What’s so great about The Great Gatsby? F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel centers on a pathological liar who invents an opulent life for himself in the hope of winning an unworthy woman. Yet for all its bleakness, the book has never lost its hold on Americans, who will see it in a new incarnation when the Baz Luhrmann movie version starring Leonardo DiCaprio opens next week. Kevin Smokler and I will talk about The Great Gatsby with the novelist and professor Alexander Chee at #classicschat on Twitter on Friday, May 10, at 4 p.m. ET. Chee is the author, most recently, of The Queen of the Night, forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Please join us on Twitter for a lively conversation about the book that the English literary critic John Carey has called “perhaps the supreme American novel.”
May 1, 2013
March 16, 2013
On Friday I’ll be cohosting a Classics Chat on Twitter about Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a Polish countess whose arrival threatens to disrupt the lives of the social elite in post-Civil War New York. Please join Kevin Smokler (@weegee) and me (@janiceharayda) at 4 p.m. ET, 9 p.m. GMT, on March 22 at #classicschat to discuss this great book. Kevin wrote Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven’t Touched Since High School, which includes an essay on the book. He and I will be talking about The Age of Innocence with Francesca Segal (@francescasegal) who won the 2012 Costa First Novel Award and the National Jewish Book Award for fiction for The Innocents, inspired by Wharton’s book.
February 17, 2013
On Friday I’ll be cohosting a Classics Chat on Twitter about Sylvia Plath’s mordantly funny novel The Bell Jar, a fictionalized account of the unraveling of her sanity after she won Mademoiselle magazine’s Guest Editor competition. Please join Kevin Smokler (@weegee) and me (@janiceharayda) at 4 p.m. ET, 9 p.m. GMT, on Feb. 22 at #classicschat for a lively conversation about this wonderful book for book clubs. Kevin wrote the new PracticalClassics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven’t Touched Since High School, which includes an essay on the book.
January 20, 2013
Follow #classicschat on Twitter to learn about Moby-Dick and other classics
Want to learn more about classics you have — or haven’t — read? I’ll be co-hosting a Twitter chat about Moby-Dick on Friday, Jan. 25, at 4 p.m. ET/9 p.m. GMT with Kevin Smokler, author of the forthcoming essay collection, Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven’t Touched Since High School. We’ll be joined by Christopher Routledge, who is working with the editor of Power Moby-Dick: The Online Annotation to produce a handsome, annotated limited edition of Herman Melville’s novel as part of a marathon reading event at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool, England, in May 2013. The Moby-Dick chat this week is the first in a series of monthly Twitter conversations about fiction and nonfiction classics at #classicschat.
March 3, 2012
June 6, 2011
Does a reviewer have a right to say that books for adolescents are “ever-more-appalling”?
By Janice Harayda
For years Meghan Cox Gurdon has been reviewing books for children and teenagers for the Wall Street Journal – at first biweekly and, since the launch of the paper’s book review section in late 2010, weekly. Her reviews are consistently intelligent and well-written and almost always favorable.
Cox Gurdon clearly has made it her mission to look for and call attention to high-quality books for children and teenagers on many topics and in a variety of genres. She has praised books as different as Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which won the 2008 Caldecott Medal from the American Library Association, and Ruth Krauss’s reissued classic The Backward Day.
Over the weekend the Wall Street Journal published “Darkness Too Visible,” one of the rare articles by Cox Gurdon that faulted a major trend — the burgeoning array of novels for adolescents that involve violence, abuse or other bleak topics. For this she has been pilloried in blogs and on Twitter at the hashtag #YASaves, which was created in response her story and has generated more than 15,000 responses, according to the trade newsletter ShelfAwareness. Cox Gurdon has been called “biased” (@KelliTrapnell), “idiotic” (@fvanhorne), “a right-wing nut” (@annejumps), full of “ugliness” (@AprilHenryBooks), and “brittle, ignorant, shrewish” (@Breznian).
What did Cox Gurdon do to earn this torrent of vitriol? She did what critics are supposed to do – to look beyond plot and characterization and consider the deeper themes and issues raised by novels. In “Darkness Too Visible,” she questioned the effects of books like Jackie Morse Kessler’s Rage, a “gruesome but inventive” 2011 book about a girl whose secret practice of cutting herself “turns nightmarish after a sadistic sexual prank.” Cox Gurdon quotes a passage from the novel that says: ”She had sliced her arms to ribbons, but the badness remained, staining her insides like cancer. She had gouged her belly until it was a mess of meat and blood, but she still couldn’t breathe.”
