Twitter was all atwitter yesterday with a Slate piece by Ruth Graham entitled “Against YA" (read it right there). Aside from the click-bait title (and Slate is as guilty of this game as any online magazine—right now they have articles up called "Hillary’s Always Right" and "Your Next Smartphone Will Do Three Big Things that Your Current One Doesn’t"), there are a lot of things wrong with this article. Here are some of them, in no particular order.
#1: Can a book be called YA if its readership is primarily made up of adults?
The Slate piece quotes a 2012 Publisher’s Weekly report showing that 55% of the YA-buying public is over 18, then goes on to lambaste adults for reading children’s books. The illogical nature of this leap should be obvious. The books we call YA clearly aren’t children’s books, the definition of which should be books written with an audience of children in mind. While the exact percentage of adults reading YA has likely gone up over the past few years, it has been significant for a good long time (probably for decades). The first Harry Potter book came out in 1997, over 15 years ago, and was read by a significant number of adults. And adults have been reading CS Lewis and Tolkien for years (or are those not YA?—see below). And any author writing YA knows this. Therefore, YA is not really children’s literature. YA is just a title for a certain genre that isn’t actually defined by the age of its readers (a bit like Ph. D. standing for “Doctorate of Philosophy,” referencing an obsolete definition of “philosophy”). If the writers writing YA books know that their audience will be made up equally of kids and adults, they are not writing children’s books. To say they are is a pure logical fallacy.
#2: What’s YA?
Is Tolkien YA? Is CS Lewis? Is Madeline L’Engle? Or are we only calling something YA if it isn’t good? And what about the runaway “adult lit” books The Lovely Bones, The Age of Miracles, or The Goldfinch? These books are primarily concerned with the lives of teenagers (or even younger children, as in the case of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), and yet their publishers market them as adult lit as opposed to YA. Are they not YA simply because they’re “good”? I would argue that it’s simply a marketing choice (The Lovely Bones in particular is no great literary shakes!). Either way, it’s irresponsible to hate on an entire genre that has no clear boundaries in the first place.
#3: Adult literature isn’t satisfying?
Somewhere in this weeping sore of a Slate article, Ruth Graham says this: “Most importantly, these [YA] books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering.” Now, I can’t think of a good or popular novel that doesn’t have a “satisfying” ending, whatever this author thinks. Ulysses ends with Molly Bloom reliving the moment she fell in love with Stephen and, in a way, agreeing to love him again. SATISFYING. Lolita ends with the cruel and narcissistic pedophile crushed into the dirt by the girl he emotionally and physically ravaged for years. SATISFYING. Pride and Prejudice (and everything else Austen ever wrote) ends in joyful marriage to a rich man. SATISFYING. So what the hell books is Ruth Graham reading?
#4: What’s good for you?
Running through the article is a strain of judgment about “escapism.” Now I’ll tell you the truth: I can be judgmental of escapism too. I think people have plenty of ways to escape, and they could stand to subject themselves to difficult art a little bit more often. But here’s the problem: nobody can do that all the time. I don’t know Ruth Graham, but I’m willing to bet she has a few guilty pleasures of her own. The problem is that “guilty pleasure” is just another way of describing bad taste. So while we’re hating on YA, why not hate on Game of Thrones, Agatha Christie, Henning Mankell, Joe Nesbo, John le Carre (people have given me crap for including John le Carre here; I love le Carre, and have read half a dozen of his books, but he still isn’t considered canon, because he wrote page-turny spy fiction (even if it was really dark and interesting page-turny spy fiction)!), Anchorman 2, Wayne’s World, pretty much everything Judd Apatow has ever done, Frozen, and every other piece of art that doesn’t strive to be an intellectual powerhouse but is enjoyed by adults? Should an adult be ashamed to watch “Toy Story”? Should an adult be ashamed to see “Wicked: The Musical,” which is devoid of intellectualism, full of dumb music and bright colors, and worst of all, based on a cheesy, shallow novel based on a brilliant, inventive YA novel! By Ruth Graham’s logic, yes and yes. Be ashamed of everything you do that isn’t volunteering for a charity or reading Proust.
#5: Why be ashamed of anything you do?
This is a small point, as it’s very likely the ignorant and ignoble Ruth Graham wasn’t responsible for the tagline on her article, which encourages adults who read YA to “be ashamed of [themselves].” But it bears mentioning that no one should be ashamed of any art that they indulge in, as long as they aren’t shitty people because of it. To be honest, I’m not a fan of most YA, in spite of the fact that I write it. I agree that the majority of YA (and crime fiction, and spy fiction, and science fiction, and fantasy, and literary fiction) is often shallow and uninteresting. But so are video games, which I sometimes play. So is Game of Thrones, which I totally watch. So was Ian McEwan’s “Solar,” which I totally read. Why should anyone be ashamed of any of it? Everyone should read good books and watch good movies and listen to good music. They should also be free to do what they want without getting slapped in the face by a moron on Slate.
