E Keathley: This is Circulating Ideas and I’m Elizabeth Ferguson Keathley sitting in for Steve Thomas, who is on a field assignment in the mountains of Afghanistan. Longtime listeners may remember my session with Steve back in the summer of 2014 when I talked about my work with digital asset management. Today, while I’m filling in for Steve, my guest is Madigan, who is a youth services librarian in downtown Atlanta. You can find her blog at madiganreads.com
E Keathley: Madigan and I both practice library science in Atlanta. We practice two very different kinds of library science and that’s why I wanted to interview her for Circulating Ideas. I own Atlanta Metadata Authority, which works with digital asset management and Madigan, why don’t you talk about yourself for a little bit?
Madigan: Sure. I’m a youth services librarian at a public library and that’s pretty much what I’ve done most of my library career, I’ve worked in all kinds of different libraries, but mostly I’ve worked in large urban public libraries with children and teens. I’ve worked in Austin, I’ve worked in Los Angeles, and now I’m in Atlanta.
E Keathley: That’s pretty cool. Was it always youth services?
Madigan: For the most part, I’ve worked in youth services. I’ve worked in some school libraries. I’ve worked in a university library in their archives and special collections, which is fantastic because we get to work with some really ancient texts, like medieval manuscripts. And we got to work with… they had, yes, and they had a first edition of Shakespeare, one of Shakespeare’s folios, which people would sometimes come to see. I think it’s still one of only three in the country that they had.
E Keathley: Like, Kennesaw?
Madigan: Not at all. No. That was, uh, at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles.
E Keathley: Wow.
Madigan: Yeah. And I’ve also worked as a cataloging assistant. That was just very briefly, again, when I was in Austin, I was doing that, but for the most part I’ve worked in public libraries.
E Keathley: Awesome. So you have a whole blog called Madigan Reads. And why don’t you talk about that a little bit and you have a book club that goes along with that that I just, I love hearing about and reading about because even though I went in a very different direction with my library career, in an alternate universe, there’s an Elizabeth that followed your career path and so basically this whole interview, I’m just going to pretend like I get to read young adult novels for my job instead of working on metadata all day. So why don’t you talk about Madigan Reads a little bit and your work with young adult reviews?
Madigan: Okay. Yeah. The book club that I’m in is actually a completely separate endeavor from the blog, yeah. Basically I started the blog because roundabout in 2005 or 2006 blogs, were still new-ish and considered pretty cool and cutting edge librarians had one and I was like, “I should start one of these some time!” And I was really busy with library school. I didn’t have time to put together a blog at that time and I got my first post-library degree job in Los Angeles and I was really interested in serving in a Caldecott or Newbery committee and I wanted to kind of do something to prove that I am a reader and I read a lot and I review and I wrote reviews for – and I still do – write reviews for School Library Journal and that I would make a great addition to a Newbery or Caldecott committee. That since has completely changed because social media was still so new, ALA didn’t quite know what to do with it. Back in 2006 Elizabeth Bird, I think, was on a Newbery committee and she had a very prominent blog in Fuse 8 out of New York Public. Post- her having been on, I think she was on the Newbery committee post- her doing that, they decided to kind of shut it all down, right?
E Keathley: That’s the rational ALA reaction to a new technology…
Madigan: New technology, shut it down, shut it down. They’re like, we don’t know what to do with this, just shut it down, shut it down. And then, and then it became a thing like if you were a blogger, a lot of bloggers got a bad rap as they were just gonna, you know, write a really glowing review in order to get from as many free books as possible. And there’s just a lot of controversy there and ALA didn’t feel comfortable with it, didn’t quite know how to approach it. So they took the stance that if you had a blog, you should not blog at all while you’re on the committee. And so I continued to apply for the committee and not get it of course. But I thought to myself, you know, at a certain point I realized I wouldn’t want to give up blogging for even for an awesome committee like that, I wouldn’t want to do it.
E Keathley: Yeah. This was also around the same time that the Annoyed Librarian was really blowing up the blogosphere and ALA, just that I think is what made them, did not care for it, did not care for it. And there was really almost this backlash against…
Madigan: They were worried it would be unprofessional and it wouldn’t reflect well on the profession as a whole or that somebody, that bloggers, were just going to write an angry rant or they saw it as something that was really out of control because it is… You just, you think of something and you put it on there and in minutes it could be on live on the internets, and then what do you do? Then you’ve got to deal with it.
E Keathley: Yeah. ALA really viewed blogging as a disruptive technology, did not like the fact that people who are having real problems with ALA at that time, a la the annoyed librarian and many others, were sort of getting their platform for the first time to kind of say, this is what I think. While others of us were, you know, really embracing the technology and saying, no, this is part of librarianship. Not only should you be able to speak out on blogs as a platform, but like your blog Madigan Reads, this is really an extension of your librarianship. To me, this is one of the most pure library and blogs that I ever look at. Of course, to be honest, I’m really looking at it for your cover trend pieces, which I’ve got one pulled up now just because I used to work in a bookstore, like many librarians, I did my time in the retail sector and I used to manage a Waldenkids, which was a short lived children’s offshoot of Waldenbooks. And we would see these trends in some of these ridiculous things. And so it’s fun every once in a while when I want to kind of dip back into that world to look at your blog and be like, well they’re doing eggs now. Everything has eggs. And I’m looking while we’re talking the piece that you put out on April 3rd where there are no fewer than six covers with eggs on them. And you’ve also pulled up some really great stuff from the past. So what inspired you to highlight this? Other than just noticing it?
Madigan: Usually I do like a cover trend to find notice there are two or three covers that are the same or sometimes they’ll use the same stock photo for different covers or they’ll give it a slightly different treatment. And so when I notice it then I’ll take a look at through some publisher catalogs and go are there other ones or are there, is there one from say last year that I could could include in this crop? And I noticed a couple of covers with eggs on them and I thought, well, it’s Easter is right around the corner. I wonder if there’s more. And so I just went hunting for them and you just basically go through a bunch of catalogs and glance at all the covers and then pull up everything that fits.
E Keathley: I’m just looking at this, you’ve got cover trend pedals, cover trend apples, cover trend curled up in a ball. Oh, that one was pretty fine. Sometimes you’ve posted like really old outdated covers.
Madigan: You know, I did a series that I thought would be so popular called Weeding Wednesdays cause a lot of blogs like to have a meme where you do a certain thing every week. So every Wednesday I’d post something outrageous that I had weeded from the collection. And I’ve worked in some libraries where the weeding was pretty much nonexistent. And I was pulling out things from the 70s, the 80s. I have actually found the legendary weeding story of that book that talks about, “One day when man lands on the moon.”
E Keathley: Yeah, yeah. I had one of those when I was growing up in my house. It was called the Book of Knowledge. Yeah, it was from…
Madigan: It was great, and that book had a picture. It had a picture of the planet earth. And it was fascinating because nobody had, had gone up in space yet. And we think of planet earth, of you know that blue and white marble and it didn’t look like that at all. It looked like a globe. Like they forgot to put the clouds on, cause nobody been up there yet, you know? So yeah, I thought that’d be a really popular meme and that it would take off, but people don’t like to talk about weeding. It makes people feel uncomfortable and they feel bad that there’s a librarian gleefully getting rid of books and it’s really not what it’s all about. It’s about keeping things fresh and updated so that when people come into the library, they don’t go, “Wow, look at this old dinosaur!” Yeah, so I had done a series on weeding, but I’m not doing it anymore. I haven’t, I don’t think I’ve done a post on weeding in awhile.
E Keathley: I love weeding. I love weeding a lot. I think it’s one of the reasons I’m an archivist. Technically my library degree is in archives management rather than a librarian because I actually like throwing duplicates out. I like de-duping and things like that and this, it’s a different part of librarianship. What else do we want to talk about?
Madigan: I wanted to go back to something I was saying earlier about blogs being controversial and one of the ideas that I had when I, when I did my blog, and I’ve worked in various places where they were a little uncomfortable, like, “Ooh, you have a blog, are you’re going to say something bad about us?” And I’m like, no. The whole goal of my blog is, like, “Yay books are awesome. Hurray children!” You know, that’s basically the field that I want to get across. And there have been maybe two or three posts in the last five plus years that I’ve regretted and I just feel like, you know, I don’t want to go in and erase the post and try to pretend it didn’t happen. I just put up an apology and I’m like, oh, that was not well thought out, or I retract it, or I would say 99% of what’s on my blog, I absolutely stand by it. So if my employer ever looked at it and said, “Why are you posting this?” I would go, “Well, are you kidding? This is great.” You know, it’s reviews of books. It’s trends that I’m noticing with children and teen librarianship, it’s just things that I think are valuable and it’s something that I hope people who are looking for book reviews or people who are interested in youth librarianship would take a look at and get something out of.
E Keathley: I can tell you from personal experience as someone who opens her mouth on the Internet and regularly shoves your foot all the way down her throat, that there’s nothing controversial about your blog to me at all. Even the posts that you’re referencing where you regretted a little bit, it’s really just been because maybe you thought you were to hard on review or something. No, I mean… I do stuff that makes people furious, you know, and sometimes I do it on purpose, but I’m doing it for a reason. Trying to get a point across. I did a piece for CMS Wire last fall and what I did was I tried to actually say, you know who’s using what DAM. And I wanted to do the top like Fortune 50 and that just turned out to be impossible because companies are in the Fortune 50 have like two or three digital asset management systems a piece, and it just, it rapidly just got out of control. And I said, okay, well I’ll just do the top 50 brands because companies that are top brands are usually really open about what system they’re using because they’re on top of technology that’s why they’re a top brand. And people were furious with me because a lot of that stuff is like under NDA – nondisclosure agreement – and the problem was, you know, they had also posted white papers and there were links and there were presentations where people were saying, “No, we’re using this system.” But then of course the same with the Fortune 50, at these companies are often multiple systems. So even though I had a link to one system, I didn’t have it to the three other that they were using, which you know, I added in the article, I was like, this is, these are the ones that we know of. And I absolutely stand by that. But I knew it was going to make people mad and I did it anyway because I like it needed to be done because we don’t really have studies that are grounded in any kind of truth on market share. But what you’re doing to me is just such a pure extension of your librarianship. I mean it really like it. I really dig it. And you have a book club too. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?
Madigan: It’s a book club. I wish I could take credit for starting it and running it, but it’s actually run by Kim who works at Little Shop of Stories, which as an independent children’s bookstore in Decatur and her good friend Vanya who is a photographer and she’s designed a lot of book covers, or done photos for book covers. You know, there’s a lot of aspiring writers and there’s a lot of bloggers in the group and it’s an interesting group. It’s called the Not -So-YA Book Club and it’s for adult readers who enjoy reading YA and it meets monthly and they choose usually a fairly newish book. And it’s been a great experience cause it’s kind of forced me to read other genres instead of just sticking with, you know, maybe science fiction fantasy and once in a while a mystery. It’s kind of got me reading more across the board and coming up with really fresh recommendations for patrons for readers’ advisory.
E Keathley: I just love YA to death and I mean, I know that it’s an old argument to say that if To Kill a Mockingbird were published today, it would be in the YA category, which I, you know, I absolutely think it would, it would be as much as we fault YA for giving us Twilight, which quite frankly I don’t even think should be in the YA section, but whatever. YA has given us some of the most inventive and fresh novels I think that are being written right now. What are some novels over the past three to five years that you’ve read in your YA reading club that you thought were really just stand out that maybe should even be considered for like the Pulitzer? Cause I can think of one, but it’s older, which I’m still shocked more people haven’t read, although I know it’s on a lot of reading lists now, which is Tangerine.
Madigan: Oh yeah, yeah. Great book.
E Keathley: Yeah, that’s a great book. Yeah, that book, it just blew me away. And of course this book is, you know, 15 years old now, I’m sure, if not a little bit older than that. And to this day I recommend that book to people and it’s in the YA section and is in the YA section because the protagonist happens to be in either junior high or high school. But I don’t even think of that as a YA book. And it’s always kind of my example of, “Why do you read YA?” And I’m like, well, because sometimes there are these great gems in there and they just blow my mind. I’m looking at your list right now of the best boarding school books. I mean, you’ve got A Great and Terrible Beauty up here.
Madigan: Oh yeah, yeah.
E Keathley: Which is really great.
Madigan: Yeah. There’s a great or great blog called the Broke and the Bookish and they do a top 10 list every Tuesday. And so I just put together, I put together a bunch of lists for them. One of the great things about a blog is I can refer back to it when I, when I’m like, I tried to remember…
E Keathley: That’s how I track myself sometimes. Like, wait, what did I read? What did I do?
Madigan: What did we read… Out of the Easy was a fantastic book and I will murder this author’s name… Ruta Sepetys…?
E Keathley: Out of the Easy? I think people can find it if we say Out of the Easy enough, let’s just say out of the easy like five times.
Madigan: Exactly. Yeah, that was a great book. I mean, the writing was really good and it was such a unique take on New Orleans and you know, a girl who is surrounded by all these wild partying… she’s I think been adopted by the owner of a bordello, I guess we’d call it? And so all of the adults around her are these wild, crazy party animals and she’s so straight laced and she’s in the middle of this crazy party town and she’s just trying to pull it together and I loved that. I just, I really enjoyed it. I loved Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper. I don’t know if I loved it because it’s such a fantasy kind of story, but it’s got this great kind of, oh, you make a deal with the fairy folk sort of feel to it. And so it’s this girl who desperately wants to take over as a witch of the island and she’s in Nova Scotia area and it’s during the 1860s or 1850s and whaling is just going out of vogue and shipping is just sort of kind of dying off and it’s sort of turning over into, we don’t really need a witch of the island anymore. We’re going to turn over to tourism or whatever. And her mother is trying to break this generation’s age. She sees it as a curse and her daughter sees it as a gift. Like why are you denying me my magic? That’s a great one. I love it. And then we’ve done a lot of like Patrick Ness ones. I really liked More Than This by Patrick Ness. It got off to a really slow start. It was a tough start. But once they powered through like the first two or three chapters then it really gets going and it kind of turns into this boy is not sure if he’s in an alternate reality or everyone’s kind of made the choice to sort of join the matrix and, and they’re all happily ensconced I guess, in warm vats of goo and he and a few survivors of this planetwide holocaust or deciding, you know, how are we going to survive on the outside?
E Keathley: Why do people always think that warm vats of Goo are going to be comfortable? It just sounds so uncomfortable to me every time it’s referenced. You see that allegory going all the way back to Frankenstein. I don’t ever want to be in a vat, that sounds horrible.
Madigan: It’s funny cause now that as soon as I said it, I realized like, I don’t know if there are literally warm vats of Goo, but it’s absolutely what you picture when you picture someone. Yeah. When you picture someone knocked out like that, they might just be in a box full of wires without any goo, but you just kind of, if it was cinematically they were going to turn that into a movie, you know, the director would be like, “All right, get out a warm vat of goo, because that’s what’s gonna sell this.” But that’s the kind of, you know, universe that they’re all in. So, and it’s that you mentioned Frankenstein because Frankenstein, you always have this picture of this huge electrical storm and he’s hooked up to all this stuff and there’s a bolt of electricity… That’s from the movie. Yeah. We get that from the movie, that visual’s from the movie. It’s never in the book. So I, as soon as I said it, I was like, actually, I don’t know if there is that in the book, but that’s what you picture. Yeah, it was good. It was good book.
E Keathley: Yeah. The person floating in the vat is a sci-fi trope. I’m going to look up now and see if in The Matrix they were originally going to be actually in goo, plugged in, cause I know there was a lot of stuff that changed from the script to the screen there. I’ve got to go find out.
Madigan: You know, it was real, you know, it was really good and I don’t think there were warm vats of goo in this one: Noggin by John [Corey Whaley]. And that is about a kid who’s one of, not the very first, but one of the first successful recipients of a, I guess you call it a brain transplant or a body transplant. I’m not sure. His brain has been deposited into a healthy body.
E Keathley: Awesome.
Madigan: And he’s kind of coping with that, being in a new healthy body. He had been dying of cancer. His parents had him cryogenically frozen. In his universe, he blinks his eyes, wakes up, the operation has commenced. It’s already occurred. He’s in his new body and it’s five years later. All of his friends have grown. They’ve aged five years and he’s still mentally, emotionally in high school and his friends have just finished college. His girlfriend’s moved on, she’s dating someone else. I think she’s engaged to somebody else and he’s really kind of struggling with that because he just doesn’t fit in anymore. He’s going back to school, but all of the kids who were there and people that he remembered as being the younger kid brothers and sisters of his friends and he’s, “I don’t want to hang out with these children” because in his head they’re still younger than him and it’s just what a shocking adjustment that is and I thought it was really well done.
