So, this article from Slate, entitled Against YA: Adults should be embarrassed to read children’s books has caused something of a wild storm throughout the book community. But, with (insincere) apologies to the many commentators who hated it, I really agreed with it. Basically it’s a call to those who persist with the “I only read YA. I even have a t-shirt” line to perhaps think about it in a different way.
(I want this t-shirt though:
…anyway, as I was saying.)
Our reading habits will and should change over a lifetime. Reading is so personal and so communal we almost inevitably make the personal political (or at least extrapolate the personal opinion into the wider opinion). The serious literary types pooh-pooh the YA types. The paranormal romance types laugh at the serious literary types who can’t afford to eat. The YA types accuse others of being literary snobs, Dan Brown readers have no idea we’re looking down on them, and everyone laughs at those who read nothing but Mills & Boon.
It’s the nature of opinion.
And opinion changes.
For example as a kid I absolutely loved Roald Dahl, I read most of his books over and over. I still adore him and thoroughly enjoy reading his books. But the profundity of them has changed. To read them is enjoyable, and doing so reminds me why my 10 year old self related to the lovely characters, but my present self does not.
In my 20’s I was enamoured with “serious literature”: prize winners, difficult reads, often quite avant-garde stuff. I read it, not because I necessarily enjoyed doing so but because I was an English student and I wanted to have the experience of reading it, I wanted to push myself, to read for more than enjoyment and satisfaction and fun. I was, and in many ways still am, a literary snob.
Now, in my 30s, I still read a lot of those types of books – mostly prize winners – but I do so with one eye on my enjoyment levels. My time is becoming more limited, I don’t have hours to spend reading so I try to balance it more. So I read (and love) a bit of YA, I laugh and marvel at really good children’s picture books, I delve into the odd piece of easy reading… I’ve even discovered the joys of speculative fiction. And I still go head over heels for serious adult literature.
So what I took from this article was not the headline (which is obvious click bait, and dammit, why don’t I do that with my blog and stop being so high and mighty, on that note, see above), what I took was don’t let YA literature be all you read. Books for kids and teens are for kids and teens and we should be honest about that, and acknowledge that that’s what makes them good books. If I wanted to write a YA book but I didn’t write it for YAs then I would not be doing my job well, at all. If you’re not the target audience then of course those books can still speak to some part of your soul, my 15 year old soul was thrilled by The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood but in very different ways from my 25 year old soul and my 36 year old soul. And I imagine my 72 year old soul will again view it in a completely different way.
Also, just to really make you all mad, I didn’t think The Fault in Our Stars was all that great. It was fine but, jesus, it was so written for teenagers and, bless them, they are invariably annoying. We all were. That’s why we can relate.