That is all.
Hello Friends and Enemies and Frenemies and Barbara Walters,
It is time for the cover reveal of my debut novel “We All Looked Up,” out March 31, 2015 from Simon & Schuster BFYR. Are you excited? Good. But you better hold onto that excitement, because we’re about to go on a journey together. It is a journey that begins up here, with the paragraph you are now reading, and it ends with the freaking final cover of “We All Looked Up”—a cover that is unlike any cover you’ve ever seen before (no joke)—and an ARC (Advance Review Copy) giveaway. On the way there, I’m going to take you deep inside the process of developing a cover. I’m going to show you all of the drafts we went through, so you can see first hand how a cover gets designed, iterated, and finalized. This is totally serious. Like…totally serious. These are certainly not a series of parody covers I came up with just to entertain you. I would never do something like that. Never.
For those of you who don’t know, “We All Looked Up” is about four teenagers dealing with life in the six weeks before a giant asteroid passes through Earth’s solar system, an asteroid with a 66.6% chance of colliding with our little blue planet and…you know…killing everyone. It’s mega-cheerful. And that’s why the first covers we considered were also mega-cheerful:
My Response: I loved the boldness of the colors, and the novelty of the font, but to be totally honest, I didn’t like the look of that…thing on the cover. I mean, what is he? A cat? A person? He looks like a smug, dirty Q-tip. And what’s with the hat? Does he think he’s Pharrell or something? Get out of here, dirty Q-tip Pharrell.
My Response: At first glance, this one was a winner. The connection between the title and the single eye in the face is solid. However, on closer inspection, there turned out to be a couple of big problems. First off, I didn’t like the unnatural aging on the jacket. This looks like a $3.99 paperback from the sixties or something, right? Even more worrying was that little penguin in the corner. It’s as if Simon & Schuster forgot they were publishing this thing. Honestly, this cover made me so angry I almost got drunk in a milk bar and beat up a bunch of strangers.
My Response: This one really came out of left field for me. There’s a bird in my book, but it’s a hyacinth macaw. This looks more like some kind of pelican. And the arrow? What’s that about? Honestly, this cover felt less like the cover of a book about four teenagers dealing with the possible end of the world, and more like…I don’t know…some kind of YA take on the Japanese cult classic “Battle Royale.” One man’s opinion, anyway.
My Response: This cover has bestseller written all over it. And though my book doesn’t technically have any dinosaurs in it, who cares? Dinosaurs sell books, god dammit. Everybody knows that. However, after much consideration, I realized that the tiny arms of the Tyrannosaurus Rex made me sad. I mean, what does he do if he gets an itch on his back? Just suffer in silence? I didn’t want to think about that every time I saw my book, so I told the designers to start over from scratch. Scratch. Itch. And now I’m sad again.
My Response: This is such a great cover, full of brilliant design elements. Take a look at the little dancing guy there, literally looking up at the title! So, so smart! However, and I know this might sound crazy, I just didn’t want my book to be the same color as an IKEA. It’s really a personal thing, and I don’t want to get into it right now. Just mind your business about it, okay? (Fine, fine, I’ll tell you. I once lived in an IKEA for an entire year, mistaking one of the tiny, well-decorated rooms in the bedroom section for my apartment. I miss it. It smelled like Swedish meatballs all the time.)
My Response: I can’t explain it, but just looking at this cover made me feel like a total asshole.
My Response: This one could’ve been perfect, but Simon & Schuster thought it would be “edgy” to put that 50th Anniversary Edition sticker on there. I was all like, “But the book comes out in 2015!” And they were all like, “Suck it, Tommy.” So we had to shut it down. (Also, why refer to it in the small print as an “American” classic? Are you trying to imply that I don’t have international appeal, sticker?).
My Response: Wow. This should’ve been the one. Total perfection, right? I mean, you can tell that whatever lies between the covers of this book right here is going to be sheer literary genius. The image just screams “Joycean erudition” and “Nabokovian wordplay” and “Austenian social commentary” and “Dickensian scope,” doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it turns out that Apple Inc. has trademarked any image of an apple, or of any delicious piece of fruit, or any word with the letter “A” in it.
So there you have it, friends. The development of a cover. All of which led us to the final image. And here it is:
Ta-da! Now, I feel like it’s pretty important I make a couple things clear.
