Apr 17

The New York Times takes on young adult fiction; Some cool links for those of you who are fascinated by book jacket design, and The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and Batman Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. 

Literary Debate in the New York Times

We’ve been fascinated by the New York Times website feature “Room for Debate,” especially when they tackle literary topics. One topic was book blurbs, and recently they took on the topic “The Power of Young Adult Fiction.” There was a hue and cry from the blogosphere when columnist Joel Stein wrote a rather inflammatory editorial called “Adults Should Read Adult Books.” We love the idea of different voices debating literary topics (of course we do!) so we wanted to share this section with you, even if some of the entries infuriate us.


Covering Book Covers

The Odyssey by Homer, designed by Matt Roeser

Jacket designed by Matt Roeser, borrowed from the New Cover blog



We’ve decided to do another show about book jackets, because we know that you are all fascinated by the topic. Also, many things have come to our attention recently that are worth sharing.

First, Chip Kidd, famed book designer, did a TED talk that has been highly praised. If you have ever wondered how a book jacket is created, and what happens in the mind of the designer, don’t miss this 20 minute video. It’s highly entertaining, and will make you look at books in a whole new way. For more on Chip’s work, see if you can track down a copy of Book One: Work, 1986-2006.

At the same time, Michael found a tumblr site called New Cover, where graphic artist Matt Roeser redesigns book jackets after he’s read the books. His designs are terrific, and we are eager to follow Matt’s career as a book jacket designer.

Lastly, one of our favorite author friends Matthew Dicks wrote a blog post showing some of the early ideas for the jacket of his new book, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. Matt shows the UK cover, the US cover, and two covers that were rejected. I’ve started reading Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, and so I have some sense of what the book is about. That sense colors my opinion of the four book jackets, though I understand where the ideas of the jackets came from. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is already out in the UK (published under the name Matthew Green), and will be published in the US this summer.

Memoirs of an imaginary friend

The UK and US jackets of MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND by Matthew Dicks


Two Books we can’t wait for you to read:


The Language of Flowers      

I loved The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, and I’m very excited that it is now in paperback. This story of a young woman who has “aged out” of the foster care system is a poignant and compelling novel that has made me keenly aware of what happens to foster children once they reach the age of 18. Author Vanessa Diffenbaugh is committed to shining a spotlight on this problem, and her novel does this in a way that is never preachy and is wholly entertaining. I think this is a great selection for book clubs, as there is much to discuss.

Michael starts his segment with a challenge to me: he wants me to read Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, which has just been re-released in a deluxe edition. It looks at the beginning of Batman and what happens when Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham after training to become Batman. It’s also a look at the early lives of several Batman characters. The art for this edition is by David Mazzucchelli, who did the amazing Asterios Polyp (“hmmmm,” says Ann, intrigued), and is very realistic. There are a lot of “extras” in this edition, and Michael recommends it as a graphic novel for those who think they don’t want to read Superhero comics.

  • I just read the book about a couple of weeks ago and quite agree with you Ann; there is quite a bit to discuss in the book and is certainly worth a re-read, as there were things I seemed to have skimmed over something towards the end.  I am going to suggest it for a book club read this coming year when we do the selections in about a couple of months.

  • Julie-Soleil

    About the character in the Language of Flowers, let’s not forget that Scarlet O’Hara was not a very likable “personnage” but still, we end up having tons of sympathy for her.

  • Henry Yee

    Great spotlight on the super-talented Matt “LOST-Obsessed and OREO Stuff Stacker Extraordinaire” Roeser!

  • Henry Yee

    Great spotlight on the super-talented Matt “LOST-Obsessed and OREO Stuff Stacker Extraordinaire” Roeser!

  • Henry Yee

    Great spotlight on the super-talented Matt “LOST-Obsessed and OREO Stuff Stacker Extraordinaire” Roeser!

  • Shannon L

    I’m dying over here, Ann — I think my husband and Michael are twins on some cosmic nerd level, at least when it comes to comic books. If they ever met for coffee, they would close the place down. FWIW, I think you should definitely take Michael up on the Batman challenge. My husband asked me to read Batman: Year One and Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis. I countered by challenging him to read Emma and Anne of Green Gables. We both blanched. But we did it. I will say, despite my frequent eye-rolling and teasing, I thoroughly enjoyed both of his picks…and have another L.M. Montgomery and Jane Austen convert in my life. Win-win! I used to think, “He is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met…why is he over there reading Buffy Season 8?!” But having glimpsed a fraction of that world, I feel like I get a tiny bit of why people get so into that stuff in a non-juvenile way. And it gave us some unexpected insights into what makes each other tick…why Batman and Anne Shirley have been meaningful and appealing characters to us, especially during our childhoods. We thought we had each other all figured out, so that was really lovely. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I’d choose to have comic books on MY nightstand–that’s why we have two–but I’m glad I dipped my toe in the water before going back to my regularly scheduled programming (just finished Defending Jacob — thanks for another great recommendation!).

