Tag Archives: books

YA Wonderland: A Look Back at Our Adolescent Favorites

Young adult literature has enjoyed a surge in popularity recently–not so much among its target audience, which has always embraced it and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future, as among people my age. Twenty, thirty, and even forty-somethings are big into YA. They eat it. They breathe it. They inject it into their eyeballs and snort it up their nostrils until it eats away at their septums.

If you’re wondering why YA is having a moment, you’ll have to seek answers somewhere else. I read young adult books occasionally, but I have no particular affinity for the genre. When people tell me that the YA landscape is full of rich characterization and savory plotting, I believe them. I do. I just haven’t come across many YA books that speak to me. A lot of them seem preoccupied with romantic entanglements, and I’m not a very romantic person. If a handsome, mysterious boy came tearing around a corner and told me to follow him if I wanted to live, I’d probably call the police.

That’s not to say I was never into YA. I read heaps of it in middle school. Only now, in my comparative old age, am I starting to realize just how loony most of it was.

Join me for a fond look back at some of the YA writers of yesteryear. Continue reading

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Find a Husband After 35: The Book That Almost Broke Me

You and I have been some strange places together, hypothetical reader. We’ve discovered the world of real life vampires, traversed the overly credulous soul-scape of angelic messengers, and held back waves of nausea in the face of sexy minotaurs. We’ve found God in a chat room and modeling advice in a 1960’s puberty pamphlet. We’ve seen Satanists, Bigfoots, and bad 80’s fashion. Some of the books we’ve analyzed have tested my patience. But none of them have pissed me off more than today’s feature.

Read these excerpts and tell me what year you think this book was published in.

clothestoosexytoobusinessliketoomuchhairspray
If you said the 1950’s, 1960’s, or the early pre-women’s-lib years of the 1970’s, I don’t blame you. If you said the year of our Lord two-thousand-god-damn-three, you have my condolences, because that probably means you’ve read this book before.

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The Special Snowflake Report: Vampires in Their Own Words

Vampires in Their Own Words-coverHigh school is a tough time for everyone. The stakes are high, the workload is heavy, and the social strata are more complex than ever. Preps, jocks, goths, scene kids, band geeks, weeaboos–subgroups upon subgroups uncatalogued by even the most ambitious of anthropologists. Where do you fit in? How do you stand out? Why are you so good at back rubs?

Vampires in Their Own Words is an inadvertent expose on an adolescent coping strategy that can be summarized thus: when no niche is special enough, create your own. Contained in this book are pieces by nearly two dozen people who claim to be actual vampires. Under the guidance of editor Michelle Belanger of House Kheperu, these brave souls join forces to educate us poor mundanes on the intricacies of vampire life. Whether you believe their stories or not, one thing is certain: they are so much more unique than you.

Oh to be mundane!

They envy your unoriginal pre-fab life. Really they do.

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Retro Moral Panic: HALLOWEEN AND SATANISM

There is more to Halloween...much more!Great news, everyone: my box of stupid books arrived yesterday! That means the next few weeks will be an orgy of bad writing, insane screes, and my attempts to summarize it all in a comprehensible manner. I thought we’d kick things off with this book, which hails from the late 1980’s and really looks it.

HALLOWEEN AND SATANISM Cover

Don’t worry, I didn’t actually pay ten dollars for this.

HALLOWEEN AND SATANISM–a fitting title for a jaunty romp through the annals of late-twentieth-century evangelical fear mongering! If you were alive during the late 80’s and early 90’s, you may remember the media waxing horrified about Ouija boards, D&D, and Satanic sex cults that upholstered their altars with flayed baby flesh. If you’re too young to have experienced those days, or have spent too much time drinking to forget them, this post ought to refresh your memory.

