the teenage dream?

Eventually, in this article/mess, I will talk about Zac & Mia by A.J. Betts. But you have been warned, it seems that it took me a LONG time to get there. Ah well. Enjoy my brand of literary ranting and raving.

In early 2010, I went to Wellington for an Amanda Palmer concert. As was tradition.* Part of my excuse for trekking down country for a musician I had seen more than a couple of times was a) I had a free ticket and b) Neil Gaiman was also in town, hurrah! I had finally actually read some Gaiman by this point, having shamefully not actually touched any of his work when I met him eight-ish months earlier.**

So I dutifully purchased a ticket to the ‘An Evening With…’ type event that was going on at the Town Hall the day after the Amanda show (if memory serves), but I still had time to burn before the gig, and discovered that Neil was doing a session with Australian author Margo Lanagan on YA fiction, chaired by Kate de Goldi. What’s not to like? I bought a ticket, and headed to The Embassy***. And it was thoroughly illuminating.****

There was a sense of agreement among the authors that kids are really good at self-censoring – that’s to say, even when reading things above their intended age, oftentimes the things that are ‘inappropriate’ will just go over their heads. I thoroughly agree with this – I can’t come up with an book-related examples off-hand, but when I look back at all the dirty jokes and suggestive lyrics in films and songs that I watched and listened to without a care in the world as a kid, it does make me think that there’s something to it.

Related to this, both authors seemed to say that despite writing for a range of ages, they don’t go into a story thinking ‘this is something that I’m writing for teenagers’  – rather it is something that is the product of publisher and editorial decisions made on something that has grown of its own accord, without working to fill some sort of age-genre niche. It makes me wonder how things would work if other authors worked in a similar system, how it would (or wouldn’t) affect the way that trends work.

Because that’s what this is basically meant to be about, before that introductory tangent happened. Young adult genre trends, and how strange they are. Really. It really does open your eyes as to just how swayed by current interests the teenage/young person mindset is when you see just how overwhelmingly trend-driven YA fiction is. There are obviously ebbs and flows in terms of what is most popular in the world of regular adult fiction, with occasional strange outliers like Fifty Shades of Grey, but as a whole, people can have specific interests in any genre, and there’s going to be new stuff being churned out on a regular basis, be it thriller, sci-fi, ‘literary fiction’ (borrowing Ellie Catton’s quote marks there), or what-have-you.

But teenagers! My goodness. At this moment, it’s perhaps not so mad as it has been at some points in recent years – it seems to be a bit of a transitional period at present – but having worked in a kids’ department in the height of Meyer-mania, the proliferation of vampire (and later Insert-Paranormal-Creature-of-the-Month – did anyone else read Switched by Amanda Hocking? Or as my former workmate Rosie and I referred to it “that troll book”?) fiction was INSANE. I mean, everyone knows that. If it’s not Twilight, it’s Vampire Academy or Vampire Diaries, or Blue Bloods, or The Mortal Instruments. Money spinners, every one – and I won’t claim to judge them for quality, because I haven’t read most of them. I did read all four Twilight books (and the companion novella The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner) and the first book of The Mortal Instruments, but, in case you’re interested, here are my excuses/reasons.
1. Twilight – I found an abandoned copy at O’Hare Airport on my way to Montreal. Made for good plane reading.
2. New Moon – I forgot to bring a book with my on the plane to Florida, and it was the cheapest English language book in the Montreal airport bookstore.3. Eclipse – I had confessed that I’d read them to a friend, and when she came to visit me she brought a copy of Eclipse with her that she’d found while cleaning out a flat or some such.
4. Breaking Dawn – By this stage, I have to admit, I did actively borrow it from a friend (thanks, Mel!), just so that I could say I’d seen it through to the end.
5. The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner – Off-site sale store, just myself and much less-than-riveting stock for company. So over the course of a few shifts I stealthily worked by way through the book (as well as a re-read of The Bad Beginning. Miss you, Botany Town Centre (not).
6. City of Bones. I don’t know if Cassandra Clare is quite in the same ‘really?!’ league as Stephenie Meyer, but still. I read this because it was on my Kobo when I was in hospital after my op last year, and it managed to make more sense than Atwood or Asimov in my morphine haze.

