Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dreaming dystopia

Anyone who spends time with books and teenagers spends a lot of time in dystopias. Novels like Matched (Ally Condie), Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), Little Brother (Cory Doctorow), the Uglies series (Scott Westerfeld), Truancy (Isamu Fukui), and Unwind (Neal Shusterman) inhabit stage-directed worlds in which nothing is quite what it seems and dark secrets abound. These are eerie, dangerous crystal kingdoms set up to be shattered by their teenage protagonists.

Because of their popularity, the nation's top literary critics just can't avoid these stories, mostly crafted by adults to be devoured by teenagers. What do these books say about the way teens view the adult world? What does it say about their dreams of the future? What does it say about their anxiety in the present? Last year, Laura Miller wrote a brilliant review of The Hunger Games series in the New Yorker. I'm re-posting it here.

Charles McGrath, acknowledging that these stories might find even larger adult audiences in movie theaters as film adaptations, says in the New York Times Magazine today:

"Where grown-up dystopian novels — books like “Oryx and Crake,” by Margaret Atwood; “The Pesthouse,” by Jim Crace; and “The Road,” by Cormac McCarthy — lately seem to dwell on a vision of a bestial, plague-ridden world where civilization has collapsed, these new Y.A. books imagine something far worse: a world where civilization feels an awful lot like high school and everyone is under pressure to conform."

 Read the rest of Charles McGrath's story here.

I love that these stories are getting the attention that they deserve, but I disagree with the idea that these books are a lot like high school. The conformity is the potential nightmare of the adult world, an existence teens might be heading for if they're not alert. Kids are not afraid of the lives they are living, they are afraid of living the lives of their parents.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Children's Author on Libraries

I keep saying I'm going to stop writing about the closing of public and school libraries and make this blog a little more fun. And really, I will. But it's hard for me to ignore the issue since things keep getting worse, at least here in Southern California.

I'm newly riled up by impending budget cuts and the need for Measure L, which will increase city funding of Los Angeles libraries, currently closed entirely on Sundays and Mondays. (This frustrates me not only as someone who cares about the field, but as the mother of a book-loving 4 1/2 year old.)

Susan Patron, a wonderful author whose book The Higher Power of Lucky won the 2007 Newbery, has a well-argued op-ed in today's LA Times.

Patron, who worked for 35 years at the Los Angeles Public Library, starts off by talking about the role libraries played in her life as a kid in LA.

Then she describes about the political and economic issues:

The measure doesn't call for a tax increase. It calls for a change in city priorities, a change in how we allocate the funds Los Angeles already collects. That change of priorities is crucial. The city's leaders have shown that they cannot be trusted to weigh the worth of our library appropriately as they grapple with L.A.'s deficits. Their unwillingness to give the library its fair share means that the voters must step in.

Measure L will restore six-day-a-week service to all our libraries, and eventually seven-day-a-week service to our Central Library and six regional libraries. It will increase support for afterschool and summer programs, and provide funding for books and other materials.

Measure L has been endorsed by a wide range of business and civic leaders, including former MayorRichard Riordan and authors Ray Bradbury, Joseph Wambaugh and Janet Fitch.

Children have little say in their quality of life; they entrust that to us. I'm voting yes on Measure L — yes on open doors, yes on big ideas, yes on a welcoming refuge at their branch library for every kid in every neighborhood.

Please pass Susan's piece around if you share my strong feelings about books and reading, and if your life has been made better by them.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A holler in Britain, a (long-awaited) peep in L.A.

I'd just locked up the library and jumped in my car when an NPR story about protests in Britain over public library closures grabbed my attention. The main activist in the movement, mom Lauren Smith, who said that she'd never fought for a cause before, summed-up the scope of the tragedy brilliantly:

"Smith said politicians in London don't appreciate the role libraries play — as gathering spots for young children to read ... 'all the way to a 93-year-old lady whose husband had died, she only spoke to one person on a Tuesday, when she went to the library, and that was the person in the library branch, behind the counter.'"
If only library-closure protests looked like this one.

Sounds so familiar. In one protest, desperate patrons went to a threatened neighborhood library and checked out every single book.  A musician is doing a library tour. Read -- or listen -- to the story here.

After being amazed by the groundswell in Egypt and witnessing its effects, I've often thought about the lack of protest over so many lamentable things in America. On a local note, it's been a little sad to see the lack of outrage over the Los Angeles Public Library closures. Are library lovers just not the types to raise a ruckus over something that impacts their lives weekly?

Now there is something that those quieter people can do. Just got the list of endorsements for Measure L, the "fund the library" measure for the city, and was happy to see some of my friends (like David Kipen) and favorite writers (Pico Iyer, Ray Bradbury) speaking out for it. Check out Measure L's endorsements here.

L.A. residents need to take a tip from the British -- time for some news-grabbing protests here, before it's too late.