1. The covers before this one were indeed a joke (thank you to the brilliant and beautiful Ellen Epley for making them for me—can you name all the original covers in the comments, people?).
2. This cover, designed by the incomparable Lucy Ruth Cummins, is not a joke. It is totally real. Like “anthropogenic climate change” real.
3. I know what you’re thinking. “Where’s the title, Tommy? Come to think of it, where’s your name, Tommy? Come to think of it, how do I even know your name, Seamus Macklemore Cumberbatch?” And the answer is this: what you see is what you get. We are doing this book with no text on the front cover. Just the unbelievably beautiful image you see right there. And here’s the back (See! My name IS on there somewhere!).
So there you have it, friends. My amazing cover. Time now to shout out the geniuses responsible for it.
1. First and foremost, Lucy Ruth Cummins, who designed this wonderful wonderfulness. She is the artistic marvel behind the covers of “Winger,” “The Monstrumologist,” and a million other beautiful books. Worship her beauty. Right now. You’re not worthy.
2. Meredith Jenks took those incredible photographs. If you go to her website, you can see lots of her other stuff, including pictures of amazingly sexy and awesome people (her portraits of Janelle Monae are particularly super rad).
3. Christian Trimmer, editor extraordinaire, and everyone else in S&S editorial, design, and production, who have supported this book to the extent that it can have the most crazy, ballsy cover I know of. I am so honored.
Now, here’s what you can do for me (because I’m sure you were wondering…). Enter this giveaway for an ARC (Advance Review Copy) of “We All Looked Up.” Please share around this little cover reveal post of mine, and super please add my book on Goodreads, because I literally use the number of people who’ve added my book every day to determine whether to get out of bed in the morning.
I haven’t left my bed in twelve years.
Row 1: Look at this guy, wearing a suit on a plane to Minneapolis. Who’s watching, big man? Like you don’t own sweatpants. What’s he reading? Malcolm Gladwell. Of course he is. God forbid he pick up a novel for once in his life. Probably hasn’t read a real book since high school. I bet he spent his four years at Duke (because it’s always Duke, isn’t it?) getting hammered at frat parties. When people asked him what he was studying, he’d say, “Having a good time.” Then he went to business school so he could become a consultant. What a dumb fucking job title: consultant. I wouldn’t consult this asshole on how to use toilet paper. Now he’s looking at me. I bet he’s jealous because I get to wear sweatpants and he has to dress up in that monkey suit. Well fuck you, corporate America. That’s the price you pay for all that legroom.
Row 2: How the hell does that woman already have a drink? I haven’t even sat down yet and she has a drink. And in a champagne flute, no less. Is it a Mimosa? It is. It’s a fucking Mimosa. Any drink would be bad enough, but did it have to be a Mimosa? It’s like she’s just on this plane to have a light brunch, while the rest of us choke down our peanuts in steerage. I bet she paid extra to get it early like this, so she could sip it while us coach passengers did the walk of shame. I bet they brought a menu around as soon as she sat down, and it only had two options on it: Mimosa or Mimosa with Schadenfreude. Fuck her.
Row 3: Who is that? I think I know her. I’m waving and she looks a little creeped out but now she’s waving back. How do I know her? She’s stopped waving. Oh God. It’s Neve Campbell. I really thought I knew her, though! She’s just one of those actresses that looks like someone you know, you know? And now she’s going to think I’m the kind of crazy person who thinks that I know her just because I “know” her from TV. But why would she just jump to the conclusion that I recognize her from TV? Is she really that famous? I mean, she hasn’t made a movie in years. I think she was in an episode of Mad Men this season, but that’s hardly a career. What gives her the right to act like some big star? Like I don’t have the right to even wave at her? Fuck you, Neve Campbell!
Row 4: Oh look—an empty seat. The fine folks at Delta would much rather let a big beautiful seat like that go empty than let one of us filthy nobodies from the back rows use it. I’m sure just the smell of us would put all the brunchers off their mimosas. I could sit there. I could just sit down right now and see what happened. Maybe they’d notice the circles under my eyes and smell the airport-bar vodka on my breath and just let me stay there (especially if I pretended to fall asleep straight away). But then what if they’re saving it for someone important, like a soldier returning from the Middle East or something, who’s gonna come on right at the last second? (God knows Delta would never give a free seat to someone for being a practicing pacifist. They’d never say, “Sir, for your lifelong dedication to not involving yourself in wars, here’s a first class seat.”) Then business man and mimosa lady and Neve Campbell would look at me as if I were the asshole. You know what? I don’t even want to sit in first class anymore. Fuck first class.