E Keathley: We’re both huge fans of the sci-fi. For me, my first YA sci-fi novel was A Wrinkle in Time and I read it in third grade. Yeah, it’s a really good time to hit it, it really is. And my daughter’s in third grade right now and I’m debating on getting her to read it or not. She’s really just starting to move into YA out of what I would consider more children’s books. For instance, her big jam this past year where she went through that whole How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell. You know, she’s gone through all the Roald Dahl and now I think it’s time to step her up to a little bit of science fiction, which I think she’s going to dig. I don’t know. Right. And I’m, I’m almost like afraid to share A Wrinkle in Time with her because what if she hates it? What if it’s super dated and it’s just not her thing? What do you suggest?
Madigan: Oh, for A Wrinkle in Time? I don’t think A Wrinkle in Time is dated. It’s so classic. Maybe I should reread it because it may feel dated to kids who are used to cell phones everywhere and social media and the Internet. But I still think it’s just such a strong book. It holds together really well.
E Keathley: I was just such a huge Madeleine L’Engle fan. I read everything Madeleine L’Engle. And I actually noticed that my daughter was reading Judy Blume this morning. It was Double Fudge. And I said, Oh, have you read a lot of Judy Blume? And she said, well, I’ve read all these Fudge books and I was, yes, it’s the Blume gateway. I’ve got to go back. I know they updated Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, because of the tampons and stuff. So I’ve got to go back and uh, it might be time to hit her up with, with the classic, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, which would also facilitate the discussion… I don’t know. I remember it being dated even when I read it, cause I read it in the 80s. I, like, asked my mom, I was like, “What’s this belt thing?” And she’s like, “Nobody’s used that for 20 years.”
Madigan: The version that I, I mean I read it when I was fairly young, but I must’ve read the updated version because it was written a long time ago and they were talking about stuff in the original version that I didn’t know about until I was an adult really where she talked about how she had changed it because so many girls were like, I didn’t get a belt – what is that? – but I wonder if they’ll update it again like put in a DivaCup in there or something. Would that be something? I don’t know if they will, but who knows?
E Keathley: I don’t know either, but that would be great. No, but you know, I may have been reading a dated version cause I was such a library rat as a kid, there’s no telling what version I got my hands on, but I’m sure it was here. It had to have been the original because they talked about the menstrual pad belts and stuff. Oh Man, I’ve got to go out and buy. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. now. I did tell my daughter about the lady supplies and she was just like, I don’t want to talk about this. Many of the podcast listeners right now are like, whyyyy?
Madigan: But I was gonna I was going to go back and say about A Wrinkle in Time. There’s a great blog called Forever Young Adult and they do really snarky, funny takes on a lot of classic things that would be considered YA today that they read when they were teens. Then they do some, I think a few current things as well. And then they do a lot of pop culture references as well. I think it’s a trio of ladies who were in Austin who write it. It’s a really good blog and they’ve done a lot of reviews or talk about A Wrinkle in Time. They were looking for, like, a romantic angle in it. Which, cause I read it in third grade, I didn’t feel that or read into that at all, but they were like, “Oh Meg and Cal, gotta get it on and we want more details and more deets on that, you know?” And so it’s kind of, yeah, it’s kind of funny cause I don’t think of it as a YA book. But I mean for reading level it definitely is. I mean in terms of, in terms of the vocabulary. Yeah. But, I don’t know, when I read it I was more relating to like, yeah, Charles Wallace, the young genius, the love story of Meg just went right over my head.
E Keathley: Oh, it’s, it’s weird cause I read it at about the same age you did, but I was totally all about Meg because she’s deliberately described in the book as like not being pretty and I’m just going to go out and say it. I had head gear, massive head gear, you know the idea of this smart girl who was considered to be not pretty. I was like all there, Charles Wallace is a problematic character on many levels. And I’m saying this, you know, revisiting it from my memory, I haven’t read the book in a while, but that child prodigy trope that Charles Wallace embodies that no one could possibly understand him because he’s this super brilliant child. I get it. But that kind of person in real life is super obnoxious.
Madigan: I think if you re-read it as an adult, he’s almost creepy. He’s almost like the Allman or, or different tropes. That creepy kid, the creepy kid kind of trope. And I think it’s kind of, I dunno, it’s one of those things where it’s kind of like Coraline – and Neil Gaiman has said in interviews, and I think it’s so true – children read Coraline and they’re like, “It’s wonderful. It’s about this little girl and she goes on adventures and it’s fantastic and I loved it and she defeats some evil guys and has a great adventure, you know?” And adults are like, I read it and I locked all the doors in my house and I turned the mirrors around and I was frightened and the button eyes, what was that? And it’s really pretty scary if you read it as an adult. And I think that’s so interesting how the same book can be a different book if you reread it over time.
E Keathley: I like to call this the Wizard of Oz problem because Wizard of Oz is messed up and creepy. Full disclosure, my oldest child is named Dorothy, so that should tell you how I feel about the quote unquote problem. I mean, there’s a lot of really great horror that is also children’s literature as we define it today. Although I guess Wizard of Oz was always defined as children’s literature. Let me back that up.
Madigan: Oh yeah, absolutely.
E Keathley: Yeah. But there’s definitely, like, a horror reading of the Wizard of Oz, if you go there, but as a kid you don’t see that too much unless you’re watching the movie. Cause everybody acknowledges that that movie is kind of classically scary. True Story. One of my cousins hates me to this day because when Return to Oz was was in the theater, my grandmother who was our movie-going grandmother took both of us to see it and I was fascinated by it and refused to leave the theater where my cousin, who’s like 18 months younger than me, started crying because it scared her so bad. So my grandmother and my cousin went out into the lobby and sat out in the lobby while I sat there and watched the rest of Return to Oz because I was so fascinated by it. And I own a copy of the movie today and I infect other people with it. Previous topic, hopping around. So there’s a lot of stuff today that we call YA that may not have been called YA in the past? And I referenced To Kill a Mockingbird. When we think of horror novels and the ones that we had growing up, there was a horror section in the bookstore and in this horror section you would find VC Andrews, Stephen King, Straub, all those guys, Koontz. I know I’m leaving out a bunch of major names, but when I look at stuff like Twilight, that to me is horror literature and I don’t understand necessarily why it’s on the YA shelf and not on the horror show. What are your feelings about that?
Madigan: It’s the kind of thing that I think a lot of young girls, and this is one of the things that was controversial about Twilight, they’re like, “Oh, having an obsessive stalker is the most romantic thing I can think of and it was so fantastic and I would love to have my boyfriend sneak up and peak in my windows and look at me while I’m sleeping.” And that’s a terrible idea and that’s not a healthy relationship at all and you shouldn’t strive for that, but that’s how it was read and it was really not presented as a horror, scary thing. It’s, she’s really special. She has all these supernatural guys fighting for her. So, great to kind of be touched by another world and it’s almost like a romance trope of, you know, the guy who is super experienced and incredibly wealthy and can just show up and whisk you off your feet. And he does all of those things.
E Keathley: Yeah, but I mean just like Charles Wallace, like there’s definitely a reading of Charles Wallace where he is the creepy evil horror kid and not the child prodigy genius kid. I guess it is all in the reading, like you said, like little kids read Coraline and they love it. And I read Coraline and was like, this is the scariest book I’ve read in the last five years. I read it when it came out, I’m a huge Neil Gaiman fan and back to my kids again, all their names start with the letter D… but the point is, uh, we used to have a horror section of the store and I know they’ve got supernatural thrillers now as a section in some bookstores because you know, we had that big spike in vampire literature and everything. But it just seems to me like there’s all this stuff that’s being put in the YA section, not that young people shouldn’t read it, but just because book stores, the way they make money is off of younger readers and so everything’s kind of being marketed and pushed that way. To my mind, and I might be wrong, so school me on this, on whether I’m right or wrong, is there a bunch of stuff being just shoved into the YA category because the YA category sells and that’s who a lot of library users are or are things in an ever expanding YA section because we feel like young adults or just somebody that we can all relate to you and they have a different frame of reference that these authors enjoy writing towards?
Madigan: I think there’s a lot of different factors at play. I think there’s definitely a lot of authors out there, writers who maybe they wanted to write a middle grade novel or maybe they wanted to write a new YA novel. They wanted to write a new adult novel and then they either aged it up a little or aged it down a little to kind of fit this new really popular demographic. I think that there’s demographically a bump, there’s a larger group of teens than there was before. So that’s part of it. I think that there are a lot of older women especially, who are not YA age themselves, who are turning to YA either because they like to read fantasy and science fiction and they want to read it with a female character. And that’s more common in YA especially with like YA dystopians and I think that there are readers who turn to YA because the page length is shorter. So you’re looking at like a 200 page novel instead of, you know, 400 or a thousand page novel or however you know, some of those epic, sci-fi / fantasy ones are huge door stoppers. So if you want something more manageable, like a bite-sized chunk, you can do it that way. And I do, I see a lot of writers who they themselves are kind of rewriting their material to fit YA. I’ve talked to writers who submitted it and we’re told this will sell better as YA and their editor has told them to go back and rewrite it. So that’s kind of an interesting dynamic. It’s sort of a virtuous cycle. The more YA sells, the more people feel like, “Oh, I’ll turn my book into more of a YA novel” and then the more YA comes out, the more, more and more it goes. I’m pretty sure that most publishers will pay a little more for a YA novel than they will for a children’s novel. So a lot of people who might have written a middle grade novel will kind of age it up a little bit. Yeah, and I’ve seen the other the other way too. I’ve seen romance authors write a romance and then, and have been told this will do great as a YA instead of having your character be 21 make her 16.
E Keathley: Well, that brings up a whole other subject, which is traditionally adult problems in YA Literature and I referenced To Kill a Mockingbird earlier, but let’s go with another one of the great American novels, which is Huck Finn. Huck is a teenager. Again, that could be considered a YA novel if not for the fact that the subject matter is so adult, you know, and YA today I can’t tell what the difference between adult and young adult subject matter is anymore. I don’t know. What’s the line? Is there a line? Should there be a line?
Madigan: I don’t know. I think, I mean as far as Huck Finn, I think it’s considered a classic and it’s considered kind of English Lit by something that you’re going to get assigned in school. And so it doesn’t have the, the freshness of current YA novels. So I don’t know if it’s really fair to compare them because it is really a completely different animal. I mean, as far as the slang goes, some readers will jump right in and they’ll enjoy it and it makes it feel real or more, exotic to them if it’s, you know, not vernacular that they’re used to and maybe this is a terrible comparison, but it almost compares to like Redwall by Brian Jacques when you go in and read this stuff and they’re in this, like, Cockney accent and they’re badgers and other woodland animals and they’re having these conversations and I couldn’t follow a word of it. I was like, I don’t even know what they’re saying here. It’s really tough. But some, you know, some readers are like, oh, this is it. I love it. And they just jump right in.
E Keathley: Redwall is the most gently racist book I’ve ever read. I love, I love that series. It’s so… Well because all the stoats are like this and all the weasels are like this and all the mice are good. I think foxes are Gypsies, which is just like the most… when I got to that point and I read these as an adult, I was just like, I can’t believe this… sorry, Redwall fans. They are fun, entertaining books when you are a kid, but when you are an adult that’s racist. No, but my point was like the line, you know, I think we can all agree Huck Finn of course shouldn’t be banned, Huck Finn’s one of the great American novels, but is that subject matter appropriate for YA and just for those who haven’t read Huck Finn or haven’t read it in a while, Huck is the victim of child abuse who fakes his own death, pine it on this dad, gets on a raft with a slave who was in fact stolen property, and tries to take the river from Missouri to freedom for the slave and himself kind of fails at it. Along the way, there are some murders, a lot of robbery, some impersonation. I can’t remember all the stuff he does. It’s pretty rough. But it’s also a lot of fun cause it’s Mark Twain and it’s really funny, but it’s kind of a lot for a young adult to think about. I’ve heard the “Harry Potter is an abused child” narrative as well, but that, since it’s such a fantasy thing, it doesn’t, it doesn’t quite have the same punch. Are there topics in YA that you think, you know, when the book goes into that area it’s no longer YA, and let’s just call this the Judy Blume problem.
