Friday morning, when I sluggishly got out of bed, I checked my phone for the weather, any news I had missed, and of course, Facebook. (In reality, I checked Facebook for all the above – one stop shopping.) A bookish friend had tagged me in a post that was a link to a blog post, blasting adult readers of YA fiction. It was a brief post, but I refuse to link to it here, as it is the type of elitist drivel that drives me up the wall. Listening to book podcasts, reading book articles, following authors and publishers on Twitter and Facebook, I see all types of arguments against adults reading YA. In this post, I will voice an opinion as to what I really think about those thoughts.
The main point the author was trying to make is that adults should not read YA because adult readers should read to broaden their horizons. True, YA can typically be a “light” read, but there are numerous YA books that are not all airy goodness (just read Ellen Hopkins’ series that dealt with her daughter’s drug addiction). When I was a child, Little Women was in the children’s section of the library. The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland, Gulliver’s Travels, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, several works of Dickens’ – all of these are studied in college and are revered as great classics. By the current snobbish attitude that adults should not read young adult (or even children’s) literature, should we no longer visit classics that were originally children’s?
I skipped a lot of children’s books when I was growing up. I basically went from the Trixie Belden series straight into adult fiction, including trashy romance novels of my mother’s and my brother’s 12th grade literature book. However, this is not why I currently read YA literature (and even some middle grade stuff!). No, there just was not much of a bridge in literature when I was growing up – unless you count Sweet Valley High – and I do NOT.
I fear that this mentality that adults should not read YA literature is going to make some readers feel bad about themselves and their choices. I can say that, because truthfully, there are times I feel bad just about being a reader, let alone when someone starts deriding what I am reading. There are so many reasons that adults hit the YA stacks – and I am not alone in this at all. I have several friends who read YA predominantly, and I read it a lot more when I am enrolled in school. I am on a break right now, so I am reading more serious, heavier stuff – working my way through awards lists and trying to read Pulitzer winners, but also reading YA as a good bridge from book to book. At times, it’s the sorbet version of palate cleansing for my brain.
Now, here’s why I think the whole “you shouldn’t read YA” is elitist, snobbish, pretentious, all those adjectives that are basically the same thing. It’s being said by people who have college educations. It’s being said by people with higher than usual intelligence. It’s being said by people who did not struggle in high school to comprehend Great Expectations or Romeo and Juliet. It’s being said by people who have a little more time to devote to reading than some of us who are single parents, work full time, go to school full time, have to do all the housework, shopping, chauffeuring and so on. It’s being said by people who do not suffer from developmental disorders that make reading a 600-page book full of five dollar words difficult. (I would like to add here that not everyone who reads YA falls into these categories, BUT the people who oppose YA reading typically do. I know many college graduates, very intelligent people who DO read YA. But I have read very few arguments against it from people who are in the above).
Many, many adults who read YA are doing so because they can understand it easier than literary fiction that is supposed to “say” something. Many adults who read YA have not gone to college, and really could care less if they are “well read.” Many readers have dyslexia, and a more adventurous book like War and Peace can be taxing and frustrating. The bottom line is that reading should be enjoyable, and many readers just want a light story to relax by at the end of the day – especially those who are juggling so many roles in their lives, therefore may not have as much time to devote to reading. YA books offer adult readers more choices for reading, which in turn can lead to them expanding their minds.
And, these anti-YA devotees are overlooking an obvious disparity in their thinking. If you look at any best-seller list or even reviews on Amazon, “great literature” is grossly overshadowed by genre fiction. So, the majority of adult readers are still not really reading things that “expand their minds.” A cursory glance at the New York Times Best Sellers fiction list for today shows that only ONE out of the top ten books is an award winner (The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt). As a matter of fact, the #1 book today is a Dresden files book by Jim Butcher – a science fiction/fantasy type book (great series). Most of the other books in the top ten are detective works, romance or even horror/fantasy. Look at reviews and many people who have read literary fiction will say “they don’t get it” or “boring.”
It is demeaning to criticize an adult who reads YA fiction, and ironic that many of those who do condemn YA readers, themselves faithfully followed the Harry Potter series. The adage goes “the best way to make a reader is to be a reader.” Reading together can bring a family closer – my mother and I shared many great discussions about books after I grew up, prior to the YA explosion we have currently. I enjoy reading a YA book and then discussing it with one or both of my children. YA can and HAS brought many readers into the fold – for non-readers, it is a good bridge from not reading to suddenly enjoying whole new worlds that have been opened. If one adult picks up a YA book and turns off the TV, I say that’s a win. And, speaking of TV, I supposed I should hide the fact that I really enjoy watching Disney shows with my youngest daughter.