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Clueless Middle-Aged White Dude Weighs in on the PC Culture in YA Book Industry

By Dustin Rowles | Books | September 6, 2017 |

By Dustin Rowles | Books | September 6, 2017 |

When I was 19, the Modern Library Association came out with their 100 Best Novels, and I vowed then not only to read them all, but to read one book every week no matter what. I did read all goddamn 100 of them (including the James Joyce), and with a one-year gap exception for my first year of law school, for nearly two decades, I continued to read one book a week, every week, no matter what. It was my thing.

But then the twins came along, and then Peak TV, and then Trump, and I kind of fell out of the game. I still manage to squeeze in a book every once in a while, but it hasn’t been the same. With the twins starting kindergarten this week, however, I thought I’d try to get back into it, plow through as many books as I possibly can before the fall television season crashes into me.

There are a lot of books I’ve missed the last few years, and I’ve always been an Eggers/Chabon/Safron-Foer/Franzen/Hornby kind of guy, and most of those guys have books I was eager to read … until it actually came to selecting a novel. You know how many of those 100 Best Novels were written by white dudes? Something like 85-90 of them, and I just thought, Jesus Christ, how many novels about broken marriages, middle-aged affairs, and suburban malaise can I read in a lifetime? There are a lot of great American novels from white dudes, but Christ, how many more stories do I need to read about a guy trying to get laid? Read Updike’s Rabbit Run series: It pretty much covers the entire gamut. I’ve been reading a variation of the same Great American novel for two decades.

But I went to a bookstore, and I picked up the Hornby and put it back down. Same with the Eggers and the Chabon. They’re guys I identify with a lot, I think, but I couldn’t bring myself to spend four to six hours reading about experiences that were old hat, with the same cultural references, and the same point of view: My own.

So I picked up The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, a book I’d heard a lot about; it was the YA book that Handbook for Mortals wrongly (and temporarily) knocked off the slot atop the New York Times bestseller list. It’s about a black teenage girl, who attends a mostly white private school, who turns to activism after her best friend is shot by the police because of the color of his skin. I breezed through it. It’s a great book, too, and I couldn’t wait to introduce it to my son (in a couple of years).

After that, I thought, well, now I’ll get the Eggers, but let me just take a gander at the Bestseller List at the bookstore. I was struck, however, by how few white men were on that list. I thought, well, I guess people are just sick of hearing about our experiences, and then I thought, I don’t blame them. I am, too. So I put down the Eggers, and I eventually picked up Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, which I read in basically two sittings, because I am seriously into Gillian-Flynn mysteries with female sociopaths, not because I think all women are sociopaths, but because they’re a lot more interesting than the same variation of the male sociopath.

After reading two books in two days, I finally broke down and picked up a white dude’s book, and I’m halfway through it and bored to tears, not because it’s bad, but because I just don’t care as much anymore about people with whom I can identity. I know my story. I know my friends’ stories. I’m much more interested in other perspectives.

All of which brings me to this NYPost piece (via Kayleigh).

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Huh. This woman apparently had a thought similar to my own while perusing the YA bestsellers: Where are all the white people? Failing to find enough of them, she decided to blame the lack of white writers for a downward trend in reading among young people rather than, say, blaming smart phones or more television options or better video games or less time thanks to the hours and hours of homework and after-school activities our children are required to engage in.

“In the world of young-adult literature, it now matters much more whether you can claim a minority identity than whether your stories are any good,” she writes.

Really? Is that true? Because John Green (who, don’t get me wrong, I love) is not exactly suffering. Type YA Authors into Google, and you get this:

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I don’t think white YA authors are feeling the pinch, y’all. There’s not a lot of “minority identity” among those authors. I don’t think there’s any truth whatsoever to the Post piece suggesting that PC-Culture is killing reading, either, but maybe — just maybe — young readers are tired of reading books from the same perspectives. It’s actually refreshing to read a book in which the plot is not being driven by a guy’s dick. Reading is meant to be about opening up new worlds, so instead of reinforcing our own viewpoints over and over and over, maybe we’d all be more excited about reading if we investigated other perspectives. PC Culture is not hurting the book industry; it’s improving it.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.