1. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Why Rowling and King and Meyer suceeded

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Jack Asher, Jan 7, 2015.

    Various comments have been made and made again disparaging recent popular authors that do nothing to address why they are popular.

    I would say this: Rowling and Meyer, and many other YA authors offer readers something that they can't find anywhere else. Consumability.

    When I was in High School we were forced to read literature that made us think about things. Literature that taught us important lessons about ourselves that we then had to write essays about. And I think most of my classmates hated it. And then came to the conclusion that they hated reading.

    But Harry Potter offers something that Atlas Shrugged or The Bell Jar or Catcher in the Rye never got a handle on. Readers, average readers, readers who don't want to expand their horizons past a good story, can sit down and cut through them. They don't have to write a paper about them, they don't have to take notes, and they can talk to all the other "non" readers about them.
     
  2. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Easy to read. Entertaining. Fun. It has nothing to do with needing to 'write notes' or being intimidated by the academic angle. They still don't like reading those books well into their adult lives. Just like movies. Oh, and often people read so few books they simply pick up whatever is the most popular rather than make their own choice.
     
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  3. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Atlas Shrugged was first published in the 1950s, and has actually had pretty good (respectable at least) sales since, and has been read by a few billion people. If the Ayn Rand institute is to be believed it's one of the better selling novels published in recent memory. Ayn Rand is a pretty commercial name, which I suppose is fitting her philosophy.

    Anyway, I think it's about the marketing. And movies. Twilight was lucky because it was published around the time of the emo craze, and teen girls in that subculture seemed to be very conscious of the psychological effects of puberty for the age group - and Twilight (shock-horror) is about sex.

    Harry Potter has this appeal of being whimsical and fantastic, but based on tropes I as a Brit have seen about a billion times before, the whole boarding school setting was a cliche by the time P.G. Wodehouse used it, but because it's magical and resold as Harry Potter, suddenly the most tired English trope became something the audience found spell-bounding.

    Atlas Shrugged was written at a time when adults read books that were written to be aimed at adults (those must have been good days) so from what I can gather about it's readership was bought by people who really liked The Fountainhead, and/or heard that the book would 'change your life' and 'make you see the world in new way'.

    My own personal feelings on all of these novels aside, other than word of mouth, I would say it has to be the marketing. I suppose, since I first heard of Twilight because of an ex-girlfriend's friend was reading it, it also has to appeal to it's target audience, so it must also have some quality it gets right. I first heard of Harry Potter because of a news special about it, and then the next day my mother bought the first book and we read it together. I first heard of Ayn Rand thanks to BioShock, and being completely honest (@minstrel, you might laugh when you read this) I went through a bit of an Objectivist phase, devouring The Virtue of Selfishness and The Fountainhead before finally giving up half way through my first attempt at the peaks of Mt. Atlas Shrugged.
     
  4. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I would draw a parallel to Star Wars, the writing of which was so awful and accomplished English actor suggested his character be killed in order to escape it.

    From wikipedia:
    Guinness said in a 1999 interview that it was actually his idea to kill off Obi-Wan, persuading Lucas that it would make him a stronger character, and that Lucas agreed to the idea. Guinness stated in the interview, "What I didn't tell Lucas was that I just couldn't go on speaking those bloody awful, banal lines. I'd had enough of the mumbo jumbo."

    And yet it's one of the most successful movies, and movie franchises in existance.

    I hate to bring in movie statistics, but aggressive marketing can only take a franchise so far before failing it. The Lone Ranger had one of the most aggressive publicity pushes do date, but performed miserably at the box office.
     
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  5. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Yeah, it has to do something right, and that something I guess would have to hit a nerve too. And there is no way to really predict these things. Twilight sold well because it came out at the time teenaged emos seemed fascinated by sex, Atlas Shrugged came out at a time Soviet Communism was threatening nuclear war and also the 1950s saw a rise in 'do it yourself' confidence in the free market, Harry Potter I can't explain so easily, but my personal ill feeling toward it might be clouding my judgement.
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Star Wars: regardless if the book came first (I have no idea) it was the movie that was first popular, so it's really in a different class. The movie drew the audience in.

