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.