It is entirely legitimate for a reviewer to ask, as Cox Gurdon does, how this might affect a vulnerable child or teenager:
“The argument in favor of such novels is that they validate the teen experience, giving voice to tortured adolescents who would otherwise be voiceless. If a teen has been abused, the logic follows, reading about another teen in the same straits will be comforting. If a girl cuts her flesh with a razor to relieve surging feelings of self-loathing, she will find succor in reading about another girl who cuts, mops up the blood with towels and eventually learns to manage her emotional turbulence without a knife.
“Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures. Self-destructive adolescent behaviors are observably infectious and have periods of vogue. That is not to discount the real suffering that some young people endure; it is an argument for taking care.”
Anyone who writes about children’s books regularly knows that Cox Gurdon hasn’t made up this trend: Books, like movies, keep getting more lurid. Or, as she puts it, the publishing industry is serving up “ever-more-appalling offerings for adolescent readers.” If this issue might not concern all adults, it would surely concern some, given how many buy books as gifts for children without having time to look at much more than the cover and flap copy. And Cox Gurdon isn’t saying: Never read young-adult books. She’s saying: Know what’s in those books, and use judgment, as you would with movies.
Contemporary child-rearing experts urge parents to protect their children in ways that would have been unthinkable a couple of generations ago, when psychologists warned of about the dangers of “overprotectiveness.” This shift has resulted from social changes that require more caution, and Cox Gurdon has encouraged adults to apply to their children’s reading the level of care that they bring to all other areas of their lives. Is this so terrible? Thousands of people on Twitter have said, “Yes.” Anyone who believes that adolescents’ reading habits matter as much as their viewing habits may disagree. In her latest article and others, Cox Gurdon has paid young people’s literature the highest compliment: She has given children’s books the close scrutiny that, in an age of shrinking book-review sections, typically goes only to those for adults. For that, she deserves gratitude.
Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning journalist who has been the book editor of the Plain Dealer, the book columnist for Glamour, and vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. She has written for the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and many other publications. Since 2006 she has edited One-Minute Book Reviews, named one of New Jersey’s best blogs in the April 2011 issue of New Jersey Monthly. You can follow Jan (@janiceharayda) on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.
(c) 2011 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
February 24, 2010
February 10, 2010
December 3, 2009
Looking for holiday gift-book ideas? I’ll post mine on One-Minute Book Reviews closer to Christmas. In the meantime I’m putting up one or two gift-book suggestions a day for adults and children on Twitter (@janiceharayda) at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda, based on reviews posted on this site. Today’s reminder: Fans of Jan Karon’s “Mitford” series might like Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind (Harper, 2000), the first of Ann B. Ross’s “Miss Julia” books about a rich Presbyterian widow in a North Carolina hamlet who adopts a child. I reviewed it earlier this year on One-Minute Book Reviews.
August 6, 2009
Update, August 8, 2:17 p.m. Eastern Time: Still can’t post on Twitter with Firefox 3.0 and must use Safari.
Update, August 8, 12:20 a.m.: After successfully posting a test tweet, I couldn’t post a real tweet when I went back to the site. The Twitter “Status” page said: “Some users are unable to update on the web using Firefox 3.5.” I was unable to tweet with Firefox 3.0. I switched to Safari and was able to post a tweet for the first time in 35 hours.
Update, August 7, 10:11 p.m.: I was finally able to post a test tweet on Twitter, about 33 hours after first noticing the problem.
Update, August 7, 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time: I’m still unable to post tweets on Twitter, and the service has finally admitted that many people are unable to do the same. Twitter posted this message about 10 minutes ago: “Due to defensive measures we’ve taken against the ongoing denial-of-service attack, some Twitter clients are unable to communicate with our API, and many users are unable to tweet via SMS.” Jan
For about nine hours I’ve been able to to sign on to Twitter but not to post, apparently because of the denial-of-service attack launched against the site. The Twitter people haven’t posted a status update on the attack since 4:14 p.m. and don’t give a time zone for that hour. They say coyly on their “Status” page that some people “may” be unable to post, although some people clearly are unable to post. You can read what appears on the Twitter “Status” page below. I’ll post again on Twitter as soon as I can after service is restored. Thanks so much for your patience in the meantime. Jan
“Ongoing denial-of-service attack 10 hours ago
“We are defending against a denial-of-service attack, and will update status again shortly.
“Update: the site is back up, but we are continuing to defend against and recover from this attack.
“Update (9:46a): As we recover, users will experience some longer load times and slowness. This includes timeouts to API clients. We’re working to get back to 100% as quickly as we can.
“Update (4:14p): Site latency has continued to improve, however some web requests continue to fail. This means that some people may be unable to post or follow from the website.”