    The other two were commercially successful novels first, movies second.

    I don't know why people are so hard on JK Rowling. While maybe one or two of the later books in the series had issues, I found her work incredibly imaginative and well written. No one rolls their eyes a dozen-plus times. None of the main characters are flat with their one accomplishment being a good person who has a boyfriend.

    Sure, maybe good vs evil is an easy target, and solving every problem by magic unchallenging, but Rowling still managed to come up with creative magical solutions. I absolutely love that series and don't agree with the criticism of her writing skill. Could it be the age group the series was originally written for? Are some of you judging it against something that would be written for older readers in order to be recognized novels?

    Just my opinion, of course.

    Twilight, on the other hand, had so many parts that were poorly written. But certain readers, (heavily female, no doubt), fell in love with the romance fantasy genre that the book contained: forbidden/dangerous love. Once the readers flocked to the book, the movies brought in the rest of the crowd.

    It's not just entertainment, it's vicarious fantasy.

    No one seems to notice that movies like Batman, Spiderman, Rambo, James Bond, have a similar (no doubt more heavily male) popular vicarious draw. At least I assume there is some vicariousness to being a hero and getting even going on there.

    I am convinced Harry Potter will prove enduring. Twilight, I don't know, can't see it holding up over time like Romeo and Juliet or Jane Austin romances, but I wouldn't want to bet on it.
     
  7. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    There is a Star Wars novel!?!?!
     
  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Are you joking? There are dozens of books in the series.

    Perhaps 'novel' is being too generous. :p
     
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  9. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    How wonderful. I had no idea one existed, never mind there being a series! :p I might check them out if I have time.
     
  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Wouldn't waste my time. They're like an overdose of bad fan-fiction.

    Star Wars books Google search.
     
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  11. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Ah! Thanks for the heads up. :)
     
  12. GingerCoffee
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  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Although I dropped off the branch early, I can certainly understand the appeal of Harry Potter. Whatever else you say about it, it was rich with detail that young people could identify with. And it started very well. Who can resist a young orphan being mistreated by horrible relatives, then is suddenly rescued out of the blue to discover he has magical powers? And there was lots to chuckle over. And the characters were fun, as were the relationships that built within the story context. And to many people the boarding school setting (somewhat spoofed) was exotic. And it WAS aimed at children. The surprise of Harry Potter is not that it was a publishing success for children, but that so many adults took to it as well.

    I would like to think that it got a generation of children reading again. I only hope that the kids who read and enjoyed Harry Potter are now young adults who continue to read all sorts of stuff. They've discovered that reading isn't Boring. We live in hope....

    The thing I disliked most about Harry Potter (other than the fact that I lost interest entirely after the 2nd book) is that the series was made immediately into movies—to the extent that the final split movie came out almost as soon as the final book was published. Now, I suspect any 'new' converts to the story are hooked by the movies rather than the books. What a shame.
     
  14. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well I agree with the OP. Sometimes we just want some disposable crap, a bit of mindless escapism that requires no real cognitive process. It is true of TV, film, music and literature. There is nothing wrong with it in moderation.

    The problem arises when you get a whole generation watching only soaps and reality TV; homogeneous, CGI-laden movies; listening to bubblegum, written-by-numbers pop; and reading poorly written franchises about boy-wizards or fake vampires.

    When it comes to popular literature though, my most hated development is the over-use of the cliff hanger. Every fucking chapter must end in one, and they have become slightly laughable through over-use in many novels.
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2015
  15. Kingtype
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    Kingtype Always writing or thinking things XD Staff Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    I have one

    Picked it up on Christmas eve actually

    Star Wars book

    Darth Plagueis

    Its like Palpatine's origins or as a young man, I've heard it its really good. I haven't read it yet but I hear its a good one shot if you're looking to read any.

