We never learn

Dear Sarah Dessen:

I must confess that when I first read about the student who joined her school's one-college-one-book committee expressly to prevent a Sarah Dessen novel from being chosen, I laughed. Not at you or your books (or your genre or gender) but because I know that kind of student. I was that kind of student. The kind who hates and loves books with equal and vocal enthusiasm. If you have never made a snarky remark about a book you disliked, you aren't reading enough.

Naturally, when it is your own writing that's being dismissed you aren't going to laugh. The snarkiest, bitchiest, most dyspeptic, and successful authors I know (details in my memoir) turn into crybabies when on the receiving end of criticism, criticism being any reception less laudatory than six starred reviews and a medal. They (and you) have a right to those feelings but Twitter may not be the best place to seek validation of same. I'm reminded of Bill Morris advising Harper authors not to respond (in writing) to a bad SLJ review (SLJ being alone among the review journals to publish letters to the book review editor) because "it only gives them a chance to hit you again," as I think you are seeing today.

You are successful and beloved. I'd tell you to suck it up, buttercup, and think of your fans worldwide, your respect from reviewers, your best-selling novels, and your hefty advances, but I don't think you could hear it. I don't say this because I know you (I don't) but because you're a writer, and writers always remember the bad things people have said about their work with far greater clarity than they do the good. Every damned day.



Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.
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Catherine Riney

I can't understand the fuss over one of Sarah Dessen's books not being chosen for a college reading list. I've read all of Dessen's books; I love them. But I didn't go to college to keep reading authors I already knew and loved, I went to learn new things, to be challenged, to grow, and to become better educated. I don't think it's insulting to Dessen as an author or to women writers or YA novelists or to fans of Dessen's that not every book is appropriate for a college assignment. Sheesh! College IS supposed to expose you to new ideas and things you couldn't study on your own, and to challenge you to think and learn and grow. Everyone is welcome to keep reading their favorite authors all the way through. But they don't all belong on college reading lists.

Posted : Nov 14, 2019 06:56

Roger Sutton

I don't know if the student was objecting to YA in general or Dessen in particular, but it sounded like the latter to me. I heard eye-rolling.

Posted : Nov 14, 2019 06:56


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