Thursday, March 29, 2012

In Defense of YA, Or, Why People Shouldn't Be Condescending About Things They Don't Understand: A Letter to Joel Stein

Adults Should Read Adult Books
I linked the article above, but if you care to read my rant, I quote the entire thing piece by piece.

Listen, I get it. Not everyone wants to read books in the young adult genre, despite the fact that it has grown exponentially in both number and quality from the days of ghostwritten Sweet Valley books and Flowers in the Attic. There is a fairly large community of young adult authors that are writing very high quality stories that are to be respected, not looked down upon because their audience includes adolescents or the main character happens to be between the age of 13 and 19. I’m not saying you have to read it. I am saying that you should respect it.
I was utterly offended by this article. I’m no stranger to pretension regarding books. I was a “Literature” major (that’s right, my college didn’t refer to it as English) and a History major at a small liberal arts school. You don’t find a higher concentration of people being pretentious for sport than that. I’m not saying that everyone was; there were people that insisted on “real literature” being the only thing worthwhile, but there were also a bunch that appreciated the classics AND regularly read whatever they wanted for the sheer pleasure of reading. I regularly heard that Kindles and other e-Readers were going to be the death of civilization as we knew it and that young adult books were trash. One of my friends and I made it a regular habit to talk about Chelsea Handler memoirs and the merits of Ke$ha songs in front of these people.
I took a seminar on Arthurian Legends during which we had to pick an interpretation of an Arthurian story that wasn’t on our regular syllabus. I chose Avalon High by Meg Cabot. It’s not my favorite Meg Cabot book, but it’s still a fun, interesting interpretation. So what, it’s clearly aimed at teenage girls (with a hot pink cover)? Most of Meg Cabot’s books are! I was not familiar with Arthurian legend growing up, and this book actually taught me a thing or two about it when I read it in high school. When I did my presentation, most of the students in my class ripped the book apart--without having read it. One particularly charming person said that it was, “the worst thing to happen to Arthurian literature.” Hey, buddy? Before you make an assessment like that, I think you might have to flip through a couple pages first.
And then I come across this article, courtesy of Siobhan Vivian’s twitter. I try not to read articles bashing teen books, because they make me so angry. For some reason, I clicked on this one and now I have all this pent up annoyance and rage.
Why? Let’s take a look.

“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.
I’m sure all those books are well written. So is “Horton Hatches the Egg.” But Horton doesn’t have the depth of language and character as literature written for people who have stopped physically growing. “

Hmm, so catching someone reading a well-written, attention-absorbing story (all right, maybe I’m talking more about The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, but Twilight is still someone’s published work that clearly caught attention) is worse than catching them watching pornography? Mr. Stein, when did you develop this inferiority complex that made you such an insufferable snob? Having something like that to prove is less than appealing. Granted, I assume you wrote your article:
1. To insult and therefore, provoke reactions from YA readers and authors that happened across your unfortunate words, and
2. To prove something to yourself: that your opinion matters and that big men only read big people books.
Well, congratulations. Here’s your reaction: I don’t respect your opinion at all. You didn’t even bother to give these books a try. And you seem to think that is something to brag about.

Oh, but look! He does approve of some less that adulterated behavior. I was worried for a minute that he didn’t approve of me watching Finding Nemo.

“I appreciate that adults occasional watch Pixar movies or play video games. That’s fine. Those mediums don’t require much of your brains. 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.”

Here’s what I’ve learned from some children’s and young adult books, including Roald Dahl’s Matilda and Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games: adults aren’t always right. Especially the writer of this article.

Can I tell you, I was absolutely impressed with Mr. Stein when he admitted that he has absolutely no idea what he is taking such pains to insult.

“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. “

You do that, sir. And what was that? You just admitted that you have no idea what you are talking about and therefore shouldn’t be spewing your ill-informed opinions all over the NYT?

“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.”

Do a bit more research next time. “Games you play when hungry”? What you’re actually referring to is a fight to the death in an arena designed by a totalitarian state as a continual lesson to the rest of the country for an uprising that happened before the time of anyone living there. Is that too juvenile for a person of such high taste?
Oh wait, I’m not done with this paragraph yet. The DECENCY? How about let’s have the decency not to be so
unbelievably condescending about things you do not understand and will not even bother doing research in before spouting off a bunch of nonsense in order to provoke people?

“Let’s not pump Justin Bieber in our Saabs and get engaged at Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyland. Because it’s embarrassing. You can’t take an adult seriously when he’s debating you over why Twilight vampires are O.K. with sunlight. If my parents had read “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” at the same time as I did, I would have looked into boarding school.”

Actually, if an adult could debate with me about the mythology behind Twilight in an intelligent way, I’d listen to them. I’m more impressed by people who can craft their opinions and debates in an intelligent fashion, rather than those that are ill-prepared to adequately express their thoughts on certain subjects but are, in their own narrow, condescending opinions, “well-read.” But don’t worry, those people read ADULT books. Clearly readers won’t notice that they fail to know what they are talking about. Now that? That attitude right there? THAT’s embarrassing.
Also, don’t tell me what I can and cannot do.
Side note: If you’ll allow for a very teenager-y reaction to an condescending article about teenager-y books, I bet your parents would have been glad to be rid of you.

An Adult Reader of Young Adult Books

P.S. I’m sure J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and Stephanie Meyer are all smarting from the sting of your opinions. Or they will be, right after they stop counting their enormous stacks of money and looking at their gorgeous sales figures.


  1. Wow I hadn't seen that article until you posted it. That guy is a jerk. He's not even making an intelligent argument. OR informed, since he openly admits that he hasn't read them. Jeez.

  2. I haven't seen this article either, but my goodness. He keeps using the SAME BOOK EXAMPLES over and over again (like Twilight). It's articles like this that get me really incensed!! The writer if this article comes across as very ill-informed and uber-pretentious.

    I would like to link to this post on my blog- is that okay?? Your response is awesome.

  3. Wow! Let's not forget how many adult authors are now writing books for YA-James Patterson, Joyce Carol Oates, F. Paul Wilson to name but a few. Sheesh, it's like anything else, if you don't like it, don't do it. But for crying out loud, don't try and ruin it for the rest of us. Well done, kiddo.