    @GingerCoffee: Star Wars movies were first

    The books and comics were the Expanded universe

    It was considered Star Wars canon by a lot of fans until Disney decanonized it what with episode 7 upcoming and all
     
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  16. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's a tale about a class of five-year olds who are taken on a school trip to a farm, which they've never seen before, and thus are fascinated by all the animals, even the cow-dung! One wordly five-year old stands there shouting "Don't look, don't look! She'll only make us write about it!"

    I think that learning literature at school tends to be structured like aversion therapy.
     
  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    For those of you interested in 'good' Star Wars novels, based on the original Star Wars (not the crappy prequels) movies, can I recommend the series by Timothy Zahn?

    Zahn is a sci-fi writer, and knows how to write a good sci-fi story (if you think Star Wars is Sci-fi and not fantasy) but what makes his stories stand out is the fact that his dialogue remains true to the Lucas characters as we know them from the movies. When Solo speaks in the Zahn books, it's really Harrison Ford's voice we hear. Ditto Mark Hamill as Skywalker, Carrie Fisher as Leia. His series really does feel like an extension of the movies. I read several of them, and enjoyed them a lot, shortly after they came out. They would make a nice bridge from the original movies to the upcoming films. They take place five years after the events in the original trilogy, so the characters aren't old.

    Collectively, the series, written in 1991,92 and 93 is called The Thrawn Trilogy.

    The books are:
    1) Heir to the Empire
    2) Dark Force Rising
    3) The Last Command

    Zahn has written many more Star Wars spinoff books as well, but I can't comment on them because I haven't read them. I might do, though, just to get me in 'the mood.'
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2015
  18. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    Thanks for mentioning these. "Emo" girls have always had a home in some book or another.

    There were a lot of books that I read at school/during school that I simply wasn't ready for. I couldn't relate to the characters, I didn't understand the choices they had to make, I couldn't empathize with their pain... I was just too young, but I also felt that I should have understood and taken something great from them. It could be very disappointing, and often I probably would have done better with a Sweet Valley High book.

    But I have also wondered at the appeal of YA books like The Fault in Our Stars, Mazerunner, Hunger Gamers, etc., to adults. I once heard a woman describe reading the Hunger Games as being akin to eating a delicious bar of chocolate. I'm not a fan, but I suppose it must be the easy escapism.

    I also generally think reading anything is better than reading nothing at all.
     
  19. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is it really so hard to believe there is more to a book than how it is written? That people read for reasons other than to be blown away by beautiful, mind-bending prose or to shut their minds off and be entertained by easy prose?

    Rowling, King, and Meyer offer ideas to their readers. They write books that are filled to the brim with cool stuff. Their books are a Christmas tree with a variety packages under it that are all fun toys and games. Sure, they are nothing fancy, and maybe they are in a mess, but they are there. They are yours to play with. Thanks to the sheer variety, you will probably find something under that tree that sparks your imagination. You can spend many happy hours playing with it. Who cares if it is not some expensive, finely crafted luxury item? It does something for you. It gives you a fun way to exercise your mind.

    Speaking for Rowling*:

    To list a tiny few of the "cool things" offered to the reader:
    • the mirror of Erised. It is not just a somewhat clever fictional invention, but a powerful and concise tool of emotional character development when it is introduced, and a satisfying Chekhov gun when it appears toward the end.
    • horcruxes. The dark mystique of an object that makes you immortal by encapsulating a part of your soul that you deliberately broke off from yourself by committing an unforgivable crime speaks for itself. And I felt deeply invested in the hunt for the horcruxes.
    The aspect of the story that most strongly hooked me on it was the immersive fictional environment. It uses tactics and strategy alike to pull the observer in.

