Maybe you saw it. I almost shared it on Facebook, but didn’t want to give it the pageviews.
But here I am linking to it anyway, because when Slate asserts that adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children, I can’t help myself.
We need to talk about this.
This much is true: adults are reading more young adult fiction—typically aimed at 12- to 17-year-olds—than ever. This is a tragedy, (or so says the author, Ruth Graham), because these grown-ups shouldn’t be stealing time from adult literary fiction in order to read dumbed-down novels told from the perspective of teenagers.
(Then she goes on to slam The Westing Game and Tuck Everlasting. The nerve!)
I’m not an avid YA reader, but I’m always up for a good story, and readers of any age shouldn’t be ashamed of reading good books. Any good books, regardless of genre.
I don’t typically use the words “should” and “read” in the same sentence, but I’ll make an exception here.
Adults should read YA. Here’s why:
1. A good book is a good book is a good book.
I completely agree with Graham when she says, “Life is so short, and the list of truly great books for adults is so long.” But why for adults? As C. S. Lewis famously said, “a children’s story which is only enjoyed by children is a bad children’s story.”
Much young adult fiction is terrible, but so is much adult fiction. But a good book is a good book, no matter the intended audience. And the list of good books—for all audiences—is long. Thankfully.
2. YA is a label bestowed by the marketers.
Madeleine L’Engle defied her audience’s (and her publisher’s) requests to pigeonhole her books. When asked to place A Wrinkle in Time in a genre, L’Engle famously said, “It’s a book. I don’t like categorizing.”
Authors may write with an age-specific audience in mind, but they might not. Frequently, the “YA” classification is a choice made by the publicity machine, for its purposes—not by the author, for hers.
Should you sweepingly declare, as Graham does, “I don’t read YA,” you effectively delegate your reading choices to the marketers. Smart readers don’t do that.
3. The world does not revolve around your Very Adult Self.
Graham has this to say about Eleanor & Park:
It’s not simply that YA readers are asked to immerse themselves in a character’s emotional life—that’s the trick of so much great fiction—but that they are asked to abandon the mature insights into that perspective that they (supposedly) have acquired as adults. When chapter after chapter in Eleanor & Park ends with some version of “He’d never get enough of her,” the reader seems to be expected to swoon. But how can a grown-up, even one happy to be reminded of the shivers of first love, not also roll her eyes?
I understand why adult readers might roll their eyes, and why Graham expects them to: they’re not teenagers anymore. Graham thinks this is a reason not to read the book—but she couldn’t be more wrong. It’s why they should.
As Harry Truman said, “The only reason you read books is to get a better sense into people.” Fiction allows you to glimpse the world through another’s eyes, and the world has an awful lot of teenagers in it. If you’re an adult and you can’t understand teens, there’s hope for you yet. Find yourself a great YA novel and get to reading.
About that certain bestseller …
Graham seems to especially hate the literary (and financial) juggernaut that is Eleanor & Park. But while Eleanor & Park is marketed as YA, I don’t think it belongs in that category. There’s a difference between novels written for teenagers and novels written about teenagers. Eleanor & Park is the latter.
Why point this out? Simply to highlight the ambiguity of what we call “young adult” fiction, and why an entire category shouldn’t be axed from consideration. It’s not that adults should be reading YA for the sake of reading YA, but they should be reading—and reading well. There are great options in every section of the bookstore.
But to say that adults shouldn’t be reading from an entire section? That’s just click baiting.
For the sake of my beloved books, this time, I’ll take the bait.
But I’m not buying it.
Slate, you are drunk.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about adults and reading, young adult fiction, and what you “should and should not” read in comments.