers from my work place.

    Likewise, I worked with Europeans who posted Playboy style calendars in our open office area. I found it a bit distracting to look at heaving bosoms when discussing war plans. Then again, few European males treated the US women with respect.

    Times have changed and Americans are more open about sex in society, on TV, and in books. But I still cling to those Puritanical ideals, as I am not quite ready to accept European practices!

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  19. MaryK
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 17:06:58

    I’ve always read a lot, excessively even to some people’s thinking. But as a teen the only YA I read was some YA SFF. I mostly went straight from Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys to Helen MacInnes and Mary Stewart. I didn’t like YA. They were all “message” books and I wanted to read “story” books. I do read some of today’s YA because there seems to be more YA “story” books than there were when I was young (gah, I must be geting old if I have to say that) and some of it is ageless.

    I’m not a big fan of sex in YA (or violence either; I’d rather eat a fly than read Lord of the Flies). I didn’t have sex in high school, and looking back, I think I’d have felt very marginalized if my reading material had contained as much teen sex as YA does now. If sex is necessary to the story, fine. But it shouldn’t be there “because that’s what teens do.” Even nowadays listening to all the talk about teen sex can make me wonder retroactively “what’s wrong with me.”

    re, serious books: I don’t believe it’s possible to make a definitive list of serious books. Reading is such a subjective activity that each reader has to make their own determination of whether a book is serious. IMO, a book is serious if it strongly affects a reader or is well loved by a reader. One of my serious books is Howl’s Moving Castle. (A YA book, ironically. I didn’t read it until I was 30+ though.)

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  20. Isobel Carr
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 17:07:42

    I guess I was raised “European”, LOL! Nude beaches, saunas, etc. don’t bother me at all. I’ve always found it strange that so many Americans are so uptight about stuff like that. And not just Americans. Look at the right now about the cover of The Golden Mean (naked guy on a horse). I think it's arty and beautiful and don't really get what all the fuss is about. Just seems like more “Oh, noes! What about the children?” to me.

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  21. Isobel Carr
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 17:10:35

    Not sure what when wrong with my code . . . that should read Look at the fuss in Canada right now about the cover of The Golden Mean

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  22. Isobel Carr
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 17:12:02

    Oh, gack. I give up.

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  23. MaryK
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 17:23:30

    Megan Whalen Turner, who said in the blog post, “I believe that the person who determines the right time is the child reader.”

    I have a confession. When I was a teen, I snuck a copy of A Knight in Shining Armor. And skipped the sex parts. :*)

    (It was an adult book. I’d have been shocked, shocked at sex in a teen book.)

    {Also, I developed a distinct distaste for time travel books.}

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  24. Jia
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 17:30:02

    @Isobel Carr: I hope you don’t mind but I’m about to take the liberty of fussing around with your comment because something in it is borking the code for the site. I’ll leave everything else alone. I just have to fix whatever code is screwy.

    ETA: There, all fixed!

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  25. Aoife
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 17:38:09

    @Carin

    Well, if you’re looking for sex in any of the Hunger Games books you’re going to be very disappointed! However, the amount of violence makes up for it.

    I find sex in YA to be pretty inoffensive. And whether a teen is sexually active in high school or not, I can 100% guarantee that s/he knows lots of someones who are. As long as it’s well done, not graphic, and serves the story, I can’t see a problem. But then, I’ve never been a Puritan!

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  26. DS
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 19:45:52

    I saw a bit of pearl clutching over a rather inoffensive book called Wings. The book had some kisses as the over overt sexual acts, but there was a statement that fairies had two ways of having sex, one was for procreation and one was for fun. The idea of telling teens that it was possible to have sex for fun (at least if you were a fairy) rattled a few cages. That was amusing.

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  27. LoriK
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 19:58:11

    My observation about the violence in The Hunger Games is that adults are far more freaked out by it than the target audience is. I enjoyed the first 2 books in the trilogy (haven’t gotten Mockingjay yet), but there were points where I found myself thinking, “OMG! These are children.” I’ve talked to several kids who have read it and none of them reacted that way.

    My best guess is that it’s a matter of adults feeling protective of the characters and kids relating to them, and thus having a completely different emotional reaction. If I had a child who wanted to read them I wouldn’t try to stop her. Depending on the child I might insist that we talk about it after, but I wouldn’t try to forbid it.

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  28. lucy
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 22:33:05

    I think its true that teens are more hardy than adults give them credit for. When I was a teen I didn’t read YA because I thought it was too tame. And
    where are people finding these YA books with sex? I can probably name one or two books where there is closed-door sex. But most of the YA books I read only contain kissing.

    Also, I must be desensitized because when I read the hunger games, it didn’t even crossed my mind to think it was violent.

    I kinda hate labeling books as serious or non-serious. One of my main frustrations growing up was that people thought romance was fluff and therefore a waste of time.

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  29. John
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 23:03:59

    @DS: That book completely disappointed me. Twilight with faeries. No character personalities to be seen. BUT. I must admit the sex concept was amusing and the world building good. I didn’t even think about the two ways of having sex being an issue. Like people never do it for fun? ::stares at shelves of romance novels, confused::

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  30. Merrian
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 23:04:27

    I heard an interview with Asne Seierstad, the author who wrote the ‘Bookseller of Kabaul’ a few weeks ago. As I listened to her and the interviewer I felt I was hearing two western women express their right and entitlement to ‘the story’ in a way that was a s much ‘power over’ as the man had in his family. The interviewer’s rationale for the story was that ‘we’ needed to hear these stories so we would be moved and do something about the situation of women in Afghanistan. All I heard in the discussion was abuse of power. There is no way anyone in the household would have been able to give informed consent to the note taking and the book or understand what any potential consequences might be. ‘Our’ need to know? Or ‘our’ desire to be voyuers? It is a balance as to how necessary stories are told but this one begins and ends very wrongly.

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  31. Suze
    Aug 27, 2010 @ 00:53:39

    @Isobel Carr: Seriously? They’re a “family show”, so they refuse to show that cover? That just makes me embarrassed on behalf of my fellow Canadians. I’ve seen more graphic and offensive nudity than that at the flipping mall. What’s wrong with a bum?

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  32. Isobel Carr
    Aug 27, 2010 @ 12:21:27

    @Jia: That’s Jia! I seriously couldn’t type yesterday, and clearly my HTML skills were also MIA. And the more I tried to fix it, the worse it got. *sigh*

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  33. Randi
    Sep 16, 2010 @ 17:08:46

    In terms of violance and YA, is there any difference between Lord of the Flies and Hunger Games? Because Lord of the Flies was given to us to read in junior high (in the late 80′s), which would make it YA, and, IMO, that was a seriously violant and disturbing book.

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  34. Jane
    Sep 16, 2010 @ 18:30:59

    @Randi: It’s on par with Lord of the Flies.

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