If you are particularly bookish then I am sure you are aware of the hubub over Young Adult Literature.
If you want to fan the flames and put a hornet in your pocket then you are more than welcome to read the original article, “Against YA” by Ruth Graham that I will be replying and referring to.
I grappled with whether I would write about this article or not. I’m not one to give into fad articles or continue an argument passed its expiration date. I surely do not want to perpetuate this campaign against YA. But a lot of family and friends have asked me about my opinion on this topic so I thought I would wrangle my thoughts and lay them flat for you to peruse.
The skinny of my opinion is this: Fiction books are meant for entertainment and enlightenment is a byproduct.
If a person reads a book they enjoy and has an enjoyable experience with a book then they are more likely to pick up another book and another. Young Adult is a gateway drug. I can’t tell you how many people I know who read Harry Potter then picked up Rowling’s Casual Vacancy and now her second novel The Cuckoo’s Calling.
So I say, if people are picking up books let them read.
The long version:
A couple of things you should know about me before I begin:
I studied English and Education in University and have always had a love for the written word.
I hardly read anything considered ‘young adult’ besides Twilight in High School.
I am a High School English teacher.
I read a ton more Young Adult Fiction now than I did when I was a teen.
I read Adult Fiction.
I consider myself to be well read.
With all of that laid out for you, let me begin.
My life in the literary realm began as such:
Aren’t you an ENGLISH MAJOR?
Once I declared my major as English a great, unfathomable phenomena occurred in my life. There was a shift that could almost be felt. It started out with the occasional quip whenever I would make a grammatical error or spell incorrectly. “Aren’t you an English Major?” People would tease. Apparently, once I announced I was an English Major all of my flaws in reading and writing were supposed to disappear.
I was also supposed to become an authority on literature. The books I read were supposed to be of the highest quality. Anything less than Tolstoy or Steinbeck was a whimsy I was wasting my time with. As such, I was surprised when a professor discussed with another student, in length, his love of the Castle novels and television show. Castle? Richard Castle is not a literary giant! How could my beloved professor stoop so low! But that smile on his face! That sheer delight! He must truly enjoy what he is reading. Yes, even Doctorates in English enjoy the serial novel.
Is this a ‘GOOD’ book?
Let me tell you about the most difficult class of my college career: Literary Criticism. If you think Literary Criticism is a bunch of persnickety people writing lofty book reviews for the Post or New York Times, then you would be in the same boat as I was when I embarked on this course. Literary Criticism questions the very fabric of our word systems. There are some criticisms that even question whether a story can even be told and communicated effectively! These criticisms go beyond the literary and into the philosophical realm! I was glad that the class was only fifty minutes, three times a week or I would have had a nosebleed from my brains exploding by the end of the period.
Literature is a big deal and so is what we consider to be ‘literature’.
The most baffling thing that has happened around me as an English major/teacher is the amount of people, friends even, that have asked me the question: “This this a Good book?” To which I would readily reply, “Oh yeah, it’s great. I liked it.” Their puzzled looks would soon lead to my realization that they weren’t asking if it was an enjoyable book, but if it was considered ‘literary’.
My English Professor Dr. Karen Prior once said, “There is a difference between literature and Lit-er-a-ture [imply British accent and dramatic hand wave on the latter word].” What she was getting at is that all writing is literature, but not all literature is literature. Get it?
Oh yes, literary, the pinnacle platform to which all literature should aspire to be. Let me get my Literary Criticism book out- oh wait, it’s propping up my uneven kitchen table. Don’t get me wrong. There is great merit in literary fiction. In fact, I love reading a great novel of high literary prowess. Once you read prose that flows so beautifully with writing that has your mind constantly working, chewing, like a turbine to process, you ache for another work just as formidable. If a work is equal parts challenging and entertaining then it is even more worthy of praise.
Not every work can be, or should be, a Crime and Punishment or The Road.
Ssh, it’s my GUILTY PLEASURE.
I take pride in telling people that I don’t have any ‘guilty reads’. I’m not reading any books on an eReader because I don’t want anyone to know what I’m reading. I’m not hiding under my blanket with a flashlight. I don’t cover my face when I walk down the YA aisle.
I’ll tell you why.
No one should be ASHAMED for READING. I think one of the greatest flaws in Graham’s article is that she doesn’t make the distinction between Literary Fiction and ‘the trash’ that she so happily wants to lump together. Which, I beg to argue that the books she mentioned are not trashy in the least. Her failure to differentiate these two genres (yes, they are genres according to the great Literary Criticism) are what has everyone up in arms.
I read Charles Dickens for pleasure. I read Stephen King for pleasure. I read Deborah Harkness for pleasure and I read Suzanne Collins for pleasure. Two of those authors take me much longer to read than the other two. So I tend to read more of one than the other.
Reading Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is not something I’m ashamed of because the story is fun and the characters are interesting. I’ve never seen another author (Adult or YA) use photographs in a novel the way he has. He is doing something innovative and it doesn’t matter that the book is geared toward a 16 year old because I can remember what being a 16 year old feels like.
A well BALANCED diet.
I argue that books get a lot more scrutiny as entertainment than television, film, and games do. Reading, overall, is held up on a pedestal because you need a learned ability to enjoy it. Therefore, people feel superior for the pure fact that they can enjoy it while others can’t. But let’s take books and stack it up against the television.
I hope Ms. Graham is at home watching PBS Masterpiece Theater, Downton Abbey, and Cosmos every night lest she indulge in the common man’s non-intellectual slop. And beyond the television, she better not even think about stepping into a theater for the next twenty years as Young Adult geared stories such as superhero comics, The Hunger Games, and any movie with main characters aged between the years of 13-25 take the screen. She may get dumbed down.
The quality of our diet in entertainment is all about balance.
I think it is because I have read ‘the classics’ that I am able to enjoy books on a deeper level. I pick up on character tropes, themes, and literary allusions in Adult Fiction and Young Adult Fiction far more often than the average reader because of my extensive knowledge. Do I doubt that I could enjoy Adult Fiction without that knowledge? No.
I read graphic novels, comic books, poetry, Adult Fiction, and Young Adult Fiction. I fill my head with words and then use my Adult discernment to conclude what is good and worthy to keep and what is meant to throw away. If I read Young Adult literature will I start pining over the bad boy and shop at American Eagle again? No. Adult, Young Adult readers are fully aware of what they are reading. There’s no confusion over how old we are and that we have to return to reality in the very next hour.
Like all fiction, Young Adult provides a trip away from reality.
I’m assuming Ruth Graham is a reader and so I must ask why she would be so upset that people are reading?
Don’t discourage the people from enjoying a story.
Let them read.
Thank you for reading.