Yesterday, Ruth Graham published a post on Slate that infuriated members of the Twitterverse and Blogosophere titled: “Against YA.” No, I am not linking to it here. The subheading was: “Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.”
I get it, I do. While us here in the 2000s are reading “transparently trashy” stuff, others were spending their life as a “YA reader way back in the early 1990s” with sophisticated works like The Westing Game. Yeah, I read that too. Problematically, though, there wasn’t really much more than that out there for us avid young adult readers.
I remember having a Twitter conversation with someone about the fact that, due to a dearth of YA titles in my proscribed YA time, I read authors my mother gave me after she finished: Stephen King, John Grisham, V.C. Andrews, Sidney Sheldon (those last two scarred me for life, I think). In school, because I took honors English classes, I read Shakespeare all four years, and other canonical authors like Steinbeck, including Charles Dickens in the 9th grade. I use the term “read” loosely because at the age of fourteen, I just could not—COULD NOT—stomach finishing Great Expectations to save my life. I still can’t. In fact I have a continuing, deep-rooted aversion to Dickens. I still can’t read him as an adult. I tried.
So does that mean, since I can’t abide Dickens, that I eschew all work of “literary merit?” No. I love “literary fiction.” I love Austen, the Brontë sisters, and Thomas Hardy. I love Erin Morgenstern, Khaled Hosseini, and Ian McEwan. I also love Laini Taylor, Leigh Bardugo, Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, and Cassandra Clare (to name a few). So, why do I love YA fiction so much?
To be frank, whose business it is it but mine why I love it so much? Why should anyone—but me—care what I read?
It all started when, as a mother and high school English teacher, I wanted to be aware of the options out there for my daughter and students to read. Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with young adult literature, and I still love it. The genre provides me a “break” from life, stress, and the otherwise heavy reading I like—and am sometimes required—to do. What that means is, especially during the school year, I read more YA fiction than any other genre. Does that make my reading preferences, as an adult, somehow unacceptable? Not to me. And I’ve no doubt that countless other readers feel that way. I know for a fact that many do.
Take for instance Rae Carson, who said yesterday on Twitter:
Okay, actually, I recommend anything that's FUN or HOLDS YOUR ATTENTION or INSPIRES YOU. Just read that. Relentlessly. Shamelessly.
— Rae Carson (@raecarson) June 5, 2014
And she’s right. Reading should be something to enjoy and love and be inspired by, not something to be coerced into doing at a certain level because anyone thinks it’s more acceptable. In fact, I thought last Sunday, as I toted the final book in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy up and down Pearl Street in Boulder, just hoping for the chance to finish it because I was SO CLOSE, “Hopefully people will see this book and ask me about it so I can recommend it!”
Yes, I balance my reading choices (as you can see on my Goodreads page), but I do tend toward escapism. Am I embarrassed? Clearly not. Should I be? No. During the school year, the worlds of Eretz and Panem and Ravka give me a place to go, away from grading and student issues and, quite frankly, the constant hectic state of my life. I intend to keep visiting other young adult worlds, and times, as often as I see fit.
I hope you all will too.
I can’t imagine why anyone would feel the need to judge someone else’s reading choices. I’ve recently discovered YA — there wasn’t much available during the Dark Ages when I was growing up, so my version of YA was trashy adult literature, which I devoured — and I am really enjoying it. I just read Say What You Will, by Cammie McGovern — fantastic!
Judging anyone for what he or she reads is a destructive practice that says more about the judger than the judged, I think. Who cares if you read “great literature,” YA, romance, or “only” nonfiction? Books are to be enjoyed, and personally, I’d be bored if I read the same genre all the time. Give me a well-written YA novel over a boring anything else anytime!
I also find it interesting that much of the cinematic buzz of the past several years is about adaptations of YA novels (Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Fault of Our Stars, to name a few).
Beautifully said. The writer of that article seems to be waiting for someone to congratulate her on her very mature and sophisticated reading habits.
I love a lot of books. Many of them are YA, a few of them are “lit fic,” a few of them are classics (though not many– if I have to translate older English to new in my head, I’m not enjoying the book). I don’t think any one genre or age category has more value than another. I do prefer a book that provides an escape and a compelling story to one that bores me to tears with its heavy message and deep… whatever. I’d rather read about an interesting character in another world than 500 pages about someone’s marriage breaking up. If that makes me immature, so be it.
I wish people would just promote what they love rather than trying to make others feel guilty for not liking the “right” things.
(PS- I share your aversion to Dickens)
Great post! I finished Great Expectations and, believe me, you weren’t missing out on anything!
I completely agree with you! My mother, a 50+ elementary school librarian, is constantly reading YA books in search of appropriate books for her advanced 4th graders. When I lived at home she would bring home a stack and we go to town on them. In my opinion, it really doesn’t matter what you like to read, as long as you are reading something! 🙂