Saturday, September 4, 2010

Dear Borders

Really? One small bay of young adult? What, 15 books? Or was it 12? It wasn't even a section. It was a promo--blah, blah, here's the best in YA we want you to buy. Do you realize the hottest sellers (besides non-fiction with a major platform directed at the mindless reality show fanatics) are YA? Where do they store the YA, then? I didn't have any idea. I had to ask. What did Joe Borders, an average height, average weight, twenty-something male with average length hair, tell me? "Literature. It's mixed in."

Brilliant! Why didn't I think of that before? What gets teens more interested in reading a book than calling it literature? I mean, that's why high schools and colleges name courses things like "American literature," "British literature," Chicana lesbian literature," and "sex and the human body in literature." Students rejoice at the opportunity to read literature. They run through the streets with copies of Norton Anthologies of literature, waiving them in the air, proclaiming their admiration for literature. They sit home late at night lovingly running their fingers through 2.3 billion pages of onion skin pages unable to control their teen hormones. Seduced by lore and "thou"s and page long sentences, they eat, sleep, and even make love with literature under their arms, basking in the glow of literary literosity. Literature is "bomb." It is "legit." Yer!


Truth is, there is no quicker way to turn off young adults than telling them they have to read literature. It's a burden. You could put Green Eggs and Ham in the literature section and some teenage guy will run over to the Cliff's Notes rack to try and find the Dr. Seuss edition. Actually, Borders, that would at least get you a sale. No, they'll go home and use Spark Notes or E-Cheat. What the hell are you thinking? You have a sci-fi section, a mystery section, a horror section, and even a philosophy and new age section. But not YA. You wouldn't want to make it easy for kids to find the only thing they want to read. Come to think of it, I didn't see a single young adult in the store. Hmmm... Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Of course, this is the former retail manager in me coming out. And I hate that bastard. Fuck him. But the teacher in me agrees with him. I want teens to read. Why not give them their own section, which would be undoubtedly huge considering the success of YA? They could walk in the store, head straight for their section--even put some bean-bag chairs and a rack of silly bands there to make them feel at home--buy what they want, and get out without having to contemplate the fact that they were in the same building with... ::shudders::

Condescendingadult (whispering): L.I.T.E.R.A.T.U.R.E.

Teen (sarcatically): I'm 16 years old. I can spell.

Of course, there is the writer in me. That butt-munch thinks it's kind of cool. It's a sign that YA is being accepted as a legitimate (not legit) art form in the writing community. After years of being pushed aside as dumbed-down versions of real literature (eww...the "L" word again), YA is getting it's due. It's being read by adults for crying out loud. It can be analyzed. It can have critical essays written about it. Ex-hippies with pony tails and tweed blazers with patches on the elbows can lead class discussion about it. We've made it! Look how far we've come! If mommy could see us now!

Okay, that's enough of that. The world knows YA is real. It's catching on. Do I need some huge, money-hungry conglomerate of a book store telling me that YA is real literature (I feel dirty). Screw Borders. Screw The Man. If YA's so legit in their eyes, so goddamn literary, why have the 15 book bay of extra-special, extra-legit books to force on us--none of which I have ever heard.* It's not like it was Mockingjay or something. What are you thinking Borders? Why are you so damn confused?

Or maybe I'm just being a whack-job. Maybe it just fit better that way. Maybe they didn't even put that much thought into it. Maybe I'm just venting because they made an assignment for my "individual aesthetic and process" course difficult on me. Maybe that's it.

But what if it's not? What. If. It's. Not.

*The italicized portion of this sentence, the part after the dash, was meant to be read in a snooty British accent.** I bet you wish you knew that while you were reading it.

**Scientists have yet to discover the un-snooty British accent.***

***That, however, does not mean it does not exist.


  1. I never go to Borders, but the Barnes and Noble near us recently redid their whole YA section, moving it away from kids. It looks smaller, but that could just be cuz the shelves are shorter. Nevertheless, I noticed that all of my favorite authors are either not on the shelves or have their book spines sitting out - so you can't see the covers. I imagine that all the better selling books have arrangements with the store or something so their covers show. I'm tempted to go through there and re-arrange them to my liking. I mean how many vampire books do you need to promote? yeah, I wouldn't be a very good marketing manager either.

