Ruth Graham has a post at Slate bemoaning the fact that adults read Young Adult (YA) fiction and (the horror) enjoy it!
She tries to justify this bit of snobbery in a couple of different ways. First, she's concerned about our use of YA lit as inadequately motivated:
But even the myriad defenders of YA fiction admit that the enjoyment of reading this stuff has to do with escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia.Secondly, she reminds us that the real world isn't as simple as that portrayed in these books:
Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction.Wait, what?! You mean life isn't just a series of Katniss Everdeen-inspired montages? Real life is hard? If only I hadn't wasted all that time reading The Giver I might have been better prepared for applying for that home loan!
As someone who just downloaded The Fault in Our Stars on Audible and who read The Hunger Games in three days, I have to say how much I vehemently disagree with this author's stance. Reading YA fiction as an adult is a pleasure for the very reasons noted in this piece: escapism, satisfying (even if sometimes simplistic) conclusions, and a quick read.
My main problem with arguments like this one is that it treats reading as an all or nothing activity. If you read YA fiction, then you can't possibly also read Foucault or Shakespeare or Woolf.
It's ridiculous, and it's something that we don't extend to any other of life's activities. I watch Knocked Up and Citizen Kane. I eat macaroni and cheese from a box and gourmet pasta marinated in a reduction sauce. There have been times when I was running while listening to The Hunger Games and reading Hannah Arendt in the same day.
|I guess you better not come to my dinner party, Ms. Graham.|
I read YA literature, and I'm not ashamed.
This isn't just a personal defense of my own tastes, however. (I have watched Con Air more times than should be legally allowed and realize that I'm not in much of a position to protest my own bad taste). This is about the way that we police the boundaries of acceptability when it comes to literary practices. Reading is good for you. It's good for your brain, makes you more empathetic, and is fun! It's one thing to not enjoy YA novels yourself (though I have to say, I think thou doth protest a bit too much, Graham), but actively saying other people should be ashamed for finding enjoyment in reading is mean-spirited and irresponsible.
As a teacher of developmental English, I have plenty of adult students who have tons of life experience, intelligence, and accomplishments. They are often, though, not readers. Reading has often been an intimidating, boring, laborious task. Many of them find some respite in YA literature that leads into more comfort reading in other contexts. And if it doesn't? Well, then I'd rather people find the pleasures of reading where they can get them than not at all, and shame on Graham for trying to take that away.
Photos: cheri, Pearl Pirie