The co-authors of HALLOWEEN AND SATANISM are Joan Hake Robie, president of the publishing company that released the book, and Phil Phillips, a guy who once had a bad time at a haunted house and now wants to ruin Halloween for everybody. If you think I’m misrepresenting his motivations, that’s only because you haven’t read the first chapter of HALLOWEEN AND SATANISM.

If this is Halloween, who needs it?

“Wow,” you might be thinking. “Phil Phillips is a baby.”

And you’re absolutely right. He is a baby. A giant baby. If he were any more of a baby, a Satanic cult would baptize him, cut his head off, stick it on a black wafer, and ask it spiritual questions. (More on that later!) Phil Phillips is such a sucky infant that he felt the need to pathologize fear itself. Hence the central message of the book:

Fear Is Not of God

You read that right. Fear isn’t godly. Despite its seeming naturalness and obvious evolutionary utility, fear is a manifestation of Satan himself. If you ever feel fear, you’re giving in to Satan. If you purposely seek fear out–say, by visiting a haunted house–then congratulations! You’ve basically just thrown yourself on the devil’s sweaty loins. Let’s hope he’s a gentle lover.

Halloween is all about being scared, which makes it the ultimate Satanic holiday. How did we wind up enthralled to such a dark-sided tradition? Phillips and Hake Robie are here to give you the low-down.

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“This Book is Weird”: Books We Didn’t Get As Kids

Pardon me while I get sappy for a moment.

The wonderful thing about books–well, one of the wonderful things, among a countless multitude of others–is that the same story can mean different things to you at different points in your existence. Crime and Punishment, the literary love of my life, was a very different experience at age 17 (when I was six years younger than the protagonist) than it is now (when I’m five years his senior). Romeo and Juliet, a simple love story when I was in ninth grade, has become a parable on the intensity of adolescent emotions and what parents can do to help or hinder a child’s sexual development. The Babysitters’ Club…is basically still about some girls babysitting. And one of them has diabetes. (Not every book merits renewed scrutiny.)

Then there are the books that mean nothing to you as a youngster.

“What is this bullshit?” you demand, flinging your copy of Billy Budd, Sailor against the wall and complaining to your girl Nicole and your boy Tyler about the assignment over AOL instant messenger. (I’m old, okay?)

We all have books like this: stories that left us underwhelmed or flummoxed the first time we encountered them, only to metamorphose into something great when we got a bit older. Here are three of mine. What are yours?

The Hobbit, J.R.R. TolkienBook: The Hobbit
First Read It When I Was: 12
Re-read It When I Was: 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 21, 24, 25, 26

Then: This may come as a surprise to those of you who know me as a rabid Tolkien fan, the sort of creepy basement dweller who taught herself Elvish and has daydreams about Doriath, but I didn’t understand The Hobbit when I read it the first time. I liked it–so much, in fact, that I nearly threw down with a boy in my English class who characterized it as “just some people walking around”–but the ending left me cold. Spoilers for an 80-year-old book: our hero, Bilbo Baggins, having been charged with finding the precious Arkenstone amid the dwarven treasure horde, locates said stone and relinquishes it to Bard the Bowman instead of to its “rightful owner,” King Thorin Oakenshield. He’s been with Thorin the whole book, the entire point of his quest is to reunite Thorin with his birthright, and then he gives the dang Arkenstone to somebody else. What the hell, Bilbs?

Now: For all Tolkien is inextricably linked with traditional high fantasy, he does some pretty non-traditional things in The Hobbit. As a professor of Anglo-Saxon literature, much of Tolkien’s writing was based on very ancient archetypes: the young noble and his faithful servant (Sam and Frodo), the disinherited liege lord and his subject (Thorin and Bilbo), etc. But whereas a commoner in the most traditional stories would be endlessly deferential to his betters, following their mandates even when they contradict his own moral principles, Bilbo ain’t havin’ none of that noise. Rather than aiding his lord in glorious battle against the enemy, he tries to avert war by using the Arkenstone to broker a peace deal. Yeah, Thorin’s great and all–but not so great that Bilbo is going to sit back and let him kill people. That makes Mr. Baggins a distinctly modern hero, and one I can now appreciate.

