“Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.”
– Ruth Graham @ Slate.com
So, there may be a lot of you out there (past the teenage years and charging into adulthood) who were a little offended by the above statement and enjoy sitting down with books like Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, Illuminae and A Court of Thorns and Roses. Well, according to Ruth Graham – a regular contributor to the Slate.com site, we shouldn’t be doing that to ourselves and we are “better than that.” Now I’m not saying she’s not entitled to her opinion but there are some flaws in her reasoning, at least from where I’m standing; what’s to follow is my thoughts on why views like this are damaging to readers.
Firstly, so much of what’s being said in the article (link above) relies on the notion that books written for adults are always more appropriate for adults. I mean, you don’t see her chastising the very adult Fifty Shades of Grey books despite the potential sanctioning of abusive behaviour. (I didn’t manage to get through the first book so can’t possibly weigh in on this debate.) Getting back to the point, the argument put forward in the anti-young-adult-lit article is pretty reductive. It groups all teen literature into one tiny box. I don’t know if you’ve ever read The Fault in Our Stars, but I think it’s pretty different to The Hunger Games (maybe Ruth and I read them differently)?
What’s interesting is that I actually agreed with Ruth’s reading of TFIOS. I found it to be “a nicely-written book for 13 year-olds” and didn’t really rate it as a life-changer for me as a reader. It just was a bit too cute (real-life, tearjerkers are rarely my jam). It’s a well written book with a decent story but it just wasn’t for me, and maybe it does resonate better with a different audience. However, my view is that not every 13-year-old reader is the same, much like how not every 35-year-old is the same. To belittle someone for reading something written for a younger general audience seems far too reductive and a little ignorant. Plus, if the main argument is “It wasn’t written for adults”, well neither was Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island or Great Expectations and we wouldn’t shame adults for getting to know these classics inside and out.
What I found really insulting about this article is how it doesn’t celebrate reading enough. Ruth does promote adolescent reading and enthuses about teens having lots of reading available but she doesn’t seem to realise that the YA genre can be a stepping stone for new readers of all ages. It’s reading level and combined topics of interest can be enough for a non-reader to get excited about new books. Reading is something schools and organisations have been pushing to encourage for years and years. It’s great for comprehension, wellness, vocabulary, memory, focus, analytical skills and a whole host of other things. To write an article that would actually discourage people from reading is such a sad thing. Especially if you’re hell-bent on ‘bettering’ people.
I suppose for regular readers promoting genre variation is a good thing, you could find something fabulous you’d never considered before (like I did when I read Memoirs of a Geisha) but it’s not the be-all and end-all of being a reader. I agree that readers are missing something if they read YA fiction exclusively but it’s an individual choice and I guess you can’t be too sad about missing something you’ve not yet experienced! Reading is a waiting game; one day you’ll pick up something different and it may (or may not) change you as a reader. Personally, I feel like you should read what you enjoy, there’s nothing worse than trudging through a book you hate just to impress people. I don’t feel, as Ruth does, that the satisfying endings these novels provide is a bad thing if it entertains and makes people happy. Emotional and moral ambiguity is everywhere in life and nothing is quite that black and white. Read to benefit yourself and don’t dwell on the judgement of others, that’s the key to really loving books.
I was actually inspired to add Submergence to my reading list following the article and hope to post a review of it once I get my hands on a copy!
What do you think? are genres made for specific age groups? Let me know in the comments below
– Cat –