    Some tactics:
    • The houses are a categorization system. People love categorization. It is an easy shortcut to a sense of belonging. You will not meet a Harry Potter fan who has not spent a significant amount of time deciding which house he would be in, and thinking about how he would fit in. It is impossible to resist that kind of thinking. Two other categorization systems in massively popular works of fiction I can think of are the nations in Avatar: The Last Airbender and the factions in Divergent.
    • Magical society is a secret society. Secret societies are another shortcut to a sense of belonging. Reading Harry Potter, you can imagine you are part of something special that most of the world is not part of.
    • Hogwarts is a school. Not only are schools a shortcut to a sense of belonging, but they are a shortcut to a sense of progress. Magic in the Harry Potter universe is not treated just as plot fuel, but as something so interesting per se that it is worth studying. The story invites the viewer, who is likely currently in school and bored by much of it, into a world where school is not just interesting, but a path to greatness.
    Some strategies:
    • Regions and boundaries make the world feel structured and explorable. No matter how far the characters have pushed into the forbidden or the unknown, there is always some other mystery waiting to be revealed, some other place waiting to be explored.
    The story arc is also quite epic -- and I use that word in the least trite way possible. I felt more invested in it, and I think it moves the story along more effectively, than even the story arc of a classic like The Lord of the Rings. The characters go through school and they grow up while simultaneously preparing to confront the dark lord. I especially love the inter-generational aspect of the fight against evil. For example, you have Dumbledore's Army, a secret evil-fighting organization formed by today's generation, and some of their parents are part of the Order of the Phoenix, the previous generation's secret evil-fighting organization. And the generations end up fighting side-by-side. That is fucking awesome. Especially when you consider James and Lily Potter's roles in the ongoing fight, their complex relationships with people of both generations, and how they are both still there in spirit in some ways.

    Recently, when re-watching the movies, I was noticing a ton of details I had completely missed on my first viewing, especially toward the end. I think my favorite set of details was the whole situation surrounding the infamous spoiler of The Half-Blood Prince, and how The Deathly Hallows follows up on it. Both the plot and the sudden shocking character-development revelation blew my mind. It amazed me how everything fit together and how much emotion and plotting had been going on inside the characters' minds for so long.

    Want to succeed like Rowling, King, and Meyer? Stop belittling them and making empty claims that you (general "you") could write better, and actually come up with something of your own. Offer something interesting to the reader rather than just trying to prove what a great wordsmith you are. Generate ideas that match the sheer coolness of an orphan going to wizard school and spending seven years preparing to defeat the dark lord who killed his parents and threatens his friends. Package those ideas in colorful paper and put the packages under a Christmas tree with pretty lights and ornaments. Bonus points if you really are a great wordsmith, I guess.

    * Granted, I watched the movies, then read the first two books, then got bored of reading them and quit. So I have nothing to say in defense of the quality of the writing. But everything I mention that the movies offer to the viewer is also offered by the books to the reader, so my points apply equally to the books.
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2015
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  20. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @lustrousonion - Hunger Games was incredibly well-written in my opinion. More than once I would reread entire pages just to enjoy the writing, and it's one of few books that almost had my inner critic totally turned off. The only times the critic woke up was to admire the prose. There was plenty to think about, to be honest, the critique of reality TV being one of them, and the characters were realistic, especially Katniss. It remains one of my favourites.

    I wouldn't argue that it was easy escapism - certainly it was entertaining and easy to read, but those qualities don't discredit it. Rather, being a thought-provoking book that was also entertaining and easy to read, that's actually a pretty good achievement, and it's what I look for in my books. I'm not so classics-oriented. I like to think and expand my horizons and all but I'm not into straight philosophy and analysing scholarly thinking. I do want entertainment when I read. So, for me, the best books are the ones that deliver both: they entertain me and they make me think. Hunger Games did that. Same thing goes for Fault in Our Stars for me. Fault in Our Stars made me cry just thinking about it some 6 months after I read the book.

    I'd venture a guess that all of us would love to read a book that both made us think and entertained us.

    @Jack Asher - that's hilarious about Obi-Wan!

    Anyway, to the general topic - there seems to be this assumption that if it's popular, then its literary merit must be slight or non-existent, as though by virtue of being entertaining the book is reduced in quality.