The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. SalingerBook: The Catcher in the Rye
First Read It When I Was: 16
Re-read It When I Was: 24

Then: Anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that I wasn’t alone in my childhood antipathy toward The Catcher in the Rye. Some whiny kid called Holden Caulfield cuts class, bums around, hires a prostitute and then changes his mind, almost gets molested, visits his sister, and whines, whines, whines. Also something about a red hat. I too felt alienated by the world, but at least I hadn’t reacted the way Holden does: like a little bitch.

Now: Except that, short of actually running away from school, I reacted exactly the way Holden does. I was just too close to see it. Far from being a little bitch, Holden Caulfield is an excellent representation of the frightened, sensitive kid inside every adolescent. The teenage years are almost uniformly dreadful for everyone. And while it’s easy to fault teenagers for “whining” about the world, consider this: they have a point. The world is unfair. People are phony. School is stressful. Growing up is hard. Those truisms seem trite now, but think back to when you were first coming to grips with them. It was painful, right? You resented it, right? That’s a natural feature of human development, and we shouldn’t write off kids, Holden included, for struggling with it. The Catcher in the Rye‘s main fault–if you want to call it a fault–is being too accurate to the adolescent experience. It’s so on-point that it dredges up all sorts of buried feelings, and that makes it a difficult read.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott FitzgeraldBook: The Great Gatsby
First Read It When I Was: 16
Re-read It When I Was: 22

Then: What the hell is this book even about? The narrator, Nick, goes to a bunch of parties thrown by a guy called Gatsby, who seems really cool but is actually a total sad-sack. Nick helps reunite Gatsby with his old girlfriend, there’s an altercation, then Gatsby runs over somebody and gets shot by his swimming pool. What’s the point? How am I supposed to care about the romance, when Daisy is such an off-putting character? And can Gatsby go five seconds without calling somebody “old sport?”

Now: It’s not that young people can’t understand character-driven stories–they can, and do. But character-driven books will always be a tougher sell than plot-driven ones, because the main arc is a little bit harder to tease out. If you look at Gatsby objectively, sure, nothing really happens. Jay Gatsby is kind of sad, Daisy’s kind of awful, and their love story doesn’t hold water. Of course, that’s the point. Gatsby has built his entire life around reclaiming Daisy because he’s in love with the idea of her, an idea that proves as flimsy and insubstantial as the pretensions of the Jazz Age themselves. Of course, kids aren’t super familiar with the concept of being in love with an idea versus a person, nor are they necessarily experts on 1920’s America, so the book reads like some lame, lackluster romance to them. It certainly read that way to me. Once I got older and got some (very painful) experience under my belt, the whole thing made more sense.

College Slang 101: How to Talk Like the Cool Kids (in 1989)

College Slang 101, by Connie ElbeWhat the hell are kids even on about these days? With their “adorbz” and their “baes” and their :”social justice for alls,” they sound like that talking lion that popped out of my pillow after I accidentally double-dosed on Ambien. They’re incomprehensible, is what I’m saying. Especially once they get to college.

Fortunately, I have in my hands the definitive guide to college slang! Unfortunately, it’s from 1989. Let’s glean what we can from it anyway.

The Basics
The words making up this lexicon are derived, as far as I can tell, from the personal experiences of Connie Elbe, an English professor at the University of North Carolina. While that would seem to limit our scope to the words one particular teacher’s students used in one particular year on one particular campus, Professor Elbe assures us that: “College Slang 101 is a really ‘rad’ (excellent) book for word mavens of all stripes and anyone who wants to understand the ‘second language’ of students across the country.”

Don’t be intimidated, though. She doesn’t chuck her readers into the deep end straight off. Like any good teacher, she begins with the basics.

BarfThanks, Connie Elbe.

