So, by this point I’m sure that many of you have seen the kerfuffle over on Slate surrounding Ruth Graham’s article “Against YA: Read whatever you want, but you should be embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.” I read the article nearly a week ago and have been meaning to write a suitable response, but haven’t been able to find the time. So, at long last, here are some of my thoughts, in hastily written bullet points:
- Graham assumes that adults who are reading YA would have been reading literary fiction if they weren’t reading YA. This statement is fallacious, and doesn’t consider that perhaps adults who are excited about young adult novels would not find literary fiction appealing as a way to spend their leisure time. Not every person likes every genre.
- The fact that an adult reads YA novels doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t read other things. I like to alternate between thinking books and fluffy books. It makes me enjoy both types more.
- Many of the books that we now consider classics were originally intended/consumed by young adults. They were regarded by their contemporaries as trashy, and their distinction as “literary” came much later. I laughed when the article mentioned Charles Dickens, because books like Oliver Twist and Great Expectations are books people read as teenagers.
- The fact that Graham read one YA novel (The Fault in Our Stars) and didn’t like it says nothing about the quality of all young adult novels.
- YA is, more than anything else, a marketing distinction. It sells. A lot of the books that are in the YA section would have been in the adult section if they were written 20 years ago, but they’re not, because YA sells.
- “Literary fiction” is also a marketing distinction. Y’know who decides that it’s “literary”? The people that publish it. It’s up to the reader to sort out what’s quality and what’s not.
- One hallmark of adulthood the realization that you don’t know everything. You feel like you’re pretending to be a grown-up, and that one day people will realize that you’re not. Young adult novels often feature protagonists in similar situations, where they are thrust into roles of responsibility that they may or may not feel ready for, but they step up to the challenge and excel. That feeling of insecurity and self-doubt is the same one that adults feel when getting unfamiliar assignments at work or realizing that they’re old enough to have a family. Even though the characters in YA novels are teenagers, the books encompass universal experiences.
- One of my favorite books is The Little Prince. It’s written for children, but each time I read it as an adult, the message becomes more clear. Don’t lose your imagination and become a boring grown-up. Sometimes the simplest thoughts are the most profound.
- It is small-minded to only read books about people who are the same as you. That goes for age, race, gender, ethnicity, disability, etc. Part of the magic of reading is the ability to step outside of your own comfortable experiences and experience something different. Discounting an entire genre because it features teenage protagonists seems rather silly.
- Reading YA as a grown-up can be a great way to learn to identify with teenagers, especially if you’re one of their parents.
- Adults need to stop being embarrassed about the things they like. Some people like YA dystopias, some people like cozy mysteries, some people like BDSM erotica, some people like books about robots, some people like books that make them cry, some people like books that make them laugh, some people like romantic candlelight dinners, some people like books about cowboys, etc. etc. etc. And you know what? That’s okay!
And now, for your thoughts: Should grown-ups read YA? Is “serious” reading becoming underrated in today’s world? What are your reactions to Graham’s article? Discussions are welcome. Don’t be shy. 😛