    Not that I would argue for the literary merit of Twilight - I managed to read only most of the first book and it's really, really badly written. Mazerunner was equally badly written and I can't believe people were comparing it with Hunger Games all because it involves teenagers trapped in a finite space set in a dystopian world. You can tell Mazerunner is just a hype without quality because people mention its name but never go as far as actually talking about it. Even Twilight gets talked about more often, even if it's usually about how bad it is.

    However, I read quite a few YA books, and the truth is, Fault in Our Stars, Hunger Games, and even Harry Potter are really very good compared to the rest. Most YA books are plain and unengaging, especially the series where it's usually full of fillers and pointless descriptions of landscape that last for pages and pages. Mazerunner falls in this shoddy category of YA. Harry Potter is far better in quality. Fault in Our Stars and Hunger Games, in my opinion, are very poetic, actually, and don't read like a book targetted at teens at all.

    As for Twilight, it was YA with sex included - that was new. Since when have teenagers not been interested in sex? It was a surefire winner lol. (well, I don't actually know if a sex scene was actually written in the books - I just know about the whole "Have sex with me!" - "Nooooooooooo! *flies backwards off the bed*")

    In any case, it seems these YA novels have been able to hit a nerve with the masses that millions of adult books haven't been able to. I think instead of reducing the reason of their popularity to "it's just mindless fun", which clearly isn't the case for some YA books, even if fun is one factor, we might actually learn something if we'd consider perhaps there's something that these books and authors got right that we haven't. It's true many do read these books for mindless fun and it is perfectly possible to read it without necessarily thinking about it, but that doesn't mean the book really is just a story of mindless fun.

    Besides, there really was nothing fun about Fault in Our Stars when that scene came of Gus at the petrol station trying to buy cigarettes :( (you'll know which scene I mean if you've read it)

    Anyway, I wonder if people gripe about the popularity of these books because they're jealous. Let's face it, there're thousands of bestsellers out there with writing far worse than any of these titles mentioned and yet people don't talk about them. They have no problems with them, with their popularity, with their writing or story, and they - unlike books like Fault or Hunger Games - don't have any deeper themes and certainly don't make you think. People don't feel the urge to randomly criticise them, however.
     
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  21. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Exactly.
    1. People do something.
    2. More people do similar things.
    3. Some people get really good at doing those things.
    4. Observers come to expect a high standard of skill from people who do those things.
    5. Someone does something new, without as much skill as the masters of the old things.
    6. Some observers find the new thing interesting, and so they appreciate it. It speaks to a part of them that the old things never even attempted to address because no one ever saw the need to do so.
    7. The new thing becomes popular.
    8. Other observers do not "get" the new thing -- all they can see is that something became more popular than the works of the old masters despite being less skillful -- and so they conclude that "kids these days" are shutting their brains off because they prefer easy entertainment over a challenge, that quality work is a dying art, and that society is about to collapse or something.
    It is an age-old pattern.
     
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  22. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    People say this a lot, yet I'm yet to see anyone - at all - who has ever said 'It's popular, therefore, it must be bad'.
     
  23. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    @Mckk, I'm not saying these are bad books (okay, some of them are, in my opinion, but that's beside the point). I guess I find it more interesting that these are YA books, and adults could get these themes in a more age "appropriate" book.

    I think easy to read and entertaining does make it easy escapism. We may disagree on that point, but I don't think easy escapism isn't a bad thing. I'm not saying people shouldn't read them. I've just wondered, is all.

    I totally agree that YA can and actually should grapple with big issues. I recently read all of the Giver series, having grown up with the first ones. I enjoyed it. I thought they were good. I might even read them again. But they didn't give me the same things other not YA books do because I'm not a child anymore and no longer the target audience.

    And am I jealous? YES! I'd love for that many people to read my books. ;)
     
  24. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    With the same heart?
     
  25. lustrousonion
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    @daemon, that's a good point. Maybe not.
     

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