March 26, 2019

The Twee-ification of Literary Culture

“In his history “Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion, and Film,” the critic Marc Spitz describes America’s collective turn toward calculated precocity as the most powerful youth movement “since Punk and Hip Hop.” Twee’s core characteristics, Spitz argues, include “a healthy suspicion of adulthood,” “a steadfast focus on our essential goodness,” “the cultivation of a passion project,” and “the utter dispensing with of ‘cool’ as it’s conventionally known, often in favor of a kind of fetishization of the nerd, the geek, the dork, the virgin.”

As if to corroborate Spitz’s thesis about our Great Twee-ification, Dutton Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Random House, is releasing a series of tiny books that give the act of reading a studied whimsy. Dwarsliggers, the Dutch name for these palm-sized, horizontal codexes, are already popular overseas; they are flirtatious, cocktail-party packagings of novels by authors from Ian McEwan to Agatha Christie—pigs in a blanket to the usual hot dog. “The tiny editions are the size of a cellphone and no thicker than your thumb, with paper as thin as onion skin,” the Times’ Alexandra Alter explains. “They can be read with one hand—the text flows horizontally, and you can flip the pages upward, like swiping a smartphone.” The font is slightly smaller than that of a standard book. For its first foray into the mini-books market, Dutton is reissuing four young-adult novels, available individually or in a boxed set, by the blockbuster amanuensis of adolescent yearning John Green.

Green is a standard-bearer for twee, and thus a logical author to lead the American dwarsligger insurgency. He writes for young adults, about young adults, with a teenager’s earnestness and aching emotional intensity. The theme of his stories, from “Paper Towns” to “The Fault in Our Stars,” is the struggle between innocence and experience—between bullies, sickness, and sadness, on one side, and, on the other, courage, tenderness, and beauty. Green’s characters are sweet, hyperverbal smarty-pants; they memorize poetry and say things like “I just want to do something that matters. Or be something that matters. I just want to matter.” They orchestrate chaste sleepovers, during which they lie raptly awake “talking about The Sound and the Fury and meiosis and the Battle of the Bulge.” And then they break each other’s hearts.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Daily Picks

"THE CAPTURE of the last territory controlled by the Islamic State on Saturday was far from a final victory over the movement, as U.S. commanders and diplomats were careful to emphasize."

"How a Gay Teen, an Internet Nazi, and a Late-Night Rendezvous Turned to Tragedy. When self-loathing meets the new age of online extremism."

"Benjamin Netanyahu ignored the intelligence operations of Beijing and Moscow for too long. Now, the Israeli government is finally paying attention, but it could be too late."

"Former Nick Jr. kids are now reckoning with this all-grown-up intrepid explorer, whose obstacles are a lot bigger than Swiper the Fox. And that is a hard pill to swallow."

"At the end of last week, the three-month Treasury bills' yield rose above the yield for 10-year Treasuries for the first time since 2007, prompting warnings that the U.S. is headed for recession later this year or in early 2020."

"A team of researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology attempted to answer some questions about voting with the help of artificial intelligence (AI)."

"The experts I spoke with all said that the internet had changed the way conspiracies spread, but conspiracies, both dangerous and petty, have always been with us."

"Pop culture today is obsessed with the battle between good and evil. Traditional folktales never were. What changed?"

"Trustful parents allow their children as much freedom as reasonably possible to make their own decisions. They trust their children’s instincts, judgments, and ability to learn from mistakes."

"Arugulagate. In 2007, Barack Obama was in Iowa, speaking as a presidential hopeful to a group of farmers who were worried about the stagnation of their crop prices while America’s grocery bills continued to rise."

"To say that information exists in and of itself is akin to speaking of spin without the top, of ripples without water, of a dance without the dancer, or of the Cheshire Cat’s grin without the cat."

"Ted Cruz replaces the Democrats’ muddled manifesto with a clear and unequivocal exploration of the hatred of Jews and its particular evils."