Madigan: Oh, I think there’s, like, a huge history of YA novels that are, like, “the problem novel” and they get into some really serious stuff. Bridge to Terabithia is about a kid who dies too young, but then there’s some YA novels out there like Forbidden, which is about a brother and sister who fall in love with each other and they’re in an abusive household and they feel like they’re the only two that understand each other and they have this epic romance. I mean there’s just some really pretty wild stuff out there. But, and that’s the thing, like I think if teens are old enough to get it, they’ll read it and they’ll enjoy it. And if they’re not old enough to get it, it will kind of fly over their heads. They’ll kind of skim past that and go, “Oh, I don’t even understand what that was. Huh. Funny.” And then they’ll just keep going. Mark Twain said, “Censorship is like telling a man that he can’t have a steak because a baby can’t chew it.” So there is that quality of, you know, as far as censorship, it is more common for children and teen books because people are all “Oh, for the children!” But for the most part, I feel like if, you know, child or teen wants to read about a certain topic or is curious about a certain topic or stumbles across a book with a mature topic, they’ll either get it or they won’t. And if they’re not ready for it, they’ll say, “Oh, this book is boring.” And they’ll put it down or they’ll go, “Oh, I didn’t even realize that shocking thing happened. I missed that chapter!” and they’ll just kind of blank it out.
E Keathley: I had a school librarian who refused to check out Watership Down to me, and I guess I was in fourth grade and I didn’t understand why being the type of kid that I was, I just marched myself over to the public library, checked out Watership Down and then proceeded to read it in front of the school librarian… coming in, “You gonna check out a book, Elizabeth?” “Nope.” Plopped down right in front of you, read the book you don’t want me to have.
Madigan: Although I was told as a child that I should not read 1984 because it was too adult and being told that I was not allowed to read it made me want to read it even more.
E Keathley: That’s how I felt about Watership Down. It had rabbits on the cover. How bad could it be? And the thing is, just to speak back to what you were saying, the parts of Watership Down that I think the librarian was trying to protect me from went completely over my head and I love that book. I thought “This is a great book about rabbits,” and I loved it. And then as an adult I went back and read it and was like, oh my God, no wonder she didn’t want to give this to me. But you’re right. It went right over my head and at the same time being a fairly unsupervised child and it was the 80s every yard sale you went to had Stephen King paperbacks in it. And so I probably started reading Stephen King fourth or fifth grade about the same time. And a lot of that stuff went right over my head. The only book that did not go over my head was at some point I got a copy. I got my hands on a book I really should not have read, which was Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle.
Madigan: That sounds vaguely familiar. I don’t know why though…
E Keathley: Oh, Ken Follett, was just, and I mean he’s huge again, but he was huge in the 80s for Key to Rebecca and the Eye of the Needle. I think it was the sequel to Key to Rebecca or the Prequel, I can’t remember, but I read it and it did have very explicit adult scenes in it and that was just like, “What is this??” But things like Watership Down went right over my head. Allusions in Stephen King went right over my head, pre-Misery and all that. He got a little bit more graphic later. But yeah, I think in general if it’s written in a certain way, young adults aren’t going to get it like you say, because I certainly didn’t get any of that out of Watership Down when I read it at 10 or whatever. Has there been any book that you were like, “Uhhhh, I don’t know.” Or do you think people are pretty good about keeping it circumspect?
Madigan: Like a book that’s hard to recommend because it’s just too shocking? Not really. There are certain books that I’ve had to kind of recommend out of both sides of my mouth. So the parents will kind of be like, “This book isn’t too wild, is it?” I’m like, “No, no, it’s very tame.” And then you’ll turn to the teen and, “It gets wild. Trust me.” You know, so you kind of want to make it sound exciting but not too exciting because you’re selling it to two different audiences simultaneously.
E Keathley: Yeah. Recommending out of both sides of your mouth… Probably the author that I feel that most about as far as YA would be Robert Cormier who wrote The Chocolate War and I Am the Cheese and We All Fall. I loved those in high school so much and I’m sure that I got them from the school library because they were typed as YA, but those are some seriously dark and messed up books and I would recommend that to teens out of the side of my mouth if they give the parents were like, should my kid read The Chocolate War? And I would be like, “Yes, absolutely. It’s a classic,” and then I would turn to the kids and go, “It totally teaches you that school is corrupt.”
Madigan: Yes. Yeah. I really liked, I love Tenderness, which he wrote about a guy who’s a serial killer.
E Keathley: Ooh, I haven’t read that one!
Madigan: It’s inside the mind of a serial killer. And he has a particular M.O. and he has particular kind of victim that he likes to go after and it’s really takes you inside his head. And he’s a really scary guy. And there’s a psychologist or police psychologist who’s figured him out and is kind of trying to track him down and knows for sure that he’s going to kill again, but he can’t prove it. And then there’s a girl involved who is a little bit off-type for, I think, for the type of girl that he normally likes to murder but involved with him. And so, I mean it’s a fascinating story and it’s, I love like a really great twist at the end of a story. So, and it has that too.
E Keathley: Is that in the YA section? Did they type that as YA since he’s known as a YA author?
Madigan: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
E Keathley: And it’s a serial killer. That’s hardcore. I’ve got to go read that.
