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An Open Book and Last Kiss

A disturbing trend is popping up in bookstores across America.

It is something that has bothered me for some time, and being the formerly enormous bookworm that I am (God, I was such the sad sight in the seventh grade), I feel an obligation towards tomorrow's semi-literate generation to address this matter.

The "quality" young-adult novels I obsessed over during the early 90s are on the verge of extinction. The books my peers and I enjoyed not so long ago are hardly visible among the shelves of every Barnes & Borders throughout the land. No longer do the names Francine Pascal, Christopher Pike or R.L. Stine grace the uncracked spines of paperbacks. Instead, oversized softcovers with increasingly large fonts and flashy images of teen fashionistas, mystical creatures, and drugged-out deviants are taking over the reading sections that used to be found near the "baby" books. It seems as if the retailers want to avoid insulting their young readers by forcing them to hover near "Where's Waldo" and "The Berestein Bears."

While I do appreciate the clever cover art and more sophisticated subject matter of today's young-adult novels, I worry that the serialized teen thrillers of yesteryear will completely vanish off the shelves. How many frickin' fantasy volumes featuring domesticated dragons and young warriors can one reader stomach? Next year Harry Potter will hang up the broomstick and bid adieu to Hogwarts; let it be! Do publishers really think readers will come back for the next rip-off over and over?

"Toto, I don't think we're in Sweet Valley anymore."

The epidemic goes beyond the fantasy genre. It looks like the publishers are grooming a new generation of chick-lit fans and "Sex and the City"-holics as well. Series like "The A-List" and "It Girl" flaunt attractive bodies in party atmospheres and fab dwellings, never skimping on the doses of melodrama. These superficial selections are the literary equivalent to "Laguna Beach."

The language is even more daring nowadays. Characters scream expletives and make sexual references usually reserved for a "Nip/Tuck" script. And since it is a pre-req to have cafes in bookstores nowadays, the kiddies are getting high on caffiene while skimming the pages of "Rhymes With Witches" (an honest-to-God title I spotted).

And it's not like I still read these quasi-novels. I just like to walk by the YA stacks and glance at what new releases are out there. Please. I have graduated to big boy books. I have. Pay no attention to that R.L. Stine sitting on my living room shelf...

My Sunday trip to the new Borders superstore in Century City was an eye-opening visit. First and foremost, I headed to the Seattle's Best Coffee cafe to receive my free Rewards-members-only 12-ounce drink. Trying not to be rude to customers as I chatted with my mom on the phone, I made my way past the new James Patterson table and around the bargain bins to find the YA books ironically nestled in between Romance and Sci-Fi/Fantasy. A few titles jumped out at me ("Ooh, a new Buffy novelization based on events occurring after the series finale"). The new hardcover from Ned Vizzini, "It's Kind of a Funny Story," sat there, dying to be purchased with my 25% off coupon. I did what I had to do - pluck it from its nest and give it a new home in my library.

Seriously though, the guy's a refreshing new writer. He's a 25-year-old former prep-school kid from NYC who knows someone who knows me. I'm still a little shady on the connections, but we're MySpace pals and I am a fan. His last novel, "Be More Chill," was on many top-10 lists (including my bible, Entertainment Weekly), and I'm sure some movie producer is adapting the shit out of it right now. It was one of the best books I had read in a long time: http://www.amazon.com/Be-More-Chill-Ned-Vizzini/dp/0786809965/sr=8-1/qid=1158885842/ref=pd_bbs_1/002-8720577-0386448?ie=UTF8&s=books

I left Borders disappointed that none of the novels I grew up with were prominently displayed for all to peruse. That girl holding the seventy-eighth installment of "The Princess Diaries" will never be thrilled by the character-driven whodunit that is Christopher Pike's "Final Friends" trilogy. The skateboarder-lookin' muppet frantically searching for trivia books on Tony Hawk will never know about the social commentary hidden within the pages of Todd Strasser's "The Wave" (who remembers that haunting Afterschool Special?).

When you get down to it though, the fact is: I'm aging and losing my grip on something I loved and enjoyed years ago.

Getting older is certainly not a pretty thing. Just ask Paul Haggis. Last night at the Arclight I caught "The Last Kiss," the Zach Braff downer of a dramedy whose trailer I've been playing once a week on Quicktime. I enjoyed the film. Blythe Danner was typically superb. That opening-titles song by Snow Patrol still plays on repeat in my brain. However, the film's message about turning 30, letting go of an age of innocence, and confronting identity crises took a backseat to the other theme that slapped me in the face:

Men are whiny pussies.

Warning: Spoilers ahead (but if you've seen the trailer, this doesn't give away much)...The four male characters of the film (five, if you include Tom Wilkinson's dad role) are afraid to face reality. Eric Christian Olsen (Kenny) doesn't mind ice fishing and bedding every hot Pussycat Doll applicant who crosses his panty-littered path. Casey Affleck (Chris) doesn't want to live in a loveless marriage with his baby's mama because she's always criticizing him and the baby's always crying. Michael Weston (Izzy) is depressingly desperate to get his long-time girlfriend back and ends up leaving town on a road trip to Mexico. And Zach Braff (Michael) is so scared shitless about committing to his pregnant girlfriend of three years that he literally flirts with disaster in the form of co-ed Rachel Bilson, who, in one scene, pathetically tries to mimic Natalie Portman's kookiness from "Garden State" but gets the movie's most thought-provoking line: "The world is moving so fast now that we start freaking out way before our parents did...because we don't ever stop to breathe anymore."

Thanks, Rachel. Note taken.

And mentally filed away.

Off to be whiny,

H.P.M.

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