So I promise now that the newspaper and this website will not be reviewing any book which is explicitly aimed at just girls, or just boys. Nor will The Independent’s books section. And nor will the children’s books blog at Independent.co.uk.The Ministry of Sanctioned Words continues on its mission to tell us what words are acceptable and what words are unacceptable. The Independent (UK) now informs the world that it will no longer review "boy books" or "girl books" because they know what boys and girls
Plenty of boys and girls would cross reading lines of all sorts--genre, age categories, gender--if we quit categorizing absolutely everything and creating more and more new age levels. I wish children today could browse in a big, chaotic library without divisions and labels. That's the kind of library that was on offer when I was growing up, and I read plenty of varied books of all sorts, including books that The Independent would call "boy books."
But let's go back to The Independent and the issue of "boy and girl books." Little Johnny doesn't much like to read and has to be lured into a world he likes? Let's take away the few stories he does like--say, ones with native Americans clambering around on rocks and sometimes shooting things or communicating strangely with bears, a prehistoric boy who learns to carve after he is maimed, pioneer boys who run wild on the prairie... Those happen to be the sort of books my third child liked. My eldest son was a history book reader, but he also liked some historical "boy stories," and he adored Tolkien. Oops. Neither of my sons would be allowed to read what he liked under the rule of The Independent, which is evidently ambitious of transforming into an organ of The Ministry of Sanctioned Words. Meanwhile, my daughter didn't mind reading a boy-dominated book in the least. Nor did she mind a girl-dominated book. She just cared whether the book could be called good, and she preferred fantasy.
Now let's go back to Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings, a book that all three of my children liked; it clearly falls outside the category of "unisex book." Tolkien's complex tale is almost completely dominated by male hobbits and wizards, male humans and elves with the occasional side female (okay, Galadriel is powerful, I grant you, and Eowyn seems like a specific person, and Shelob--well, Shelob is quite a "she"), male ents who have lost their entwives, male orcs who never get any wives at all, ticked-off male ghosts, male furrin fighters from distant parts, etc. Auden defended the book as "part of a literary tradition of reinterpreting ancient archetypes to create a modern mythology," but it was primarily a male-dominated myth, despite the presence of a few female characters (The New Yorker.)
A lot of people like The Lord of the Rings. A poll conducted by Waterstone's bookstores and BBC4 found that readers in the UK thought The Lord of the Rings the greatest book of the twentieth century. This finding displeased some and pleased others. As Auden said, some find it "a masterpiece of its genre," while others "cannot abide it") An Amazon poll put the book as the best of the millenium (Salon.) (I somehow can't imagine that degree of rabidness pleasing Tolkien, a student of early languages and literatures.) Yet under The Independent's new rules, Tolkien would not be eligible for review.
The Great Big Book of Snot for Boys