Madigan: Yeah. Well there’s a lot of serial killer books out there for YA…
E Keathley: Oh my God, I’m so far behind the times. Are these in the vein of Go Ask Alice like “Don’t do drugs, he’ll walk through a glass door!” Or are they, like, more psychological?
Madigan: I think they’re more like psychological thrillers. Like you read it in Dan Wells’s I Am Not a Serial Killer. Teenage and innocent John Wayne Cleaver swears he’s not a serial killer despite his grizzly name and a series of unpleasant and eerie similarities. He’s going to investigate the murderer to clear his name.
E Keathley: So what makes that, YA and not just a horror novel as as per our earlier discussion? Why is that in the YA section, in the YA purview versus not being over in the horror section? Cause I mean we’re going to go with serial killers is YA then you know, you might as well call VC Andrews YA and nobody ever called VC Andrews YA because it was Gothic trashy horror that we all ate like Fruit loops.
Madigan: It’s kind of like ur-YA. Like before there was YA, there was VC Andrews. Before there was YA, there was Judy Blume. Judy Blume first came out when she was first first published. They were really considered children’s novels and they were shocking for children to read cause there wasn’t really a whole YA section. Right. But no, I mean I Am Not a Serial Killer is considered YA because I think mainly the character is a teen and then the length is not as long as an adult novel.
E Keathley: I use VC Andrews to explain Twilight. When people ask me how can teenagers love does trashy, horrible, not particularly well written novel and they’re my age, I’m like, “Well, did you read VC Andrews in the eighties and nineties?” And generally if they’re our age, they’ll be like, “Yes, I read Flowers in the Attic.” That was our Twilight… Flowers in the Attic was totally my Twilight. So I get it. I think you’re going to be embarrassed by it later on, but it’s just going to stick around like Flowers in the Attic, which is unfortunate. But there it is.
Madigan: I see a lot of parents who come in and they’re looking for book recommendations for their kids or teens and they want them to be reading really great books of best, highest quality literature that are going to reflect well on them that will contribute to their success in school. And I usually have a chat with those parents. Like, you know, not every novel that you read as an adult is War and Peace and sometimes you just want a little light pleasure reading for fun. And that’s what the library is there for, we don’t do all the AR quizzes and the competitive stuff at the library, sometimes it’s just reading for pleasure and sometimes you might just sit down with a bit of brain candy, like People magazine and just flip through it very casually. And so some of the books that I’m recommending for kids and teens or just that, that’s what they are, they’re just, they’re not, the deepest, most well-written literature, but the Flower Fairies series, Hey, it’s just, you know, it’s just light and easy and fun to read.
E Keathley: Youngest daughter who’s in first grade just started reading for pleasure, which makes me so happy because she was a very reluctant reader. And of course the gateway for her, what got her finally through that door was Captain Underpants.
Madigan: Yeah. And I read Captain Underpants first came out. It was controversial because I had an underpants in the title.
E Keathley: It’s still controversial, it still shows up on the banned books list. Some people just cannot stand Captain Underpants. I wasn’t a big fan of it, but I was like, okay, this is what makes her read. Go for it, kid, here’s your Captain Underpants. I just didn’t like it cause so much of the humor is poop jokes.
Madigan: Yeah, very scatological humor. Yeah. Yeah. That’s part of the fun.
E Keathley: But she’s moved on the Diary of a Wimpy Kid now, she’s stepping up so that’s what it took. Just moved up to the next level of poop joke books being seven.
Madigan: That is exactly it. For graduates of Captain Underpants, go right into your Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
E Keathley: More sophisticated tastes later on. We’ve tried them with the Terry Pratchett and things are just not there yet. Although I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful. Like I said, the older one just got on the Judy Blume. Are there sort of circulating ideas, podcasts, things that you want to talk about? Because we’ve talked for a good while now.
Madigan: I don’t know. I mean, I feel like this is a really good chat. Like we’ve covered some basic interesting things, done a lot of readers’ advisory essentially. I mean we’ve done a lot of book talking and a lot of, I don’t know, just chit chat back and forth about various titles. So, but that’s kind of really a lot of what I do. I’m like a book pusher. I’m always recommending other books. And it’s funny because one of the things that that will happen, like in the crowd that I’d run with, with, you know, librarians and bloggers and writers, they’re like, “Oh, you should write a book,” or you know, “You should be an author,” and I’m like, I think there’s a place in that world for somebody who’s reader and reviewer, and that’s really what I do. I read and review and then I recommend, and I think that’s a great role for a public librarian, kind of as a tastemaker, as somebody who can introduce you to almost like a sommelier who introduce you to some wines. I mean, I can come in and introduce you to some books that you might not have heard about.
E Keathley: That’s awesome. I love it. Since we talked so much about horror, let’s close this out. What is one book that you read as a kid or as a young adult that you totally liked and worshiped and then you went back and read it as a grownup and were kind of horrified and you can either say that it was scary like Coraline or that it was just poor quality, like Flowers in the Attic or sort of horrified that you read it at all as a child like me and the Ken Follett book. What’s one book that you read as a child or a young adult and you’re now kind of horrified by as an adult and why?
Madigan: That’s a really good question. The Dragonlance books, which at the time that I read them, I just thought they were like the most amazing, highest quality. But I see that a lot with young readers who like their first fantasy novel or their first novel of whatever favorite genre they think is the greatest and then they’ll go back. And I had not realized that I hadn’t read any Tolkien yet. Right. And so to me I was just like, “Oh this Dragonlance by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman is like the best thing ever!” And I didn’t know what a great debt they owed to Tolkien. And once I went back and read Tolkien, I was like, oh this is just that…
E Keathley: Derivative!
Madigan: It’s derivative, it’s derivative and it’s fantastic. But it’s just, there’s an original source for this whole genre that that’s even better.
E Keathley: It’s like listening to the Monkees before the Beatles, like growing up and seeing the Monkees on TV and be like, “Oh my God, their music so great!” And then you turned 12 and find out about the Beatles or something.