Memory Lane
Embarrassing admission: while some of these are new to me, I’m actually just old enough to remember a lot of them. Here’s one I hadn’t thought about it a while…

Psych!

…because it enrages me and my doctor wants me to watch my blood pressure.

And another:

Know what I mean, Vern?

What the hell do you mean ‘commercials,’ Elbe? This is a quote from ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS, you uneducated swine!

That’s Not What I Thought It Meant
Languages evolve. Nowhere is that more evident than in some of the phrases Elbe lists, which, though apparently innocuous in 1989, have since become a little more risque.

Wanker

Oh.

Peg

Okay.

Get off

Congrats, Coye.

That I am an immature perv is perhaps beyond dispute, but if someone says: “All I wanted to do was get off, but those wankers won’t stop pegging me,” I like to think most of us would work up a pretty healthy blush. And possibly call the authorities.

The Best of the Best
At heart, though, I’m a fan of slang. It’s fun and keeps the language fresh. In that spirit, I present to you my favorite entries from College Slang 101:

Turd Poodle

Where has this term been all my life?

Boo-Hog

I’d never be rude or misogynist enough to use it for its intended purpose–but I’m still strangely glad it exists.

Fratty bagger

Beats the hell out of “bro.”

English Channel Eyes

Fantastic! Truly! How could you not love this phrase?

Conclusion
This has been a primer on youth slang. I hope you find your newly-acquired vocabulary useful in bridging the generational gap. If not, well…that’s just NS2, you gooby, jacked-up wimp dog.

Puberty Books of the Damned: How to Say No (Like a Sociopath)

A very bored teenage boy.

Here we go again! It’s time for another round of pointers from those Admirable Adjuncts of Adolescent Advice over at TEENWORKS. They’ve taught you how to flirt, make friends, and walk on your buttcheeks. Now they’ll instruct you on the fine art of turning someone down.

If you’ve been following the TEENWORKS method to the letter, you should be enjoying the kind of long-lasting relationship that makes your friends groan in envy. Each day should be a fresh study in unspeakable bliss, marked by moonlit strolls and amorous exclamations like the following:

I'd rather go to the movies with him than have a private audience with the King of England!

That’s fortunate, given current English monarchical realities.

But what if you’ve fallen short somehow? What if you’ve played the wrong hand, spoken the wrong line, attracted the wrong man? What if–heaven forfend–you actually need to reject somebody? How can you shake a sub-par would-be suitor?

Don’t Be Direct
One thing you definitely don’t want to do is be direct. The consequences of an improperly softened “no” can be disastrous.

A harsh no can put a guy off dating for an entire term!

An entire term, ladies! In a society that caters endlessly to the young male ego, a single “no” can break a guy. The most tedious of women’s libbers might suggest we condition young boys in such a way that they can cope when life fails to hand them everything on a platter, but let’s be real: isn’t it easier to keep training girls to cushion the blow?

“Sorry,” you might say. “Although you are extremely virile, I need to wash my hair tonight.”

“It’s not you, it’s me,” you might also try. “Your masculinity overwhelms me; also, I’m overdue for a vigorous round of buttcheek jogging.”

“Please don’t feel bad,” you could additionally remark. “I can’t be in a relationship until I sort through my problems. My vagina problems. In my vagina.”

If He Can’t Take the Hint
Sometimes subtlety runs off teenage boys like piss off a plastic bed sheet. TEEN WORKS acknowledges this. In fact, TEEN WORKS indirectly recognizes the possibility that a guy might miss the message eight or nine times.

Can't you take a hint?

The above question is from a quiz called “Are You a Caring Person?” If you choose Option A, it means you’re a callous jerk. (Whether it also means that Ben is a pushy lunatic, TEENWORKS doesn’t say.) Again, you can’t be too direct–so what do you do?

The answer lies in the immortal words of Seal: you’re never gonna survive, Dear Reader, unless you get a little crazy.

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