Row 5: This is good. It’s the last row, and there’s nothing here to get riled up about. Just a young couple, holding hands across the armrest (an armrest that is almost as wide as the narrow aisle I’m attempting to drag my suitcase down). They can’t be more than twenty-five years old. Imagine, people their age being able to afford two first class tickets. And they’re both so attractive. I realize now that my life is never going to be like their lives. And that’s not just the depression talking—it’s the truth. And maybe it’s time I learned to be okay with that. Maybe, as painful as this short journey through first class has been, it might have taught me something. Maybe I can use this as an opportunity to try and be a little bit less bitter and jealous. A little more appreciative of the gifts I do have. Not everyone can even afford to fly! And at least I can count on getting those free peanuts! As if on cue, the curtain that separates the haves from the have-nots is pulled aside and I see them—my people, squashed together in the clown car they call coach. I can feel my heart expanding with demotic pride. I embrace my identity as just another member of the masses—a prince of the proletariat, a playmate of the plebeians, a hero of the hoi polloi. I love you like family, my fellow paupers. Take me into your warm, pungent bosom for the next four glorious, skyborne hours!
Jesus. I’ve never seen so many babies in one place in my entire fucking life.
Trousers/khakis and a shirt with a collar. No jeans. No athletic wear.
– Business Casual, as described in Forbes Magazine
Business Very Casual
Flip-flops and a Hawaiian shirt. No buttons.
Business Extremely Casual
Slippers, a velvet robe, and a pipe. No worries.
A white pointy hat and a white robe. No tolerance.
Business Clichéd Gay Clubber
Leather pants and a mesh shirt. DDF.
A wrinkled shirt, a loosened tie, and a blood-pressure cuff. No paper trail.
See business casual, but with a pair of high-quality stainless steel “connective bracelets.” No bail.
An orange jumpsuit and four days of stubble. No private toilet.
A forced smile and a house-arrest anklet. No-contest divorce.
Sweatpants and yesterday’s T-shirt. No visitation rights.
Gin and dry vermouth, garnished with a green olive. No hope.
Business Mentally Unstable
Strands of plastic bottles tied together with dental floss and a tinfoil hat. No shirt, no shoes, no service.
An Armani suit with 24-karat-gold cufflinks, a crisp white shirt, and a power tie. Underneath it all, your dead mother’s old girdle.
Pajamas and Klonopin.
First of all, a hearty congratulations on your engagement. Though I don’t know Allison very well, the excitement you must be feeling to take such an enormous and some might even say deranged step so soon after meeting the bride-to-be certainly fills me with confidence that this relationship will have real staying power!
That being said, I am afraid I will not be attending your wedding three weeks from now in Allison’s hometown of Jug Hole, South Carolina. Because we are such good friends, and also because you asked me to be your best man, I feel that I need to provide some sort of explanation. Here, in no particular order, are my reasons.
1. The wedding is in three weeks.
Again, I am super impressed that you and Allison have chosen to take this leap a scant two months after briefly chatting on OK Cupid and then sleeping with each other after your first date. I certainly don’t agree with those of our friends who’ve argued that this has something to do with your breaking up with Chloe three months ago and her immediately beginning to date Steven, her co-worker with whom you expected she had some sort of affair (or at least entertained the thought) while you were still together. Nor do I think it is because you are turning thirty-six this upcoming November, and your parents were already married with two kids and a mortgage by the time they were your age. No, I truly believe the mind-boggling rapidity with which you’ve chosen to base-jump into matrimony is a direct function of your excitement vis-à-vis Allison, who is (as you’ve told me many times over) both a yoga instructor and tentatively bisexual. I promise you that my issue here is purely practical. Like most adults, I cannot suddenly take three days off in the middle of the week without any warning to attend a “marriage-themed bacchanalia” (as the festivities were described in your charming invitation).
2. It is in South Carolina.
I could use a vacation, Ben. I really could. And I hope you won’t be offended when I tell you that I was still on the fence about attending your little soiree before I noticed the location. I was hoping for somewhere a little beachier, such as Barbados, or Puerto Vallarta. Of course, I’m sure it’s very important to Allison that her entire extended family be able to attend the wedding, and I know that most of them don’t have passports. But there is still Miami, Ben, or Santa Barbara. Jug Hole, South Carolina is not a vacation spot. It is a place one leaves after dropping out of high school, and then sporadically and grudgingly returns to for family interventions and funerals.
3. I am not Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, or Jeff Bezos.
Let’s budget this out, shall we? First off, there is a round-trip plane ticket, which, at this late stage, will cost at least $500, unless I want to fly on a budget airline that views fistfights as a valid way to determine who gets to sit in the part of the plane with functioning seat belts. Then, I would have to rent a car to get to the methamphetamine capitol of South Carolina you’ve inexplicably chosen as a venue, to the tune of $85 a day. You also suggested in your letter that you’d love to have a little bachelor party on the night I arrive. Given your extremely high tolerance for alcohol, and the inevitable pity I would feel for the employees of “Bad Decisions,” Jug Hole’s only strip club, this would run me a good $300. Next, I would have to rent a hotel for three nights. The only hotel in town is a a bargain at $28 a night (and the website informs me this includes free access to the Spice Channel!). However, the cost of treating my apartment for bedbugs upon my return to New York would cost an additional $400. I am not a rich man, Ben. I’m not as poor as your fiancée, of course, but I’m not precipitously marrying into money three weeks from now, either! Ha ha! J/K.
4. I care about you.
Ben, you are one of my oldest friends. I love you like a brother. But I feel confident that if I were to drop over a thousand dollars to watch you promise to honor and obey a woman whose middle name you have not yet learned, I would come to hate you. And I don’t want to hate you. So I wish you all the best as you embark on this wondrous journey—without a map, without a paddle, but secure in the knowledge that you have beaten Chloe to the punch in terms of really moving on with your life. Have a great wedding. I promise I’ll make it to the next one.
The following story was written by an actual eight year old named Becky, who is now an adult (and whose debut novel comes out next year). This piece will appear on the Toast in a month or so, just FYI.
One day a dog had 7 puppies. Candy, Bubbles, Spot, Flower, Brownie, Bambi, and Tootsiroll. Tootsiroll was the runt. All the puppies had spots. There were 6 nipples on their mother, Apple. One day Flower went up to Bubbles. They talked and had fun. Soon they let all the puppies join them, all except Tootsiroll. Nobody liked his face because he didn’t eat enough because nobody ever let him. Apple noticed this and started waking Tootsiroll up in the night when everyone was speeping. Tootsiroll would suck and suck. Still none of the puppies liked him. They were all as mean as they could get to him. They woke up extra early so Tootsiroll wouldn’t get a nipple to suck because they didn’t know what happenes in the night. They took as much room up on the bed so Tootsiroll would have to sleep on the floor. They took more than one toy each so Tootsiroll couldn’t play with any and they did lots more awful things on purpose. One day they couldn’t find Bambi. They looked everywhere. Soon Tootsiroll got an idea. He looked under the bed and there he was. He barked. All the puppies came running. Everyone was proud especially Tootsiroll and they always respected him.
First off, please include your name and an approximate word count on the first page of your manuscript. Also, see the handout you received on the first day of second grade, which describes my preferred formatting guidelines RE: margins and spacing.
Now, let’s begin by talking about your title: Tootsiroll. While I’d love to believe you are aware of the technique known as “sensational spelling,” in which words are deliberately misspelled for effect (see Led Zeppelin, Froot Loops, and Bryan Adams), we both know you’re not. You’re eight. You’re barely aware of the technique known as “wiping yourself after you poop.” But you’ve at least seen a Tootsie Roll, haven’t you? Never forget that good writing starts with good reading.
Your story begins with the introduction of your dramatis personae. But Becky, do you really expect the average reader to be able to keep track of all these characters? Give us time to get to know your puppies as individuals. To that end, I urge you to reconsider your decision to describe all seven puppies as having spots. We need to be able to differentiate between them. Maybe one has spots, one has mange, one is a little bit racist, etc. (Keep in mind, these are just suggestions. The divine spark has to come from you.)
The abrupt sexualization of the story around the fourth sentence (“There were 6 nipples…”) felt forced to me, particularly coming from someone half a decade out from the onset of puberty. Not everyone can be a Nicholson Baker, Becky. At this point, you’re not even a Jenna Jameson. I felt similarly skeptical when the story became an allegorical commentary on anorexia (“…he didn’t eat enough because nobody ever let him.”). Laurie Halse Anderson has really exhausted this subject in fiction, so you shouldn’t broach it unless you have something new to say. As my writing professor at Columbia told me, an issue may be topical, but so is Preparation-H.
Now, a quick word on structure. While I respect the way you’ve attempted to channel the sentence-by-sentence efficiency of Hemingway and the overall flash-fiction concision of Lydia Davis, there is such a thing as too simple. A couple of adjectives or adverbs aren’t going to kill you, Becky. Remember, it’s called “creative writing,” not “instructions for putting together an IKEA-brand kitchen island.”