Madigan: It is exactly like that. Which is not as it that you dislike the Monkees. I mean the Monkees are still great, but they owe it all to the Beatles really. So that’s probably the best answer I could come up with for that.
E Keathley: One of them is a Daydream Believer and others of them are members of the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And there’s a huge difference. There was a specific point in my life where I ate Piers Anthony, just ate it like cotton candy. Yeah. Have you gone back and read any of those?
Madigan: The puns are terrible. They’re really bad.
E Keathley: It’s not just the puns, it’s not just the puns, but that’s a whole other podcast.
Madigan: But at the time I just thought it was great.
E Keathley: Yeah, me too. And going back to sexual politics and those books are just horrible, oh my God.
Madigan: You know what I do? You know what I like about the Xanth books though, is that he moves through them so quickly and by book four, you’re reading about the grandchildren of the people in book one and he just moves it forward, you know? And it’s very much a changing world and it’s not, you’re going back to the same characters every time. It’s the same world. But I liked that about it. Yeah.
E Keathley: It very much had the field to me of the stuff I used to write for myself when I was in junior high and high school, like it felt like somebody was playing, “let’s pretend” on the page. Like a 14 or 15 year old playing, “let’s pretend” on the page. And I still sort of enjoy them for that kind of aesthetic and I get the people who are huge fans, but I’ll look at it now and I’m just like, oh my God, this is a 14 or 15 year old horny teenage boy who’s a huge “Weird Al” fan who likes bad puns who somehow became a New York Times bestselling author. It’s crazy.
Madigan: You know what is so fantastic, Piers Anthony wrote a book called Letters to Jenny. Do you know it?
E Keathley: I’ve heard of it. I have not read that one.
Madigan: Really good. And he just, you know, it’s kind of almost a semi autobiography where he talks about his writing process and what’s going on and so on. But he’s writing letters to a girl who’s in a coma and her mother is like, “She’s a huge Xanth fan, would you send her a letter?” And he just ended up writing her a whole series of letters and then put them together in a book. You can see like what a nice man Piers Anthony was.
E Keathley: Did you listen to This American Life about the boy who showed up on his doorstep? The boy who ran away to Piers Anthony?
Madigan: No, but it sounds vaguely familiar and it sounds like something appears a Piers Anthony superfan would do.
E Keathley: This kid shows up on his doorstep and he feeds him dinner and then calls his mom. No, I’m sure he’s a really nice man, but man, some of the stuff in this book. I’m sure he’s a lovely man, but I’m going to stand by my assessment.
Madigan: Some of the stuff in his books are very disturbing.
E Keathley: He clearly has hypergraphia. Do you know what hypergraphia is? Hypergraphia is the compulsion to write.
Madigan: Oh yeah. Isaac Asimov that he was in an interview and they said, you know, if you only had a month to live or a week to live, it was some short amount of time that you know, what would you do? And they were looking for, because they were talking to him about his day and whatever and he was like, “I write all day” and he was just, was addicted to mean he wrote like 500 books and he would put together with these books. And they’re like, “Well, what else do you do besides writing?” He was like, “I am just fascinated with writing. That’s all I ever do.” And they’re like, “Well, if you only had like a short amount of time, what would you do?” And he was like, “I would type faster.”
E Keathley: That’s so great. And that was, that was Piers Anthony, too, now there’s a center of your brain and they can stimulate it with electricity. And it’s the same part of your brain that’s related to depression and dopamine uptake and it will cause you to compulsively write, and it’s called hypergraphia. There’s a really great book on it that came out about 10 years ago called the Midnight Disease and I’m fascinated by it. And I’m convinced that a lot of authors like Anthony, like Asimov, like King are hypergraphic. And you know, being the kind of scientist that I am, I want pictures of their brains.to test my hypothesis. So if they would clear, if they would…
Madigan: Kevin J. Anderson is another one.
E Keathley: Yeah, so Kevin J. Anderson, Piers Anthony, Stephen King, if you would please go to an MRI machine, hook yourself up and do some typing and then send me the scans at firstname.lastname@example.org and I think with that, we’ll wrap this up.
Madigan: Didn’t Anne Rice do that?
E Keathley: I think she did!
Madigan: Yeah, she had like a t-shirt made with a picture of her brain scan on it.
E Keathley: That lady, I just don’t even know what her legacy is going to be.
Madigan: I don’t know. Yeah, it’s an evolving story.
E Keathley: Anne Rice is a super fascinating character and if she were writing the Vampire Lestat today, they’d say put more teenage girls in it and we’ll stick it in the YA section.
Madigan: Exactly. Yeah, they would. I don’t think so. I don’t think Twilight would be around if it wasn’t for Anne Rice, you know?
E Keathley: Oh no, there’s no way Twilight would be around without Anne Rice.
Madigan: It’s like the Anne Rice vampires are the teenage girls in it who gets to be the center of attention.
E Keathley: A really boring teenage girl with horrifically negligent parents.
Madigan: Yeah. Yeah. Well, YA , all children’s novels have horrific negligent parents cause you can get them out of the picture so that the kids can have an adventure.
E Keathley: Okay, fair enough. Yeah. Orphan stories are a staple. We’ve got to wrap it up. We’re just going to sit here and talk about YA all night. We’ve been talking for like two hours. I’m Elizabeth Keathley. I work with digital asset management and enterprise content management systems, which is a really fancy way of saying corporate online libraries. You can find me at atlantametadata.com I’m on Twitter @einatlanta and Madigan, tell them where they can find you.
Madigan: Madigan McGillicuddy. I work at a public library and my website is madiganreads.com and I’m also pretty active on Twitter and that’s @madiganreads as well.
E Keathley: Very cool. Talk to you later.