deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
[personal profile] deborah
I don't actually want a professional tumblr, but it strikes me that this brief but very wise comment by [livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman is exactly the kind of thing that tumblr re-blogging is good for:

I will be fascinated for the rest of my life that some of the same things are archetypal and intertextual and deep when written well, but are stale derivatives when written poorly.


Via "No formula"

Dicey has been schooling me for years to pay attention to this when I write my reviews. Frequently the problem with the book is not that it's derivative, but that the characters are flat, the prose is uninspired, etc. And yet when all of those things are true, what you see is how derivative it is.

The same goes for certain other negative terminology. "Didactic", for example, is a term you apply to a terrible book with an overt moral lesson, whereas a good book with an overt moral lesson might get "thought-provoking". "Problem novel" versus "relevant".

Full disclosure: [livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman and I have an ongoing disagreement about the usefulness of the term "problem novel" given that we both define it differently. I've been trying to reclaim some of these terms myself, to use them descriptively about books that I like. Trying to pin down why I want to define I am J (a young adult novel about a trans Jewish Puerto Rican) as a problem novel, while I don't want to apply that same term to, say, The First Part Last (a young adult novel about an upper-middle-class adolescent black single father), if I'm not going to use high/low quality as one of my available definitive points, is... complicated.

Date: 2013-04-02 10:55 pm (UTC)
owlectomy: A squashed panda sewing a squashed panda (Default)
From: [personal profile] owlectomy
I also see I am J as a problem novel in a way that The First Part Last isn't, and I also want to describe that difference in ways that don't automatically privilege one over the other --

I saw Cris Beam on a panel last year, and (paraphrasing from memory) she said that yes, there's a lot of chunks of information in I am J, and it's because transgender teenagers (and, heck, teenagers who are totally ignorant about being transgender) need that information, and to know what kind of resources and information are out there. And I think that's a valid point. It's that informational aspect that makes me categorize something as a "problem novel" -- I don't think The First Part Last has much in it that I would characterize as useful information for teenage single fathers.

And it often makes me roll my eyes, just like the recent Law and Order SVU episode made me roll my eyes when everyone was very earnestly outraged about how rapists could sue their victims for custody of their children, not because it's not outrageous but because I'm no longer surprised by it -- but I think that eye-rolling is not necessarily a good way to judge young adult books; because I remember being that age and being TOTALLY unwilling to actually search for information on the problems that I had, even when I was technologically equipped enough to search on the internet and then delete my search history.

Date: 2013-04-03 04:28 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] diceytillerman
we both define it differently

I'm starting to feel that the older I get, the more I realize that I can't settle on a definition of "problem novel" even for myself -- and even before the question of value. It's perplexing and unsettling. And interesting. I feel vaguely that I ought to have a definition, but it eludes me more and more so I think it's time to acknowledge that I may never quite have one.
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