Us vs. Them
Been on any social media platform lately? It's the guys versus the girls in critics' reviews of YA novels. And things are getting a little insane.
For me, a book and its author are not inextricably linked entities. I can love a book but not like the author so much, and I can be charmed by an author but not really like his or her work. Authors are people who write things called books. An author is not his or her book. A book is not its author. In this world of obsessed fans and authors who are just a tweet away, I think we forget this.
The only exception that I make to this is any book that overtly promotes an author's personal philosophy. So, for example, Mein Kampf IS Hitler. But nonfiction is just a different kettle of fish in general.
Anyhoodles, a big part of this giant kerfuffle is the opening of the film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars, based on the eponymous novel by John Green. It's huge. It beat out Tom Cruise's new movie, for pete's sake. And yes, I'm probably going to go see it. Unfortunately, it's also brought out the sexism in film reviewers and a whole lot of oblivious yay-me comments from Mr. Green.
Let's back up a second. I unreservedly love the book The Fault in Our Stars. It is a very, very, very, very, very good book. It is amazing. I ugly-cried during that book. It's the first book about teens with cancer that didn't feel patronizing or like a Lifetime movie special. We have a family member battling cancer right now, so when I gave this to my mom to read, she just cried buckets.
I have a coworker who liked it but didn't understand all the hype. She felt it was fine but not outstanding. And that too is a completely legitimate opinion. The scary part is that I know legions of TFIOS fans who would just tear that opinion to shreds. That's really sad, and very unfortunate. A lot of these ultra-fans are teens for whom the book resonated (which is completely awesome), but they feel like any criticism of the book is criticism of their opinion (not true). Many followers on Twitter and YouTube have used the success of TFIOS to build John Green up like he is some sort of literary saint.
I'll also admit to being out of my mind excited to meet John Green back at PLA 2014. When he signed my book, I managed to croak out "Hi," "fine," and "thanks!" Then that whole YouTube singer scandal went down and nary a peep from Mr. Green about sexual assault or predation. Hmm.
The real issue here (which leads to the bigger issue at hand) is the idolization and fetishization of popular authors. In John Green's case, he's got legions of young, female fans. It doesn't hurt that he's pretty funny and charming and relatively good-looking (not my cuppa, but it comes up a lot in articles written by other adults. His "boyish good looks" and "boyish charm" can't be gushed about enough. Ugh.). Authors are humans who say dumb things and who say smart things. I'm uncomfortable with the idea of expecting diamonds to fall from an author's mouth every time it opens. I mean, people are calling Green a "prophet." Moses was a prophet. John Green is not Moses. Unless I missed something here.
To be completely speculative, I'm pretty sure Green didn't start writing just so people could hold him up as some sort of literary messiah. Authors write because they have something to say, something that bubbles up inside and needs to get out. So, it's also unfair to blame Green for the public's reaction to his work.
The really scary and tone-deaf articles stem from something that Green literally cannot control: his gender. Green is a man (duh). The publishing industry and the book review and awards people praise Green for his work while simultaneously dismissing female authors' books as "romances" or "not real literature." I am uncomfortable with the white-knighting of Stephanie Meyer's books, as I found what snippets I had to read in library school to be poorly written, full stop. However, I understand the reasoning. Successful female authors are to be mocked, while successful male authors get ALL THE THINGS. One oblivious writer dissed Judy Blume in favor of John Green. EXCUSE ME. You do NOT diss Judy Freaking Blume. The amount of movies made out of your books does not raise or lower your literary worth as an author. It just changes your bank account numbers.
So, back to the whole movie thing. It must be really odd and amazing and mind-blowing to have your idea turn into a book that turns into a movie that turns into a smash hit. Your brain probably gets all mushy and you say lots of things. Some of those things might not be, well, the best things to say in this charged YA climate. Things that intimate that you are a really "brave" person for being a dude who wrote a book with a strong female lead who kisses the guy first.
Author Lauren DeStefano wrote an impassioned, articulate, and flat-out amazing response to the gender differential in YA literature and publishing. She points out that all YA authors are peers, and so they had better start supporting one another.
Look, I still love The Fault in Our Stars. I don't think John Green is a "prophet" but I also don't think that he is the villain so many people are painting him to be. He's a guy who wrote a really good book that became really successful. That's probably my bountiful naïveté speaking, but that's what I want to think. But why is it still okay to pay women less than men, or consistently focus on a female author's appearance, or to make any sort of insinuation that their books are less influential than those written by a male author? Because it's happening. I've read the articles. I'm not linking to them because they don't deserve any more clicks.
How about a novel concept? Let's read the books. Let's give credit to great authors for great books no matter what their gender (the authors, not the books!). Let's stop labeling and start welcoming.