I do appreciate your decision to feature dogs in the story. The anthropomorphization of animals has a long and impressive pedigree (Ha!—see that’s the kind of wordplay this story could have used a little more of!) in fiction. Consider Orwell, White, and even Kafka. However, the worlds described in these authors’ books are internally coherent, while yours is (and I’m going to be straight with you, Becky, as I know you’d want me to be) a piping hot mess. How about a little bit of context before you launch us into the story? Where are these dogs? Are they in someone’s home? And what’s the deal with this bed? If it’s a human bed, six puppies are simply not going to be able to spread out in such a way as to keep a seventh puppy from also enjoying the bed. If it’s some kind of special dog bed, this only raises more questions. Who built the bed? Some sort of carpenter dog? Have these puppies chosen to forego the proverbial dog pile for some other sleeping arrangement, and if so, why? Does it have anything to do with their distant, loveless mother figure, who functions here as little more than a milk dispenser?
This brings us to your conclusion. Becky, I can’t understand why you would fail to address the fact that Bambi is clearly dead, and that what Tootsiroll has found must be the corpse of Bambi. Otherwise, why wouldn’t he have come out from under the bed when he heard his brothers and sisters calling his name? Tease out the implications here. Which of your characters has both the means and the motive to kill? How about the maladjusted, malnourished loner, starved both metaphorically (for attention/affection) and literally (for milk)? Let us not forget that the first crime mentioned in the Bible (assuming you don’t count sex before marriage or apple theft!) is fratricide. This dark ending would be made even more chilling by the fact that Tootsiroll uses the murder of Bambi as his means of finally securing the respect and love of his other brothers and sisters (see Whipple and Finton’s “Psychological maltreatment by siblings,” Vol. 12, Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal).
Final Notes: Becky, there are intimations of a compelling psychological thriller hidden somewhere in this hackneyed family drama. However, a worrying thematic immaturity, to say nothing of a grasp of the subtle poeticisms of the English language I would be generous to call jejune, do nothing to bring them out.
Final Grade: D+
10. Dumbledore (Harry Potter)
Let’s face it, the dude was already about 800,000 years old when he kicked himself in the bucket, and apparently he had magical cancer or whatever, which means his big pratfall is really more like ghosting out of a party than straight-up suicide. But here’s my take on it: Dumbledore didn’t care much about the whole Elder-Wand-Don’t-Think-About-It-Too-Hard-Or-It-Dissolves-Like-Play-Doh-In-Battery-Acid-Plot-Contrivance fiasco. Instead, he jumped off of Hogwarts because he was depressed. And why was he depressed? Because his creator had kept him stuck in the closet for over ten years, then trumped up a retroactive homosexuality for him because she hadn’t won any GLAAD awards yet. Dumbledore wasn’t ready for the inevitable media firestorm, so he chose to end it all. Study Question: Does Rowling’s murder of her beloved gay wizard qualify as a hate crime? All the straight characters seem to make it out alive…
9. Anna Karenina (Anna Karenina)
When somebody breaks up with me, I just watch a lot of Scrubs and cry in bed. Not Anna. She THROWS HERSELF UNDER A TRAIN. I don’t wanna condone suicide, but that is a baller move right there. Levin was probably all like, “Damn. Why’d I marry a little wiener like Kitty, when that Anna chick is throwing herself under trains and shit? I bet she was crazy-go-nuts in the sack.” Study Question: Is it more or less emo to throw yourself under a high-speed train, such as the Acela?
8. Antony, Cleopatra, Eros, Iras, Charmian (Antony and Cleopatra)
Did you know that five characters commit suicide in this play? First, Cleopatra pretends to commit suicide, which makes Antony so sad that he tells his buddy Eros to kill him, which makes Eros so sad that he kills himself instead, which makes Antony feel like a pussy for not killing himself already, so he kills himself, which makes Cleopatra so sad that she kills herself, which makes her two maids super sad that they don’t have a steady income anymore, so they kill themselves too. Study Question: Wouldn’t a giant ceramic urn of poisoned Kool-Aid been more efficient, both practically and dramatically?
7. Javert (Les Miserables)
Okay, bear with me here. Javert is basically the computer from WarGames. Think about it. The computer is programmed to carry out WWIII. Javert is programmed to capture Jean Valjean. Both of them lose their mind when faced with a logical contradiction. In the case of the computer, it’s playing Tic-Tac-Toe. For Javert, it’s realizing that the “criminal” in question is actually a pretty good guy. The computer shuts down. Javert swan dives into the Seine. But not before singing an emo power ballad. Study Question: When Russell Crowe is singing, don’t we all kinda wish we could jump off a bridge?
6. All the Characters (Girls)
Okay, I’ll admit it: this is neither literary, nor something that ever happened. It’s really just a fantasy of mine. Study Question: Does Girls suck donkey? Study Answer: Yes.
