Last night I indulged myself and bought my first Young Adult novel in what seemed like years, for the sake of a quick, easy, and amusing read (note: I love trashy trailer park movies, cheap reality shows, and cliché chick lit novels so this one was right up my alley). I picked up Andrea Portes’ 328-page novel, Anatomy of a Misfit, without reading any reviews, over a bestselling Rainbow Rowell work because I felt I could relate to a high school misfit more than a Fangirl. You must know that before reading this, I had just finished reading Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch. After having finished the two, I was compelled to compare though both works are worlds apart, coming from entirely different genres.

I’m a slow reader so it took me an estimated month and a half to finish The Goldfinch (somewhere around 900 pages long with the same page size, but of smaller text size) because I was drowning in adjectives and heavily descriptive scenes of the “art underworld”. Admittedly, digesting a Donna Tartt book takes patience and constant consultation of a dictionary. I’ve read two of her three published novels and I’m a fan of her erudite writing style (though I prefer The Secret History way more than The Goldfinch).

After spending so much time with The Goldfinch, even spilling soy sauce on some pages, wearing out its paperback cover, and taking it along with me on train rides and dinners alone, I was astonished at how easy it was to finish Anatomy of A Misfit. A few hours easy. Money down the drain for something so dense with a narration that was almost condescending. I may not be in high school anymore, but I sure as hell don’t remember anybody talking like that. Okay, maybe I laughed a handful of times and I teared up when [spoiler] Logan died but the amount of time reading it probably has some correlation to the amount of time it took the author to write it. And doesn’t time give a thing its value, more than its material or monetary worth?

What makes a YA novel? Why are they so popular besides the shabby writing, faulty loopholes, and cheesy plots? From what I experienced from reading Anatomy of A Misfit was that it appeals to emotions. Sure, it might teach teens a lesson, but these are more of reiterations of values we already know and situations we’ve already experienced. The only time we have is now, you say? I’ve never heard that one before! But we end up purchasing it because of its ease to get into, its cheap thrills, and relatable experiences. Might I throw out that the younger crowd, myself included, is more easily swayed by a heart MacGuffins? The puppy love, the love triangle, the bullying, and the slang. It’s all so predictable and “sincere” but it’s just that. There’s nothing below the surface, unless it’s a John Green novel that tries so hard to be philosophical.

In the Philippines, there’s a common formula for majority of Filipino films. First, they have to be titled after love songs from the eighties or nineties. Second, there’s always a clash of social classes, poor vs. rich, and the portrayal of both are never accurate. Third, in rom-coms, there’s almost always a love triangle or an affair going on somewhere. All this accompanied by poor theatrics, hasty set designs, and a finished product that I find capricious (I recently found out that it only took two weeks to film a certain unnamed Filipino film, which provides some evidence to my claim). BUT HOW COME THEY NEVER CHANGE? Because audiences fall for the lazy ploy over and over again by its appeal to emotion and its melodramatics, just like YA novels. Sure, they give you momentary entertainment, but after a week or two, your life resumes as if you’ve never read the book or watched the film.

Do yourself a favor and know what you’re spending your money on. Stop and think before making that purchase. Reviews help. Don’t go wandering aimlessly into a bookstore (like I did) and buying the first book you get your hands on. Once in a while, it might be fine to splurge on these, but it would be wise to opt for something with a little more depth, not just in the plot, but in the writing style as well. If there’s one thing I learned from a Yale writing conference, it’s to read as a writer, because what you intake will affect your output.

The Future at the Tip of Your Pen (Commentary on Nabokov’s Lance and Sci-Fi)

Vladimir Nabokov tries his hand at cross genre with a piece, circa 1952, published by The New Yorker. Cross Genre is always tricky, what with the metafiction tinging itself with science fiction particularly. In Lance, the narrator, detaching himself from writer Nabokov, painstakingly composes the character Lance, an astronaut, and his family. But unmistakably, the narrator justifies this piece as an amateur work, even calling Science Fiction out as masked regular fiction:

“I utterly spurn and reject so-called “science fiction.” I have looked into it and found it as boring as mystery-story magazines — the same sort of dismally pedestrian writing with oodles of dialogue and loads of commutational humour. The cliches, are of course, disguised; essentially they are the same throughout all cheap reading matter, whether it spans the universe or the living room. They are like those “assorted” cookies that differ from one another only in shape and shade, whereby their shrewd makers ensnare the salivating consumer in a mad Pavlovian world where, at no extra cost, variations in simple visual values influence and gradually replace flavour, which thus goes the way of talent and truth.”

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During a literature class four years ago, my professor mentioned there only being seven basic story plots. Of course, there are also several different theories contesting and justifying this one. But can I just say, I agree with Nabokov/the Narrator on this one. I applaud him for a piece well-written. Anyway, science fiction is almost always set in the future or in some alternate present, but quite actually, there is no such thing as the future; it’s all just a skewed representation of the present. According to an analysis of ‘futuristic art’ by Brian Dillon (which also coincidentally mentions Nabokov’s Lance), “the only future that seems to have mattered is the future anterior: what will have been, or more accurately what might have been”. That’s exactly what the narrator attempts to do in Lance: he’s actually conjuring up some pretend future that his descendent will later experience. Those attempting to write science fiction or metafiction should take cues from this wonderful and overlooked masterpiece by Nabokov (who gains most recognition only for Lolita)

Science fiction is just so fantastical. I don’t mean that in the informal marvellous-adjective sort of way, I mean that, while I don’t fancy reading much of it, I commend the writers for such an overactive imagination contributing to the portrayal of a disguised world as we know it until it no longer becomes recognizable.