Recently, BuzzFeed published a fairly absurd (even for BuzzFeed) article about YA author Pierce Brown. Or to be precise, about — and only about — the attractiveness of YA author Pierce Brown. It prompted a funny response from a BookRiot writer. It has some cute animals in it. But it might be bad for books — or at least bad for young readers.
Here’s the thing. Anything that brings readers to books is probably, officially, a good thing. But aren’t adolescents surrounded with enough superficiality? YA literature should be a refuge, not another way to worship cute boys. Adolescents have one million ways to worship cute boys (and girls), because every other kind of entertainment they consume — pop music, television, film — is populated solely by people who are famous for being attractive, and maybe also other thing, like singing. But would Beyoncé be Beyoncé if she didn’t look like Beyoncé? What about John Green? Susanne Collins? J.K. Rowling? These are all good-looking people, but their looks have had, one assumes, little impact on their books, and it is their books that matter to the teenagers that consume them.
For now. If we turn literature into yet another way for teenagers to worship beauty, they’ll lose something — especially the nerds and outcasts who count on books to feel connected and real and safe. YA literature — especially YA literature — should be the opposite of superficial, because that’s what young people need, and many times what they look for in books. It’s why they don’t spend that time watching reality television instead. And hey, I’d love to see a teenager with a poster of a writer on their wall. But it’d be wonderful if that writer were Edith Wharton (just ask Jonathan Franzen if she’s good-looking) or Ray Bradbury or Jeffrey Eugenides in that fetching vest, not just the latest hunk in a stream of latest hunks.
Now, pretty people sell things, and selling books is good. There’s no denying that. But authors should get attention for their books and not for their faces. (Side note: in the BuzzFeed article, this caption appears under a photo: “Is there anything better than an attractive person reading a book? No. No, there is not.” Well, sure. But that photo is a photo of Pierce Brown reading his own book. His own book. And he’s actually only looking at the map in front. And he has the jacket laid out for us not-so-casually so that you can see what you’re supposed to buy clearly. And he randomly has a pair of glasses set on the jacket for some unknown reason, since he is wearing a pair of glasses. This has all been a side note.)
It’s worth noting that people talk about cute authors in the world of adult literature, too. It’s just that things are handled a little differently — attractive, young authors are celebrated for their looks, with a little bit more irony, or perhaps self-loathing, since the people doing the celebrating and loathing are mostly writers themselves. And they’re also hated for their looks, or at least resented, like Nell Freudenberger, the poster girl for this phenomenon, about whom Curtis Sittenfeld wrote a piece called, “Too young, too pretty, too successful.” In adult books coverage, we officially know better than to judge a book by its cover (so to speak!), so we just cover writers being good-looking with sheepish looks on our faces.
I know the BuzzFeed article is a tiny bit of fluff. And yes, Pierce Brown is a handsome guy. Maybe his book is good! But come on, is nothing sacred? No, don’t answer that.