I’m just all about the tangents today, aren’t I? It has been a long day.

Anyway. We were talking about trends! So, as most people will be aware, the next major Young Adult Fiction Trend after paranormal romance was/is Dystopia. Which is very much more up my alley. You all of know my Atwood obsession – and more specifically my Atwood speculative fiction obsession. A good dystopia is just brilliant, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. The cautionary tale element, perhaps, or maybe I just have no faith in the future of the human race? Depends on the day. Regardless, The Handmaid’s Tale and the Maddaddam trilogy are some of my favourite books of all time. And suddenly, there were going to be new dystopic books written in such a way as to be consumed swiftly and easily. Frabjous day!

The Hunger Games was excellent, to a point. I’m not unique in my opinion that the second two books suffered because of the assumed timing/publisher pressure following the huge popularity of the first. Divergent had a similar fate, as did the Uglies books (though neither were quite on the same level as The Hunger Games) – great first book to hook you, but everything rather gets a little too big too fast, and the writing quality drops as a consequence. I tend to think that the ideas are better than the execution in some of these YA dystopias, which isn’t the end of the world, I suppose – I’m sure it fuels the imagination of fledgling writers finding their feet through fanfic.

But even the day of Dystopic Dominance seems to be drawing to an end, and John Green is perhaps the main man behind this transition. Real life is cool again – and in particular, the brand of ‘sick lit’ as it is sometimes uncomfortably known, that he seems to have kicked off with The Fault in Our Stars (correct me if I’m wrong – and obviously I know that books in this vein have existed forever, but none have had quite the same following). I really loved the book, when I read it last year while in the throes of being desperately unwell. One of his other books was one of my other post-op reads (Paper Towns, I think?) along with the aforementioned Cassandra Clare title. Now, kids with cancer are having their stories shared more passionately than ever. I just finished reading Zac & Mia by A.J. Betts, and I thoroughly enjoyed it – but at the same time, it felt a little like I was reading the Aussie version of TFiOS, with less pretentious protagonists and a shuffle of specific cancer-locations. Love on the oncology ward, the new Love in Post-Apocalyptic Appalachia, or Love & Fangs in the Pacific Northwest.

It seems like such a strange niche to have such prominence. Is it the sparkly strands of hope beyond all odds? Is it the fact that many a child will have seen a classmate or relative suffer through the pain of cancer (or another serious illness, though these genre books don’t seem to have stepped out of that box yet)? I’m not a cancer patient, obviously, but my health background meant that there were a fair few moments while reading Zac & Mia that I felt uncomfortable with how familiar these things sounded – the bruises and scars on arms from needles, that constant whir/drip of IVs, the way in which such intensive drugs just sap your life force entirely. I’ve sat in haemotology, with my IV attached, surrounded by patients undergoing chemo. I’ve been put under, not knowing exactly what’s going to happen when I wake up, I’ve had a puffy steroid face, I’ve had slight fond reminisces of a catheter.

Basically, I can relate to some of the goings on of these characters more than I’d like to. I suppose it’s not helped by the fact that I’m currently in a bit of a flap about my health going forward, but I felt constantly on edge while reading hospital scenes in Zac & Mia, even as I felt compelled to read on, felt compassion, empathy. What does a healthy reader take from these stories? Do they zone in on the love stories, with the cancer simply part of the love story? Do they read on, knowing that one of the bright young things could relapse and deteriorate at any moment, so that they the reader can then cry along with the protagonist left alive? Is it glamourising illness, despite painting a pretty damn unhappy and unpleasant image of it?

I don’t know. I’m probably overthinking it.

Trends are strange things, guys.

Perhaps there will be a part two tomorrow when I’ve had more time to digest the book, and I’m less exhausted (funny, right? because when am I ever not exhausted?). All this being said, I would still recommend it.

*The tradition being that I had a compulsion to travel far and wide in pursuit of as many AFP concerts as possible. Last tally was fifteen, I think, including one Coachella slot, one Dresden Dolls show, one performance/reading with her and Neil at a bookstore and one performance of “Delilah” in her lounge. But I digress.

** This was the time that AFP and Neil were performing together at the Housingworks Bookstore, when I came in early with the gang, as it was in those NY-y days, and I was sitting pretty in a corner keeping out of the way when Neil walked past, then stopped and came towards me, saying “You must be the other barely legal lesbian (cf. @thebarelylegals, an on-going Twitter joke circa May 2009), from New Zealand! I’m Neil.” And he stuck his hand out to shake, and apologised for having forgotten my actual name. He had met Kayla, the other part of the boisterous Bed-Stuy  duo the day before, hence the ‘otherness’. It was possibly the most surreal moment of my life. Gods bless my bright pink hair.

***Where, in hindsight, I probably interacted with some of my now-colleagues at the Unity satellite store.

****Keep in mind that everything is being jotted down by memory, now, and this was four years ago, and those four years have been full of illness and drugs and surgery and depression and many other things which may have slightly tinkered with my memory.

2014 in review. prematurely. sort of.

books gotta get read…

Well, it’s the first day in a year that I don’t have to post on here, and yet here I am! You haven’t gotten rid of me yet, internet.

I will at some stage compile a bit of a collection of my favourite picks from the 365 pieces project – though if any of you have any particular favourites from them, do let me know! I’m definitely interested to know what readers have to say, rather than just my highfalutin feelings.

On the subject of readers, though, that leads me onto my new ‘project’, though less official than my previous one, since I’m planning on giving myself a little more creative flexibility this year, in terms of specific output. However, I’m still a reader, a listener, a consumer of art and media and entertainment. And I feel like I have not paid proper attention to these areas on this blog, especially considering that was what I originally intended this to be.

So each week, for the most part, there will be at least one review posted here. The emphasis will be on books, but if I am in the middle of something and don’t wish to distract myself – or if something amazing comes into my ears and/or eyes , it may well be interposed with music and film and even TV reviews, because why limit myself, am I right?

As a bookseller/buyer/soon-to-be-publisher-in-training/writer/generally bibliophile, I always have a ridiculous number of books either on the go, or on my to-do list. One only need check out my GoodReads account for that – and that doesn’t even contain all of the madness, since I don’t keep it totally up-to-date with my Kobo readings too. And most of my books are still boxed up from my move, so the only ones I have around are more recent acquisitions/ones that were shelved in strange places.

But here’s a cursory list of what I’m in the middle of, or have at least started (excluding re-reads… Suzanne Collins and Tamora Pierce are like comfort food, okay?)

The Great Gatsby – F. S. Fitzgerald (I know, I know, most people read this when they’re 15 in high school, but we didn’t, sorry ’bout it).
Allegiant – Veronica Roth (already finished Divergent and Insurgent, but will review them all together)
The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling (way overdue)
Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood (I have started this book SO MANY times. I don’t know what it is about it. But I’m determined to persevere)
The Sandman – Preludes and Nocturnes – Neil Gaiman (also way overdue. I feel like a fake Gaiman-fiend, but I’m remedying it!)
The Gift Lewis Hyde (the only NF title on this list – Eleanor Catton referred to it in her Booker acceptance speech, and then I saw that Margaret Atwood wrote the introduction… sold!)
Snake Ropes – Jess Richards (a publisher rep or a review or something recommended this book as excellent for people who like Margaret Atwood. So I bought it, obviously.)
The Twelve – Justin Cronin (so far taking longer for me to power through than The Passage did, but still proving worthwhile, bit by bit)
Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley – Danyl McLauchlan (NZ author, really good so far, just need to push distractions aside!

