The answer is yes. We are still debating whether or not adults should read Young Adult books. At least the people who write for TheAtlantic.com and Slate.com are.
I’ll be honest, I’ll go out on a limb and state an opinion that won’t win me any friends. I often wonder why anyone who is not a teenager, or has a teenager living in their house, or works with teenagers as a teacher or a librarian, spends their time reading Young Adult novels. I teach 7th grade, so I do read Young Adult novels for professional reasons. After 24 years in the classroom, I have found myself reading them for pleasure at various times, too. You’ll find lots of YA books in my reviews.
However, I don’t really care what other people read except that what’s popular drives the market, and I really would like to find more books written for people over 50. I turned 50 this year, and it’s really hard to find a good book about someone over 50. No one ever sends an AARP member to the Hunger Games or puts them in a giant movable maze or wants to deal with the fact that even people over 50 both get cancer and fall in love, sometimes at the same time.
But I digrees into whining. It happens when you’re ranting. This is a rant.
So this week Ruth Graham published a piece against reading Young Adult literature if you’re not a teenager on Slate.com. I read it. You can save yourself the time. It’s a well written piece, she makes a couple of decent points, but nothing you haven’t already heard a dozen times. At this point, you either buy her case or you don’t but you can probably recite it by rote. I know I can. There’s really no reason to keep beating this horse, Slate.com. It’s dead. Find one that’s still alive.
I found myself kind of agreeing with Ms. Graham up to a point. She thinks Young Adult books are primarily escapist in nature. For me, this is largely true. One thing I really enjoy about reading Young Adult novels is that I can read an entire novel, cover to cover, in one two-hour sitting. Stretched out on my couch, Bassett Hound at my feet, I can get through almost any YA novel appropriate for 7th grader in an enjoyable afternoon’s reading. That’s a wonderful escape even if the book leaves me in tears.
So I was sympathetic to Ms. Graham’s argument until she sort of took a swipe at people who read detective novels and watch Nashville. While I don’t watch Nashville anymore, I just had more than my fill of that whiny teenager, I do read detective novels. I love detective novels. If I could only read one genre for the rest of my life it would be detective novels. When I retire from teaching, I will probably never read another YA book again, because I’ll have so many detective novels stacked up on every flat surface of my room at the home.
So much for Ruth Graham.
She did get thousands of comments, (Over 2600 and counting) almost all of them taking her to task. Okay, that was hyperbole, I didn’t read enough of them to make that statement. I read through one page of the comments, probably 40 or 50 comments, and they were all against Ms. Graham. Some of them were not very nice.
Enter Noah Berlatsky at TheAtlantic.com for the defense. Mr. Berlatsky writes the usual defense of Young Adult novels. His defense is also well written, he makes some good points, but again nothing you haven’t heard before. You know the argument as well as I do. As well as everyone in the entire English-speaking (reading?) world does by now. That’s more hyperbole.
Mr. Berlatsky builds his defense of adults who read Young Adult novels around one book, Dive by Stacey Donovan. Heard of it? Heard of her? I had not, so I’m not really sure you can use Dive to build a case in defense of an entire genre. Mr. Berlatsky claims that since Graham made a blanket statement against YA lit, he need only find one good counter example to call her entire argument into question. I guess he’s never heard of “the exception that proves the rule,” but I was willing to let that go. Until I read his replies to the comments.
He also got comments, by the way, (80 when I last checked) not all of them supporting his case. One of Mr. Berlatsky’s detractors mentioned the work of Grace Paley and John Cheever as examples of what you’re missing out on if you don’t read adult fiction. His reply:
Good grief; John Cheever and Grace Paley? That’s your standard? Mediocre genre fiction for boring suburbanites who want to mull endlessly on how boring the suburbs are?
Lewis Carroll has 20 times the complexity and insight of that sort of drab program fiction boilerplate crap. C.S. Lewis as well.
John Cheever and Grace Paley…sheesh. For god’s sake. Have some pride, would you?
Them’s fighting words, Mr. Berlatsky. I’ve been a fan of John Cheever since I first read him when I was 15 and could have been reading all the YA lit I wanted to guilt free. As for Grace Paley she my new favorite author. I started reading her stories this year, and I’ve yet to find one set in the suburbs. I don’t think you really understand what genre fiction is, either. By the way, neither Lewis Carroll nor C.S. Lewis ever wrote a single piece of YA lit. While children and adults enjoy stories with talking OCD rabbits and intelligent beavers, teenagers tend to shy away from them in my experience.
I was willing to consider his argument before reading this comment. To dismiss both John Cheever and Grace Paley as “drab program boiler plate crap” and to claim that both Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis are somehow 20 times better than both of them is to sum up the case against adults reading YA in a nut shell.
That Mr. Berlatsky then goes on to trash Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea as crap in a later comment frankly marks him as a book critic who should not be taken seriously. My 7th graders would back me up on this one. When we read Old Man and the Sea as a class last year, I had them on the edges of their seats waiting to find out what would happen next. When the sharks arrived, there were gasps in the room. (Trashing certain classic authors is an unfortunate way to establish your hipster credentials these days. So is calling literature set in the suburbs boring.)
You may not like Grace Paley, or John Cheever or Earnest Hemingway, but critics who write for The Atlantic should be able to recognize quality even in things they don’t like. Isn’t that really what adults who read and enjoy Young Adult literature want from people who don’t. Many times in my life I have read very good books that I didn’t like. Lolita comes to mind right away. It’s a great book. I don’t like it. The Harry Potter books are wonderful, too but I’m not a fan. I liked the first two, but that was enough for me.
I’m glad I read YA as a teenager. I still enjoy reading it now and then. And I’m glad I grew up, too. When you turn 15, you can see how awesome John Cheever’s stories are. When you reach 50, you can find authors as wonderful as Grace Paley.
Now, can we all just agree to disagree and move on to another topic?