5. Little Father Time (Jude the Obscure)
Alright, this is a dark one, so prepare yourself. LFT is a little boy who convinces himself that he and his half-siblings are the reason his parents are so bummed out all the time. So one day, he kills himself and the half-siblings, leaving behind a one-sentence suicide note: “Done because we are too menny.” Holy Kevorkian. If that isn’t emo, then neither is wearing thick mascara and listening to The Cure wearing a Nirvana t-shirt and also you’re in the suburbs and you have a biology paper due tomorrow and life is pointless. Study Question: Would you murder your siblings if it meant saving them from a life of pain and dishonor? What about to keep them from having to watch Girls?
4. Gollum (Lord of the Rings)
Tolkien’s Gollum (played in Peter Jackson’s cinematic adaptation by Steve Buscemi) is willing to jump into hot lava for a little gold ring. Which basically makes him indistinguishable from every woman on eHarmony. Heyoooo! Study Question: Would replacing “eHarmony” with “Christian Mingle” in the above joke improve the punchline?
3. Romeo and Juliet (Romeo and Juliet)
There’s nothing more emo than giving yourself the old mortal handjob for love. So Juliet gets fake poison from a Friar, while Romeo gets real poison from a dude named Apothecary (which is a badass name, BTW). Juliet takes the fake poison. Romeo sees her, thinks she’s dead, and takes the real poison. Juliet wakes up, finds Romeo dead, notices that he didn’t leave her any poison (#dickmove), and stabs herself. Double emo. Study Question: Do you think either Romeo or Juliet watched Girls before committing suicide, and if yes, were they more bothered by the terrible acting, the abysmal writing, the lackluster direction, or simply the pestilential cloud of nepotistic inbreeding that floats over the entire operation, negating the show artistically even as it drags Lena Dunham and her hipster coven even more inevitably into the zeitgeist, like a mortally wounded animal hobbling beneath the porch to die?
2. Seymour Glass (A Perfect Day for Bananafish)
Seymour was a savant. He was the star of a game show. He was professor at Columbia by the age of 20. Then he went to war, and it made him SUPER SAD. He tried to kill himself once, by slitting his wrists, but he must’ve missed all the good veins. He survives, and ends up eloping with some chick named Muriel. On their honeymoon, he’s like, “On second thought, life is still shitty. I’m a bananafish stuck in a hole.” So he shoots himself in the head. Muriel is RIGHT THERE ON THE BED next to him when he does it. But he doesn’t give a fuck. Because he’s fucking Seymour Glass, emo king of literature. Study Question: If Holden Caulfield killed himself at the end of “The Catcher In The Rye,” would he steal the emo-king suicide crown from Seymour? What about Max from “Where The Wild Things Are”? Doesn’t he already have a crown?
1. Sylvia Plath (Real Life)
Okay, so she’s not technically a literary character, but she sorta is, right? Plath once described her sadness as like “owl’s talons clutching my heart,” which definitely sounds like a rejected Morrissey lyric. And that’s just the tip of the emoiceberg. Check it: “I talk to God but the sky is empty.” Emo. “I desire the things that will destroy me in the end.” Mega-emo. “Dying is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well. I do it so it feels like hell.” HOLY FLAMING SHIT IN A STUDIO APARTMENT THAT’S EMO. Sylvia Plath is the human manifestation of emo. Study Question: Does Sylvia Plath qualify as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and if so, why didn’t Zooey Deschanel or Kate Winslet play her in the movie Sylvia? Also, on a scale of 10 to 10, how much do you think Sylvia Plath would’ve hated Girls?
Special Mention: All the girls in The Virgin Suicides. I only skipped it because it seemed a little on the nose. I think the title is what does it.
Brooklyn sure is a fun place to live. Even if you’re doing nothing more than sitting on a bench watching people pass by, there are so many games you can play. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Creepy Guy with his Daughter or with his Russian Mail-Order Bride?
2. Ironic Hipster or Actual Cowboy?
3. Crazy Person Talking to Himself or Owner of Hands-free Headset?
4. (Seen from Behind): Child or Dwarf?
5. Baby or Old Man with Benjamin-Button Disease?
6. (At Restaurant): Actor or Professional Waiter? Just kidding. It’s an actor.
7. Ironic Hipster or Actual Lumberjack?
8. High-five, Traditional Handshake, Fist Bump, or that Handclasp where the thumbs intertwine and then you briefly hug and then you pull your hands away with a little bit of tension in the fingers which is then sometimes followed by a Fist bump?
9. Date or Networking Opportunity?
10. Sir-ah-cha, Shri-rah-cha, or Shree-rah-cha?
11. Real Band or DJ?
12. Real Band or Performance Art?
13. Real Band or Prank That Is Being Filmed In The Hopes the Video Will Go Viral?
14. Ironic Hipster or Actually David Byrne?
(You make David Byrne sad.)