And here’s the vague to-read list, as it stands (see the photo at the top for appearances of a fair few of these…) The links are becoming a bit draining, so I will leave you to do your own searches on them, should you wish to investigate further.
The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt (actually, I should really review The Secret History, since I read that recently, hmm)
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson (I was a 18 y.o. semi-hipster lit student working in a chain bookstore when this was at peak popularity, so naturally I avoided it at all costs. Having enjoyed both adaptations, I’m going to give it a go)
Speaker for the Dead – Orson Scott Card (even though OSC’s a pretty awful person, I did really enjoy Ender’s Game, so I kind of want to pursue the series further)
Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace (just because)
– Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell (sounds a bit trippy and fairly good)
On The Road – Jack Kerouac (left my original Popular Penguin somewhere in Brooklyn, I think, so am starting from square one, only, err, four and a half years later?)
Howl, Kaddish and Other Poems – Allen Ginsberg (been on my to-do list for ages, thanks Book Depository sale!)
The Flood – Maggie Gee (#2 book acquired via the Book Depository 25 hour sale – looks cool, will expand later, naturally)
The Best of H.P. Lovecraft – um, H.P. Lovecraft (lucky last book purchased in the Book Depository sale. Never read any Lovecraft, thought I should fix it. This fairly weighty tome should do the trick!)
The String Diaries – Stephen Lloyd Jones (advanced reading copy from work that our gen. buyer thought I might like, and still haven’t gotten around to it, but it does sound interesting, so on the list before the move!)
Persuasion – Jane Austen (because I’m the worst English major ever and have never read any Austen. Several people have told be Persuasion is her best work, so I bought a lovely leather bound copy and hope that aesthetic allure will encourage me.)
The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Other Tales – Edgar Allan Poe (ridiculously, I’ve never really read any Poe, despite taking a ‘Theory and the Gothic’ course in my final undergrad semester – but then, I was pretty much in max-sickness situation then, so my reading list had more than a few holes in it.
– 1984 – George Orwell (another classic lit hole to fill)

Yeah. I’m a bit all over the place. Any recommendations are more than welcome – I love love love making new discoveries, so bring a little joy to my life!

2013 and the winter of the magnificent book releases

Interrupting the regular poetic and health related programming to bring you a bit of what this blog was originally intended for – BOOKS. Today I realised that yet another of my various favourite authors has a book coming out this year, just to add to my literary excitement of the months ahead. So, in chronological order, here are the upcoming releases that I am most excited about – the four new releases (one for each of the four coming months!) that are making 2013 my favourite publishing year in, well, years. And if there are any upcoming releases that you’re excited for, let me know in the comments!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Neil Gaiman. June 18th.

Well, if you’re at all switched into the online literary world, you’re probably aware that Neil Gaiman has a new release that is so close I can almost taste it. His first marketed-at-adults book since Anansi Boys, no less. I haven’t managed to get my hands on a reading copy yet, sadly, but will be devouring it as soon as it arrives. Soon, soon… watch this space for an actual review. Initial thoughts – the title is wonderfully whimsical. When I first heard it, I was a combination of jealous and inspired. Page count looks to be quite short, which could mean two things, for the most part – it will either be small and perfectly formed, or it may leave me wanting more. Or both, I suppose. Only time will tell.

The Fall of Light. Sarah Laing. July 5th.

This is the release I only found out about today. Her first novel, Dead People’s Music, was possibly my favourite release of 2009 (reliving the kiwi experience of New York after getting back home through her words rather than mine… bittersweet). And I may or may not have one of those opportunities that booksellers do have, from time to time, to get my nose into it before the actual book hits shelves. It’s like Random knew it was my birthday this weekend (which it is, feel free to buy me books!)…

The Luminaries. Eleanor Catton. August 2nd.

I think this is probably the one I’m most excited about. Eleanor Catton is probably my favourite NZ writer of the moment (which is a tough call, especially with the Sarah Laing book on my plate at the moment, but still…) – and by moment, I mean ever since I read her first novel The Rehearsalwhich was released in 2008, and is absolutely brilliant. If you haven’t read it, fix this immediately. She is not to be trifled with, and if VUP do get a reading copy to the store soon, I will be so many different kinds of grateful, I don’t even know what I’ll do. Except, you know, read it, and squeal, and all that.

Maddaddam. Margaret Atwood. September 3rd.

And to wrap up my Amazing Book Winter, there is the new book from none other than the titan of the word, the mistress of my literary heart, the incomparable Margaret Atwood. She is, without doubt, my favourite, favourite author. Maddaddam is the third and final installment what is now the Maddaddam trilogy, which kicked off with Oryx and Crake in 2003. And which is, incidentally, probably my favourite book ever. Oryx and Crake and the follow-up The Year of the Flood were intertwined, but at the same time stand-alone novels, occurring over the same – or at least similar – time-frame, whereas it sounds as though Maddaddam is set after both of the other novels – so whether it will feel more like a sequel than its own entity remains to be seen, but you can bet your sweet bippy that I will let you know what I think. SO. EXCITED.

So that’s my four big releases, the books that’ll make this year worth wading through – what about you, o fine readers?