  • Justin Steiner

    Joel Stein’s column is just another version of cultural elitism like “I don’t watch television” to “Fiction? I only read non-fiction” to “Reading fantasy and science fiction is a waste of time.” I sometimes wonder if that is a defense mechanism when   you realize you can never get to everything of quality, although it’s probably just closed-mindedness.

  • Anonymous

    I am a processor for a library, and sometimes it pains me because I have to basically DESTROY some of these covers to make them available for checkout. 

    Thanks for another great episode!

    • I suppose you mean by destroy, you mean having to laminate them and ruin the aesthetic quality that they sometimes have, like with different types of paper, etc on them. 

      • Anonymous

        Yup. Although sometimes it is more involved than that. I often have to cut up more artistic covers. 

        Don’t even get me started on DVD and CD boxed sets.

      • Linda

        And I, read every thing on a book, the flaps, the blurbs, the acknowledgements, often the index, etc.

        So it drives me NUTS when the library markings cover parts that I want to be reading.

        • Do realize that libraries have to mark up the areas in front because they need to put indications of ownership on the book and that the front area is the most logical area to put that stuff.  While it would be nicer, putting the barcode on the back would just be a hassle because people would forget to check it out and putting it on the cover is just easier (a library I work at puts the barcode on the first page and its really annoying to flip open to scan the barcode, even though it looks better without the barcode on the front).

  • Most of Joel Stein’s writing that I have seen has been very satirical (and funny) so I don’t know that I would take him too seriously on the YA issue.  That said, I have to say I agree with him to a point.  It is is certainly not a problem when adults read YA fiction, but I think it is a problem if that is ALL they read. 

  • Mr. Grumpyhosen

    I don’t agree with Joel Stein’s thoughts on YA fiction in general but must say that anyone caught reading Twilight should be embarrassed.  I started reading the series so I could talk with my granddaughter about them and found the writing almost physically painful.  Some of the worst dialog to ever make the best seller list. Hunger Games and Harry Potter are not GREAT literature but they are certainly readable. 

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  • Listening to the discussion about Young Adult literature and I can’t believe someone would scoff at adults reading YA lit.  Let alone reading for pleasure, don’t they think it is important to read what their kids are reading so they can discuss it or at least be aware of the content?  Err.

  • Anonymous

    Just listened this afternoon and groaned when Ann did regarding BATMAN. I have read a couple of graphic memoirs from Michael’s recommendations, but I am not a comic book or superhero fan. That is why I love you both; almost every week you help me find and think about my reading in a smarter and fun way. I have found many new authors and genres through you. Ann has definitely pushed me far out of my comfort zone; no longer do I need a “happy” ending to be satisfied. Michael’s choices in literary fiction seem to mirror mine; at times I feel he knows better what I should be reading. Thanks for all the hard work guys!!!

  • Barbara Kluver

    Loved your information on book covers and I look forward to more in the future.  As one who is primarily an audiobook reader, I would like to add to this discussion:  I am still VERY influenced by the cover I see on Audible.com when I purchase a book, or when I purchase an ebook.  An interesting cover will intice me to “click” into the synopsis of the book, as much as seeing that cover in a bookstore would intice me into picking it up.  Hopefully this fact is known to publishers as our way of reading has expanded into audio and ebook format! 

  • Anonymous

    What I object to is a general disdain for YA (unless it contains vampires or other paranormal activity) when women all around me are falling over themselves for trifle like “50 Shades of Grey”. Yet when I mention some lovely YA and tween books by Wendy Maas or even something like Mockingbird (not to be confused with Mockingjay of The Hunger Games trilogy), they give me a shrug as if to say, “my daughter reads those.”

    I enjoy sharing a book with my daughter.

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  • Helen Barnett

    Helen Barnett here. Also, with younger books there is a very clear message, that is not.. covered up with lots of dialog or multi layers of sideline plots or information. Even as an Adult there is always something to be learned a new/ a fresh.. and sometimes Younger eyes is Just the way to do that.

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