Last year, I started writing here and there on the amazing reference book known as Garner’s Modern American Usage (or GMAU, which you should buy). I’ve decided to occasionally discuss ten of my favorite entries in blog form. Here we go.
1. Aluminum – The English chemist Sir Humphrey Davy named this element “aluminum” at the beginning of the 19th century. A few years later, “aluminium” was offered as being more “classical” in sound, because it matches up well with other elements (sodium, magnesium, potassium, etc). So the next time an Englishman corrects you on your pronunciation of “aluminum foil,” tell him that the original English pronunciation of the word actually matches up with the current-day American pronunciation. Then make the poor bloke some tea, and hold him while he weeps.
Amateur – This word refers to a hobbyist, not a beginner. Garner calls out “amateur pornography” as a problematic term, given that the amateurs in question are usually paid. He fails to note that, unless you are a porn star or a prostitute, all the sex you’ve ever had has been, by definition, amateur, no matter how good at it you think you are.
American – This word is annoying and bizarre. Obviously, anyone from any country in the Americas should be able to lay claim to it, and yet, we in the US have totally arrogated its usage. Garner suggests it’s most likely because of the lack of a good alternative. And honestly, do you really want someone to call you a United Statesian?
Amok – This word is awesome. In Malay, it’s a noun denoting a homicidal frenzy. Also, it’s pronounced “amuck,” but you should try not to spell it that way, because it’s a mistake based on the pronunciation (the original Malay word is amok). Thom Yorke spelled it right on the cover of the last Atoms for Peace album, and even if he doesn’t know how to spell “Tom,” we should still defer to his judgment.
Amphibology – This is the term for a sentence like “I love you more than Justin Bieber,” which has two grammatical meanings (i.e., either “I love you more than I love Justin Bieber” or “I love you more than Justin Bieber does”). It’s also a true sentence, insofar as I love every human being who is reading this blog post more than I love Justin Bieber and more than Justin Bieber loves any of my readers (even you, Selena Gomez). And Justin, if you’re reading this, then please change the word “more” in the above sentence to “less,” creating a downward spiral of love in which I love you less than I love Justin Bieber (you), such that my love for you (Justin Bieber) asymptotically approaches zero.
Prochronism – You probably know the term anachronism, but have you ever heard of a prochronism? It’s used to describe a reference to something made at a date earlier than the thing in question actually existed. Could be used mystically, or for crazy coincidences. For example: “God Bless You!” (If anyone sneezed just after reading that, that was a prochronism.)
Anachronym/Retronym – An anachronym refers to something that lives on in a figurative sense even though its literal sense has been rendered obsolete by a change in technology or culture. The clearest example is given by Garner: dial. You still “dial” someone up, but odds are good you don’t actually spin a dial to do so (unless you bought some vintage P.O.S. from Restoration Hardware or SkyMall, in which case, shame on you and your children unto the 9th generation). A retronym is used to refer to a new term applied retroactively to something. Garner points to ice skates, which were known simply as skates until the invention of roller skates necessitated a means of differentiation.
And – “It is rank superstition that this coordinating conjunction cannot properly begin a sentence.” I only point this out because I probably begin 5-10% of my sentences with the beautiful word and. I absolutely love it as a sentence starter, because it allows one to simulate the stream of consciousness feeling necessary to any good close third-person narration without sacrificing grammatical coherence to a bunch of run-on sentences. SIDE NOTE #1: Garner says a list construction without a terminal and implies that the series isn’t complete. Rhetoricians call it “asyndeton.” An example: “After spending twenty years in prison, he wanted so many things: the love of a good woman, a freezer full of ice-cream sandwiches, all of Friends on DVD.” Without the terminal “and,” we sense that this is not a complete list of this man’s desires. We also sense he has strange tastes, and that the writer of this blog post is getting tired. SIDE NOTE #2: “On the question of punctuating enumerations, the better practice is to place the and introducing the final element.” That’s right. Garner is all about the serial comma. Suck it, anti-serial-comma people.
10 Awesome Animal Adjectives –
Anniversary – Look at the word, you moron. Just look at it. I’ll wait here while you’re doing that. Ho hum. *whistling noise*. Okay, are you back? Do you already see the problem? The next time you hear some guy say, “I’m taking my girlfriend out tonight for our six-month anniversary,” I want you to punch him in the face. Then stand over his prone body, watching the blood gush from his broken nose, and shout: “OH REALLY? It’s the yearly celebration of your six-month anniversary?” Then kick him in the stomach and say, “I’m gonna beat your ass again on the anniversary of this beating, ONE YEAR FROM NOW!”