  2. Hey Bill! Why don't you tell us how you really feel? I'm not sure about your position on this issue...hehe

    Actually, I think both YA and romance are among the highest selling genres. It's cool that YA has become so popular. I think the writing is becoming more intelligent, which is a good thing. Maybe that's why kids are reading it now...because it's finally worth reading.

    And like Angie, we actually have a Barnes and Noble here(imagine that, people in the Northern Plains actually read!) and they separated the YA section from the kids section here too. The YA section actually isn't too bad. They've got a couple of separate display tables plus at least 2 long shelving units full of YA. Of course, I couldn't find one of the books I was looking for (Incarceron, by Catharine Fisher), but otherwise they have a pretty good selection.

    Can't wait to see your book(s) on the shelves...

  3. Tried a different Borders with a huge YA section. What if Joe Borders at the other Borders was just stupid? Uh oh.

  4. I'm curious - is just about all YA lit genre-ically (not generically) "Coming of Age" stuff? Otherwise, what else distingushes it? Is there a better way of classifying it than by designating the age of its (supposedly intended) audience? I'd never call Catcher and TKaM YA - so is the YA label more a disservice ?

  5. I think now it's a service, at least from a sales point-of-view. If it's got teens in it at all, I think, if sales is what you're worried about, you call it YA. It seems adults and teens just go to the YA section and ignore the rest of the store. Like I said, nobody wants to pleasure read "literature." At least not the average Joe not in academia. As far of the difference, the world may never know. My initial impression as I set out this semester to determine just that, YA is on average shorter, possibly written in more of a younger, hipper dialect, and has cooler, hipper cover art. But none of those are hard and fast rules. I THINK what I'm seeing, though, is that coming of age set in the past (back when the author was growing up) that have this intangible, hard to describe, retrospective or nostalgic feel for childhood, seem to be adult books; whereas, (if not set in a fantasy world) YA is taking place in a contemporary setting, with today's culture, not a past one, being the setting for the coming of age. Feels current--sometimes even present tense. So--IF my impression is right, we'd have to ask ourselves if (when they were first released) Catcher and Tequilla Mockingbird were written as in the now or retrospective. I think in today's marketplace, Catcher would be young adult (he's still a teen while narrating the story), but TKAM feels like a narrator looking back being an adult now. Not to mention, Scout was not a "young adult" at the time of the action. So, I say Catcher=YA and TKAM=adult. If I remember correctly, I think TKAM is a bit denser in language and just plain longer than Catcher. Catcher is written in teen dialect. That's my final answer.

  6. It's possible to go around and around about what constitutes a young-adult novel, and every time states the theory conclusively a book comes along to debunk it. Why is The Member of the Wedding not ya? What about A Prayer for Owen Meany? etc.

    As for Borders, I'm convinced they're not really trying to sell books. Compare notes at a B & N (or Indigo, if you happen to go to Canada) and independent bookstores. R.J. Julia, nearish you in Madison, is one of the finest, also Bank Square in Mystic. I wonder what their book buyers would say about your questions?

  7. I agree with you and I don't. Okay, you have a point that probably the majority of young adults don't want the literary equivalent of liver shoved in their faces. But they're the ones who aren't going to be reading much more than pop fiction anyway more often than not, planting their tushes in front of the TV or computer screen. So, does that mean we to "dumb" the rest of them down, and not give them exposure to the great works of literature? It's like letting them eat chicken nuggets all the time instead of trying something new. Sure, edgy, current writing has a place, but it's not all there is. Young adults don't need any more coddling; take away the 'young' and that's what they'll be someday. There's a wonderful, wide world of reading out there. Either we expose them to it, or let them remain so ignorant of it, Harry Potter will one day be shelved in the Literature section.

  8. I'm going to put on my marketing and teaching hat on at the same time. Why not do tie-ins. See, teens are going to run far and fast from the "literature" section on principle alone. They probably feel they read enough "literature" in school, literature that's been forced upon them. Sometimes rebellion combines with not knowing what's good for you, and you miss out on something really cool. They probably would love a lot of the "cross over" adult titles, like Prep for instance. So, what I would do if I owned Borders, I'd have "lug-on" holder things that take the hottest YA titles and attach them to the literature shelves next to the titles that are similar to them. Something like "If you liked [insert YA title here], you'll love. Or vice versa--stick literary titles on the shelves of YA. Mix 'em in but recognize they are different. And change the name from literature to just plain FICTION. How's that for sales genius and getting teens to open their minds.