“Embarrassed” to Read #YA? I Don’t Think So, Ruth Graham

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth WeinThere is a lot of stuff swirling in the Twitterverse regarding the Young Adult book world these days, what with the release of the movie version of The Fault in Our Stars. I don’t think there’s been this much attention paid to a YA book-to-movie since Twilight became a world-wide phenomenon (and then punchline).

As seen in such online publications as The Atlantic and The Slate, here are the top two topics:

  1. The truth re. John Green single-handedly saving YA; and
  2. Adults should be ashamed to read YA at all. Ever. Amen. The End.

Today let’s review the second item, since The Atlantic covered the John Green Savior issue nicely.

According to Ruth Graham in her article for The Slate, she says:

Fellow grown-ups, at the risk of sounding snobbish and joyless and old, we are better than this. I know, I know: Live and let read. Far be it from me to disrupt the “everyone should just read/watch/listen to whatever they like” ethos of our era. There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader. And if people are reading Eleanor & Park instead of watching Nashville or reading detective novels, so be it, I suppose. But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something.

I will say this: I can’t disagree with some of her characterizations of YA. However, what I have a problem with is her assumption that for those reasons, we grownups should have no need to read these books anymore. Somehow, reading Cinder or Code Name Verity or Warm Bodies makes me a stunted reader, one who has taken a step back and become immature; insinuating that reading choices indicate that we are missing the ability to understand more complex adult writing. Why should I “…reject [these books] as far too simple?” Is it that, when boiled down to their essence, these stories are about good/evil or right/wrong or making choices? Aren’t all books? Then, sorry, I must like simple. It’s the words and characters and story and worlds that pull us through, and while there are many YA stories that I haven’t enjoyed (like with all books), there are so many wonderful writers who, dare I say it, are writing literature with teens as the protagonists. So there are a few lines that are clunkers or the stories have endings; maybe I am not highbrow enough to dismiss an entire book because of these things. 

There is a HUGE unspoken presumption hiding behind her words…that those of us who unashamedly read YA don’t read anything else. I read all sorts of books, from biographies (about adults!) to general non-fiction, to classics and modern fiction. YA is another genre that I enjoy. Yes, I tend to read more YA than anything, but that is for many reasons: I have a kid who reads YA, I review YA books, I enjoy YA books and I have started writing YA as well. Yes, YA tends to go through cycles (vampires, dystopian, contemporary fiction, etc.), but what sits on the shelves at Barnes & Noble can hardly be blamed on readers or the books themselves. There are publishing houses behind those stories, and just like in the movies or on TV, those choosing the books tend not to stray far from “what’s working.”

If I can’t find “escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia” in my books – in any genre – along with learning something, whether it be about the world or myself, then what’s a book for?

So you keep your DVR full of Nashville reruns while I watch Awkward, Game of Thrones, New Girl, Sherlock and Downton Abbey. It’s much more satisfying to me to be well-informed, well-rounded AND well-read.

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