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The Gossip Girl Book Series
by Molly Young
In the introduction to William Gibson’s Burning Chrome, the author Bruce Sterling writes that “SF writers have every opportunity to kick up our heels––we have influence without responsibility.”
You could say the same about authors of Young Adult fiction, no? Sterling goes on to say that “very few feel obliged to take us seriously, yet our ideas permeate the culture, bubbling along invisibly, like background radiation.
Also true of YA authors! Delightfully, the staple YA series Gossip Girl offers several more hallmarks of genre fiction: paperback-only releases, frequent typos, backhanded-compliment blurbs (“Surprisingly sophisticated” –New York Magazine) and lucrative spinoffs. Unlike the best SF or romance novels, however, YA authors tend to exist quietly behind a curtain. Their books may sell briskly, but the authors don’t become cult figures.
“I’m back,” Blair echoed, enviously assessing Serena’s ebony chiffon Bailey Winter dress.
Cecily von Ziegesar, the author of the Gossip Girl books, exists in a sort of foggy middle-ground. She’s not a celebrity, but her persona is integral to the success of the series. No matter where you look, there are three facts made available about von Ziegesar:
1. She grew up wealthy in Connecticut and Manhattan
2. She currently lives in New York with her husband and children
3. She has a nearly hairless cat named Pony Boy
I do not know why this third fact is always included, but it is. The first two, however, are crucial at communicating von Ziegesar’s insider status. Photographs of the author further convey the signs of her authority: blond hair, blue eyes, rectilinear features. She has the kind of WASPy good looks reminiscent of a mayonnaise-garnished Triscuit: bland to most, delicious to a few. At any rate, she looks like central casting’s Upper East Side matron par excellence, and is careful to be photographed as such.
Cecily von Ziegesar with a fan
The books themselves are skillful. One of von Ziegesar’s devices is to pummel the reader with proper nouns. We are constantly being socioeconomically oriented by the words Jimmy Choo, Cosabella, Bvlgari, Yale, Fifth Avenue. Many of these are perennial, but others date poorly. This is part of the fun, since the Lame Hotel Names and Passé Designer Bags act as inadvertent markers of time.
The clever thing is that characters are almost entirely defined by their associations with these nouns. The hipster lives in Williamsburg, the Park Avenue princess shops at Barney’s, and we are reminded of these alliances so frequently they function as epithets. The trick is an efficient one, since it means that von Ziegesar has only to explain the significance of a Barney’s or a Williamsburg once before deploying it thereafter as shorthand for “snobbish”, “cool” or what have you.
Serena’s bright orange Hermés rubber flip-flops thwacked noisily against the black-and-white-checked marble floor of the Chelsea Hotel.
And the characters themselves? Gossip Girl offers a peculiarly shitty array of role models. But this is OK, because the Blair Waldorfs and Nate Archibalds don’t exactly beg to be imitated. Von Ziegesar doesn’t condemn them, she just makes them starkly unrealistic. And this–intentional or not–rules out imitation. There just ain’t enough to go on.
Molly Young is the contributing editor to This Recording. She tumbls here.
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