Thursday, March 29, 2012

Adults should read adult books?

So someone on my FB feed linked to Joel Stein's opinion column in the NYT today:  Adults should read adult books.

This is how it begins:

 "The only thing more embarrassing than catching a guy on the plane looking at pornography on his computer is seeing a guy on the plane reading “The Hunger Games.” Or a Twilight book. Or Harry Potter. The only time I’m O.K. with an adult holding a children’s book is if he’s moving his mouth as he reads."

He then proceeds to mock both the YA books themselves and the adult readers who enjoy them.  His diatribe offends me on so many levels, I'm not sure where to begin.

It's bad enough that those of us who love genre fiction already feel like the poor stepchild of literature.  Now YA literature is ground into the dirt.

I'm a 48 year old.  I read YA literature.  I write YA literature.  I also read classics, literary fiction, mysteries, SF&F, thrillers, and poetry.  Mr. Stein seems to believe that YA writing must needs be simplistic and one-dimensional.  As if all writing for 'adults' is automatically better than that written for children and teens.  I vehemently disagree.  Mr. Stein feels that YA books don't (or can't) challenge one's thinking.  I vehemently disagree.

He says:

"Let’s have the decency to let tween girls have their own little world of vampires and child wizards and games you play when hungry."

As if there is nothing in YA books that can or should appeal to the adult reader.  Let me tell you what a YA story can do.  It can remind us of a time when we struggled to find personal power and agency.  It can help us find our way back to the passion and fire of first experiences; an antidote to the cynicism that pervades all our media. It can rekindle hope and optimism in the face of great obstacles. It can provide a touchstone for our relationships with the teens in our lives.  And it can be powerfully good entertainment.

Rather than continue to promulgate such a false dichotomy between YA and adult books, between genre fiction and literary fiction, between popular and classics, why can't we agree to judge each story on its own merits? A good book is a good book.

In the end, I feel sorry for Mr. Stein, for he seems to have lost his way in the morass of adulthood and confused maturity with condescension. Truly, it is his loss.


  1. My book club recently chose The Hunger Games and I am frightened to read it, also was never drawn to Harry Potter (I know, my bad). But this is about my tastes and desires not about the presumed quality of the literature. What a silly, snobby attitude. Would he also have us avoid Pooh, Elouise and Narnia? Makes me not want to talk books with him. -- Naomi Rush Olson, Newton, MA

    1. Thanks, Naomi. Yes--it is about personal preferences, not about painting all of a swath of literature with one brush. :) One of my favorite books of all time is A Wrinkle in Time. A book most US kids read in middle school. I agree--I would not invite Mr. Stein to talk books with me.

  2. Amen. I read a good variety of genres as well and have to say I quite enjoy my reading time of YA and often think I need to read more of it. Thanks for this post.

    1. Yay--another adult not ashamed to read YA!

  3. You and me, both, Bookgal! I wonder if he realizes how ignorant he sounds. What if I said "lit fic is stupid--not that I've ever read any, I just know it's not worth reading." I can hear the howls in the distance already.


  4. Deciding I was "too old" for Harry Potter when it came out (I was mom of a preschooler) would have been a huge loss for me. Personally I am frequently turned off by the scary dystopian worlds that seem to appeal to YA readers (do things really look THAT bleak to our teens?), but how can we truly talk to / understand / serve our students or children if we don't read what they're reading?

    My (now) teen daughter passed me _WWW.Wake_ by Robert Sawyer 2 weeks ago: she had devoured it, and I proceeded to do the same. Consciousness, language, communications across species and between humans and machines -- anything referencing _The Origins of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind_ is certainly not just for the YA set. Highly recommended, planning to read the sequels.