Monday, April 2, 2012

Reading Young Adult Fiction

This arrogant article about how normal adults shouldn't read fiction marketed to Young Adults won't do anything combat the impression that the New York Times is elitist:
Books are one of our few chances to learn. There’s a reason my teachers didn’t assign me to go home and play three hours of Donkey Kong. I have no idea what “The Hunger Games” is like. Maybe there are complicated shades of good and evil in each character. Maybe there are Pynchonesque turns of phrase. Maybe it delves into issues of identity, self-justification and anomie that would make David Foster Wallace proud. I don’t know because it’s a book for kids. I’ll read “The Hunger Games” when I finish the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults.
This is the worst kind of lazy thinking. Note how he admits that he doesn't know what he's bashing, only that because it's labeled as "Young Adult" it's not worthwhile to him. This really raises my hackle. First of all, it's the worst kind of literary snobbery. Has Mr. Stein even asked himself who labels a book as YA or not? I certainly don't want anyone making these decisions for me. For example, knowing the kinds of excellent fiction that are disparaged as "science fiction" when one could make a very strong argument that they should be marketed as "regular" fiction (Stephenson and Gibson, to name just two), makes me wary of trusting any booksellers to label what i'm reading. Secondly, it's a bit stunning to think of the excellent books that he'll miss under this line of thinking: off the top of my head, he's miss out on The Chocolate War and The Catcher in the Rye along with countless others.

Personally, I enjoy ripping through a YA novel now and again. I recently ripped through L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time in a few days and found it highly enjoyable, both as a good story and also as a fun nostalgia trip back to the kid I was when I first read it. I also continually get meaning out of Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth when I pick it up every few years or so. It's good to look through the eyes of a kid now and again!

For a better argument against Mr. Stein's writing, see Alyssa's good breakdown. What are your thoughts? Do you avoid YA books, find them a "guilty pleasure," or actively seek them out?


  1. That was a weird op-ed. It was like he was trying to be funny. Except that it wasn't very funny.

    I think the better question is - why are we pushing a single, relatively narrow class of fiction on adolescents? The better books in the genre may have their merits. But I think that young adults are capable of, interested in, and would grow from, reading "adult fiction." I think it rather stifling to believe that adolescents ONLY want to read about others their age, who are dealing with the same set of problems that they are.

  2. Two good observations. Reading the article again, it seems like he was trolling for indignation, and I happily rose to the bait. But the more salient point is your second, and I suspect that it has more to do with marketing than anything else. Personally, as a YA, I remember happily ingesting some "traditional" YA books but the ones that stuck with me were the ones that took me out of my regular life ("Julius Caesar", "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Crimes & Punishment" were the most powerful of those, although I also have fond memories of "Cry the Beloved Country")