Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Monday, December 30, 2013

Roberts, y. a., and other matters

I like this post by writer Adam Roberts because it attempts to get out from under criteria established during Modernism as a way of evaluating and judging books—that’s very interesting, whether he is right in his conclusions or not. (That said, it's hard to get away from the desires and values of Modernism. Style matters to me, though I see it as a natural emanation of story. Complexity, well, I don’t seem to be able to escape being frequently perceived as complex, though I don’t think of my work that way. Experiment and novelty are of less concern to me simply because I don’t believe in the idea of progress in art. Flux and change, yes. Progress . . . I'll leave that to technology.) Roberts’s focus on y. a. books as capturing the spirit of the age is worth considering, and I recommend a read. He talks about the Booker and globalization as well.

And if you want to read one of his novels, editor John Wilson--a man who reads everything and so Rohas no doubt read all his books--advises starting with Yellow Blue Tibia. Roberts blogs at Sibilant Fricative, and I've just discovered a blog with his poetry at Morphosis. Go to his website for information about his books and other links and writings, including those of the piratical A. R. R. R. Roberts (The Va Dinci Cod, The Soddit, Doctor Whom, etc.)

Reasons other that having a big push from publishers must lie behind the wild popularity of Rowling and Meyers, and I’d like to hear exactly what Roberts thought they were—I tend to think of the Potter books as varying from other popular y.a. fantasies in being a counterbalance to the materialism of our era. Rowling tangles with all sorts of otherworldly threads (transformation, resurrection, alchemy, going down into various sorts of underworlds to find and bring back an essential article of power, etc.) and adds to them to a fecundity of invention. That's an appealing warp and woof for many. I haven’t read Meyers (did peek in the first volume out of curiosity) but did read John Granger’s argument in "Mormon Vampires in the Garden of Eden" that the books rise from a well of Mormon belief. Of course, he's gotten lots of corrective remarks on that one from Mormon critics, but the basic thrust of the argument is worth a look.

By the way, I never understand how so many people can talk so much about J. K. Rowling without ever mentioning the books of the late Diana Wynne Jones, to whom Rowling is clearly indebted in many, many ways…

Happy 6th day of Christmas!

P. S. Be sure and visit the poetry blog. I pasted a Roberts poem into this post and both sidebars vanished. I couldn't get them to return until I deleted the poem... Strange powers.

11 comments:

  1. Diana Wynne Jones? That is a new name to me. I will look into her work. However, I have never read any J. K. Rowling. Shame on me.

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  2. I have read the whole Potter series 1.5 times aloud to my child no. 3. Each night he wanted me to go back and reread from the point where he felt sleepy... That I did so was either quite mad or else virtuous.

    Diana Wynne Jones is a very interesting writer of fantastical books for younger readers, and a good many of the books are popular with adults. The Chrestomanci tales and Howl's Moving Castle were the first I read, and I have a fondness for that weird book, Spellcoats from the Dalemark Quartet. The Merlin Conspiracy, Fire and Hemlock, Hexwood, Homeward Bounders...

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  3. I have always thought Rowling owed a bigger debt to Roald Dahl -- his wonderful rumbling names and the dark edges in his YA fantasy. I read his work to my children and they still carry those books around.

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  4. Dahl, too, yes--I agree, especially in the Dursley family treatment, and the cupboard under the stairs business.

    I had been reading Diana Wynne Jones with children not long before Rowling and felt that I saw an abundance of links--even in some of the more obscure books like "Aunt Maria," where the structure of the book seems to underlie the third book. Rowling seemed to multiply DWJ elements--magical candies? I'll give you a shop, etc.

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  5. Reading to a child is always virtuous, even within the madness.

    As far as I can recall, no one ever read to me when I was a child. Well, perhaps the first grade teacher ought to be counted.

    And as far as my child-reading experiences, my stepson was 10 when I entered his life. He was then well beyond having me or anyone else read to him.

    Your reading of Harry Potter is something about which you should be quite proud.

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  6. We read a great deal to our children at bedtime, and read some books as a family group. My husband read LOTR to all three children, and I remember the last book we read as a family group was "Smith," which I read to the rest.

    My youngest still liked to listen to a book read to him at 14, and might yet if he went to bed earlier! Children vary; my daughter wanted to read to herself early on, and my eldest son loved nonfiction, though bedtime reading was usually fiction or sometimes poetry.

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  7. Even as I write this, I know that I am guilty. Adults do not spend enough time reading children's books. I do not mean they should read those books to children. I mean they should read those books for themselves.

    I remember once-upon-a-time when I had just left the Navy after 25 years, and I thought that I would like to be a special education teacher. Part of my training included courses in children's literature. The hours spent reading children's books were some of the most enjoyable hours in my curriculum. As it turned out, I did not persist in special education training. Instead, in an odd change of direction, I went to graduate school as an English literature major. Then I began teaching college students. As I am winding down my teaching career, perhaps I need to return to the children's books. What fun it would be to do so!

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  8. I always thought JKR started off owing much to Dahl but moved away from his influence early.

    Thanks for your tireless and enthusiastic sharing of interesting and beautiful things, Marly, and a happy New Year to you and yours!

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  9. Ah, Lucy, thank you--I've enjoyed your blog ever so much over the years...

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  10. I thank you too for your enlightening posts and your support of other writers and artists, and of course thank you for your own wonderful books. I'm thrilled to have met you in this medium, isn't it amazing when you think back to pre-blogging days?

    Warmest wishes for a rich and creative and Happy New Year to you and your family!

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  11. Hello, Marja-Leena--

    Yes, I've enjoyed knowing you and so many others via the internet. It is so much fun to meet likeminded people and one's kindred in the arts.

    Thank you! (I am, alas, shivering and spending a bundle on car repairs at the nearest Toyota dealer...)

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.