What? No love triangle? How books for Jewish teens fit into current YA trends

If you ask observant Jewish teens here in the U.S. whether they overall prefer Jewish books or secular ones, most of them will tell you secular books (trust me, I write for teens, so I’ve asked). Sad, but true.

Why most Orthodox teens prefer secular books

Interestingly, some of these teens will tell you that they wish there were more Jewish books for teens that suited them. Others will tell you they don’t like either Jewish or secular novels — the former don’t engage them, and latter conflict with their religious beliefs.

Thursday, I caught an excellent article on CNN about the history of YA novels in the U.S. You can read it here. There was little that was news to me in the article, but it did make me think about something that’s troubled me for a while — namely why so many Jewish teens are enthralled by secular books that don’t necessarily reflect the values of their families.

Let’s consider why secular YA books are currently selling like hotcakes. Continue reading

Do your feelings about an author affect your feelings about his or her work?

Today’s post from Erika Dreifus deserves a look-see. She comments on a recent NY Times essay by Margot Rabb entitled “Fallen Idols,” then adds her own reflections, touching on various writers with Anti-Zionist or antisemitic beliefs, such as T.S. Eliot and Alice Walker (the latter of whom has recently made headlines). I invite you to read both pieces (the links are embedded above).

An interesting aspect of the writer-reader relationship that Rabb touches on is that readers get to step inside the brains of authors. For this reason, there are some Chareidim who only allow their children to read books written by people who are either Orthodox Jews themselves, or are otherwise respected and considered to have good character. While I don’t have this “policy” myself, I do understand that it’s reflecting a genuine concern. Authors don’t have to have a conscious agenda to slip all sorts of allusions to their beliefs in their work. For example, English authors are particularly well known for their antisemitism, which pops up in all sorts of weird places (Georgette Heyer’s The Great Sophy, several works by Dickens, and so on). The science-fiction/fantasy author Phillip Pullman is a proud atheist, and his work reflects this viewpoint.

Then again, if an author uses their money to donate to causes we don’t agree with, a political cause that does not have anything to do with their writing, is that a reason shun their work? Or, to take it a step further, protest their work?

One of the commentators on Erika Dreifus’s blog mentions Orson Scott Card. There are people who want to picket the movie adaptation of his book, Ender’s Game, because they disagree with his political and religious beliefs. (I happen to not agree with the commentator’s assessment of Card, but he’s a good example.) Ender’s Game does not mention the particular beliefs that the protesters find repulsive in Card’s public statements.

Personally, I can see forgoing a trip to the theater, or skipping a book, if you disagree with an author or artist. But a public protest seems excessive to me unless the novel/play/whatever is actively preaching the message you disagree with in that particular piece of work.

How likely are you to read a book by someone whose character is deeply flawed or who espouses beliefs you find repugnant?

A Light to the Nations

There have been several outstanding books in the last few years that, while by Orthodox Jews, were written for the public at large. I’ve mentioned some of them in previous posts: My Before and After Life and Seven Blessings, for example.

Matisyahu (Miller), while he’s received a lot of flak by some members of the Jewish community, has likewise brought the beauty of the Jewish worldview to a broader audience through his music.

First of all, every time someone picks up a book by Risa Miller, Yehoshua November, Rochelle Krich, or Ruchama King Feuerman, they AREN’T reading…I’ll let you fill in the blank. And every time someone listens to Matisyahu, Y-Love, DeScribe, Ta-Shma, or Moshav, they AREN’T listening to…I’m sure you can fill that blank in, too.
There’s merit just from that. So much poison fills our minds when we internalize messages from music, art, and literature filled wrong-headed thinking. Even a morally-neutral alternative is preferable
But the artists I mention above go further than this. There’s just so much beauty in these artists’ words. They fill the readers’/listeners’ hearts and touch them much better than a good mussar schmuess rarely will for the average American…and the audience will remember the message. People will remember the words to a song or poem for years and years, if not a lifetime.
This is the kind of art I’d like to be able to share with the world at some point. An ambitious goal, for sure, but I’m hoping I’ve got years ahead of me to pursue it.
Since Lag B’omer just is past, I’m listing some links for contemporary Jewish music that penetrates the soul.
And here’s a lovely rendition of Matisyahu’s “One Day” by public schoolchildren in NYC: