Read Whatever the Hell You Want to Read

This post is going to be one big rant. I can’t help it; I need to get this out. I’ve just read one of the most ridiculous articles ever by Ruth Graham of Slate. The title of the article is “Against YA: Adults should be embarrassed to read children’s books.” That title alone should let you know how I feel about it. Let’s break down this holier-than-thou article.

As The Fault in Our Stars barrels into theaters this weekend virtually guaranteed to become a blockbuster, it can be hard to remember that once upon a time, an adult might have felt embarrassed to be caught reading the novel that inspired it. Not because it is bad—it isn’t—but because it was written for teenagers.

So right away the author starts off with TFIOS. Of course she does. This is clearly an attention-seeking article and its main goal is to garner clicks. What better way to do that than hone in on the most popular book/movie at the moment? So she admits to thinking the novel is good but she is embarrassed to read it because it’s geared towards teenagers. The author spends a lot of time on what the definition of an “adult” is compared to a teenager. One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about getting older is that I stopped caring so much about what other people thought of me. I like what I like without having to defend myself or feel ashamed. It’s sad that the author hasn’t gained that confidence in herself.

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. As the writer Jen Doll, who used to have a column called “YA for Grownups,” put it in an essay last year, “At its heart, YA aims to be pleasurable.”

And? I think in the end of the day, reading is supposed to be pleasurable. I’m all for readers broadening their horizons and checking out different things that are out there. However, plenty of people use reading as a way to escape from everyday life. When your weeks are spent working, going to the gym, taking care of kids, cooking, cleaning, and a million other things, sometimes all you’re looking for from books, movies, or TV is to escape. Because an adult likes to spend an hour or so reading something purely for entertainment, you’re somehow better than her?

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.

This was the part of the article that I had the biggest problem with. For starters, the author should really take a look at The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp. If you’re going to take down an entire genre of literature and label it as being one way, you should fully know what you’re talking about. The Spectacular Now had one of the most ambiguous endings to a novel I’ve ever read, YA or “adult”. Also, if she wants to stick by this argument, should we stop reading Jane Austen completely? The endings to her novels are anything but satisfying.

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.

Wait, so you don’t want to sound snobbish and joyless and old? Sorry to break it to you but that’s exactly how you’ve come across this entire article.

A few months ago I read the very literary novel Submergence, which ends with a death so shattering it’s been rattling around in my head ever since. But it also offers so much more: Weird facts, astonishing sentences, deeply unfamiliar (to me) characters, and big ideas about time and space and science and love. I’ve also gotten purer plot-based highs recently from books by Charles Dickens and Edith Wharton, whose age and canonhood have not stopped them from feeling fresh, true, and surprising. Life is so short, and the list of truly great books for adults is so long.

This is the one and only time she addresses novels that us “adults” should be reading instead of John Green. So tell me, since you’re the expert Ruth Graham, can I consider myself a self-respected adult since I’ve enjoyed Charles Dickens and Edith Wharton but also John Green and Suzanne Collins. Big ideas? The Giver is an amazing book with big ideas about life and the world. Should it just be dismissed as nonsense since it was geared towards a younger crowd?

You should take your own advice when you say, “Life is so short.” It’s too short to care what other people think about what’s in your bookshelf.

 

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An Open Letter to the Staff of BookCon

Dear Staff of BookCon*,

When I found out that there was going to be an entire convention dedicated to books, I was ecstatic. Book signings, giveaways, panel discussions! I didn’t have to think twice about going. It got even better when I was able to enter my job credentials and get a free press pass to go. I was all geared up and ready to head into the city bright and early Saturday morning.

Quickly my excitement turned into aggravation and cries of “Why did I do this?” and “I just want to go home.” There were so many things wrong with your event. Some of them I cannot fault you with (the blame lies with the Javits Center) but plenty of the blame is your fault.

I am going to start with the aspects of the event that plenty of attendees have complained about but you yourselves did not have any control over. The bathrooms were few and far between. When you finally did locate a bathroom, the line was at least 20 people long. That is the Javits Center for you. It’s a huge space and if you’re having a large convention or fair in NYC, this is the only place you want to be held. However, as far as convention centers go, it’s rather abysmal. Like I mentioned already, the bathroom situation is atrocious. There need to be more and they need to be easier to find. Aside from that, the Javits Center is in a crappy location with a 10-15 minute walk from the closest train station. There are no redeemable places to eat close by, which means most attendees are stuck getting something from the ridiculously overpriced food court. All of this really blows but none of it is BookCon’s fault. Again, if you are having a convention in NYC, it has to be held at the Javits Center. The place is HUGE!

Which brings me to one of the areas where you guys really blew it! BookCon was packed! You guys were terribly ill-prepared for the crowds, which doesn’t really make sense to me. You guys sold tickets. Did you not keep track of how many tickets were being bought? How could you be so ill-prepared for the large crowd? The entire layout of the event made no sense to me. The autographing lines were set up right next to the booths. This made it difficult to A. figure out where the line started for autographs and B. check out some of the booths closest to the autograph area. Did you think only five people would want to get autographs from their favorite authors?

The line situation in the entire place was horrible. There was absolutely no organization to anything and the staff was not very helpful. Whether it was staff from BookCon or staff from the Javits, it did not matter. No one seemed eager to help out and explain what was going on. Maybe they were all just as clueless as we were. There were never any actual lines formed, just mobs. And each person seemed to think they were standing in line for a different event. I myself, with a bunch of other people, waited in line for almost an hour to see the Stan Lee panel only to be told it was full at the last minute.

I actually left way before the mob for The Fault in Our Stars panel started to form. I would have loved to see that but once I got a feel for how BookCon was, I didn’t even bother trying to attempt it. And judging by the many, many pictures and complaints I saw on social media, I’m glad that I didn’t stay. Whoever thought it was a good idea to not ticket this event from the very beginning is an idiot! I don’t want to be mean but it’s the truth. A signing for Cassandra Clare was ticketed but a panel with John Green talking about TFIOS and the film wasn’t? Where is the logic in that?

A lot has been said about the problems with diversity in BookCon and I wholeheartedly agree with everything. I feel as though you guys browsed through Tumblr, took the most discussed books, contacted only those authors, and called it a day. Now hear me out. I love my Young Adult. The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent, The Hunger Games. I’ve read it all and enjoyed them all. Well most of them anyway. Definitely have those authors there because they will naturally draw a big crowd and a lot of attention. However, they should not be the only things offered!

You guys really dropped the ball on this one for so many reasons. Don’t pretend you were catering to readers. You weren’t. You were catering to the Tumblr, fangirl crowd. And you were also assuming that this crowd is close-minded and not open to new genres of literature. There is so much more to books than white authors who write about dystopia or teen angst! Please, showcase more of these authors next year! Both to draw in more book lovers and to expose young readers to other types of books. That’s what BookCon should be about.

While it was a wonderful concept, the execution could have been a lot better. For next year, I say hire a more respectful, organized staff, make use of the GIANT venue your event is being held in, and showcase authors from all genres. If you can do that, that I’ll be happy to attend your event next year, and plenty of years after that.

Sincerely,

A Slightly Dissatisfied BookCon Attendee

*For those you who may not have heard of BookCon before, you can find out about the event here.

The Best of the Best of 2013

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Warning: This post will contain more than just books and food. Don’t worry, it will have those things but sprinkled with some other entertainment mediums, memories, and hot guys!

As most people when New Year’s is approaching, I’ve been thinking a lot about the past year. 2013 has been a year of ups and downs for me. Unfortunately, this year will always been known as the year I lost my favorite person in the entire world, my grandmother. But for all the heartache 2013 brought, there are also a lot of great things I have to look back on. I went on an amazing trip to Mexico with my sisters, nephew, and brother-in-law. I also went on a 9-day road trip with a good friend to six states I’d never been to before. It was an exhilarating trip. I recommend everyone go on at least one road trip in their life.

I’ve also seen a lot of great movies, read some terrific books, and ate some delicious food throughout the year. Here are some of my bests of 2013.

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The Best Book to Movie Adaptations

In my last post I was gushing over how amazing the film The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was. It truly was one of the best book to movie adaptations I have ever seen. Then it got me thinking, “What are some of the other great book to movie adaptations I’ve seen?”

I’m a big fan of seeing a movie based on a book I’ve already read. It’s always fun to check out what was done right and in a lot of cases, what was done horribly wrong. The general consensus seems to be that the “book is always better” and nine out of ten times this is true. Sometimes it isn’t even the fault of the director. It’s just inevitable that he will need to leave things out. It’s quite difficult to fit a 600 page book into a two-hour film.

But some directors manage to take all the best parts of  a novel, everything that truly make it great, and turn it into an exceptional film. Below are the films that I feel managed to be just as good as the original source.

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Everything The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Got Right

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I tend to talk in hyperboles a lot. I’ll get a headache and lay in bed proclaiming that I’m dying. I’ll start watching a new TV show and it will immediately become the best TV show I’ve ever seen. The second the temperature dips below 50 degrees? “This is the coldest I’ve ever been in my life!” But I am not exaggerating when I say that The Hunger Games:Catching Fire was one of the best book to movie adaptations I have ever seen. EVER!

If you read the books and enjoyed them, then I don’t see how there is any way you could dislike the movie. It was exceptional. It’s a perfect example of why directors and movie makers should never mess with the source material. Your job is to bring the book to life! The reason the book is so popular is because people fell in love with the story and the characters. There is no need for you to change it up.

Director Francis Lawrence managed to take all the things that made the book great and turn them into a fantastic film. In some cases, he made them even better. I could go on and on about every single thing Lawrence got right, down to the very detail, but I won’t bore you. However, I will pinpoint on some of the key things that were done right.

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Every Day is Book Lovers Day

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Source: pinterest.com

Today is Book Lovers Day. And while I don’t need a special day telling me to sit back and read, it’s nice to have a whole day dedicated to the love of books. I’m one of those people whose heart breaks when someone tells me they don’t like reading. A firm believer of the saying, “If you think reading is boring, you’re doing it wrong,” I am convinced that everyone can learn to love reading with a little push and shove. All of us who love reading can remember the things that turned us into readers for life. A certain book or a series that solidified our love.

For some the love for reading does come more natural than others. My mother loves to always talk about my obsession with books, even at a young age, reaching for books at the age of one over every other toy offered. I read my first book when I was three-years-old, Bears on Wheels. Sure most of that “reading” was just memorization but this is still one of my mother’s favorite stories to tell (brag about!). Between the ages five and seven, I probably went through every single book Stan and Jan Berenstain had to offer. Twenty years later, these books are still with me, especially The Berenstain Bears and the Bad Habit, as I still struggle with a nasty nail biting habit to this day.

After that I progressed to my Nancy Drew books and my Harriet the Spy book. It was nice to escape the reality of being an awkward preteen and pretend to be Nancy or Harriet. Needless to say I spent a lot of time “solving mysteries” in my house.

Matilda will forever be my one of my favorite books. The movie is also one of my favorites. It made me realize how amazing it can be to see your favorite literary characters come to life on the big screen.

I remember reading Go Ask Alice, A Child Called It, and It Happened to Nancy. Stories about drugs, rape, AIDS, and abusive, sadistic parents. Thankfully they were horrors in the world that I otherwise would have been blissfully unaware of. I couldn’t get enough of these tragic stories, slowly realizing that life is not as easy as my 12-year-old self thought it was.

And Speak is probably the book that solidified me as a reader for life. I felt a connection for Melinda Sordino that I wasn’t able to fully get with any other character I’d read about before. I felt her pain and wanted to be her friend.

Sometimes finding your love for reading just takes some trial and error. Some people may not have any desire to ever read the classics, and that’s fine. As long as you’re reading, that’s all that really matters. Try out a few different genres to see what sticks. You’re never going to like every book you come across. If you find a book boring and think all reading is boring, then clearly you’re doing it wrong.

I’m Wearing a Dress, Therefore I Must be Stupid

I tend to read a lot of Young Adult. It may not be serious literature but it’s enjoyable. With everything that goes on in real life, it’s nice to escape once in awhile with mindless entertainment. Like all genres, some YA novels are amazing, while others make me want to pull a Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook and throw the book out the window. However, there is one trait that all YA novels I’ve come across have shared, which I find extremely unsettling: The judgmental and condescending way any and all girly-girls are portrayed.

In Twilight, Bella fumbles around in her jeans and sneakers, while bubbly, boy-crazy Jessica is jealous and only befriends Bella to cash in on her popularity with boys.

Katniss Everdeen is more comfortable killing squirrels than wearing a dress. (I know that this has a lot to do with the atmosphere she grew up in. But Suzanne Collins, and the director of the first film, still play into the stereotype by portraying Glimmer, one of the “bad guys”, as a pretty, blonde girl prancing around in a sequin dress.)

In Sarah Dessen’s Along for the Ride, the main character is shocked to find out that one of the girls she recently befriended knows so much about finance. Because there is no way that popular girls who like clothes can possibly be intelligent.

Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones probably plays into these stereotypes more than any other book I can think of. Clary Fray, the heroine of the series, doesn’t hang out with any other girls, has never worn make-up, and has never dressed up before. The other female in the novel, Isabelle Lightwood? She’s beautiful, a maneater, and your typical mean girl.

I could give 20 more examples but I’ll leave it at that.

It’s a tale that movies, books, TV shows, and even songs have been telling for years: The pretty, popular girl is nothing more than what’s on the surface. There is nothing behind her crystal blue eyes except a desire for all the boys to like her and to be wearing all the latest trends. It’s the girls who shun make-up and would rather wear a pair of sweats than a designer gown, who have all the real substance. The girly-girl characters are only represented in chick lit, and then their main goal and greatest accomplishment is finding a man.

I understand the logic behind this and for most authors I believe their hearts are in the right place. They are sending a message to young girls that they do not need to conform to beauty standards to fit in. But by doing this they are completely ostracizing an entire group of girls and reinforcing the dumb cheerleader stereotype. Having crushes, wearing make-up, and enjoying shopping doesn’t automatically equate to being an airhead.

I challenge an author to write a story where the heroine can kick-ass and wear make-up. I assure you this is possible. Maybe they should consult with Joss Whedon. No one thought Buffy was any less of a badass just because she wore short skirts and was obsessed with boys.

This commentary was inspired by City of Bones, Divergent, Twilight, and many other YA novels I’ve read.