June 6, 2014

"Yes, Adults Should Be Embarrassed to Read Young Adult Books."

Says a piece in Slate that irks people at Metafilter: "Slate really wants to tell people what they should (and shouldn't) be doing."/"Yes, Adults shouldn't bother reading Slate."/"Trollllling for clicks, trollllling for clicks..."/"For an article against YA fiction, the reasons seem pretty juvenile."/"I prefer the article in the original Onionian."...

41 comments:

PB Reader said...

What does that say about the authors of young adult books? Most of them are adults.

Kelly said...

I read them occasionally such as The Hunger Games and The Book Thief mainly because my teenager hounds me until I cave. She wants to talk about them. Sometimes I tell her I'll read whatever she wants as long as she reads something of my choosing.

Back when the Twilight series was big both my girls insisted I read it. I didn't make it through the first chapter of the first book. It basically went, "Bella got out of bed, dressed and walked down the stairs, got a bowl out of the cabinet, sat down at the kitchen table and poured cereal into a bowl. Than she poured milk onto the cereal, picked up her spoon and began eating". Riveting stuff that.

Shanna said...

“A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.”

― C.S. Lewis

Tank said...

A few years back I read The Book Thief before I found out it was for YA. I enjoyed it. Also, takes way more than that to embarrass me.

Read what you enjoy. Who cares what others think.

I read the Chronicles of Narnia recently (I guess that's really pre-teen) and found that interesting, but slow after the first couple of books.

Unknown said...

Harry Potter series. Andre Norton.

Like every other genre, some of it is bad, some is great. Read the great, ignore the bad. Don't worry, be happy.

traditionalguy said...

What ever happened to The Hardy Boys books?

Shanna said...

One of the metafilter commenters nailed it:

The vast majority of the books we read are bleak, boring or both.

But when you read YA, there's a good chance that the characters will be moderately likable, things will happen, and the book will end in a manner that is either happy or cathartic, rather than ambiguous and annoying.


I've gotten on YA kicks, some of it is good, some of it is dreck. But usually it has a plot that moves and mildly entertaining characters.

I wonder if the author would consider The Lovely Bones YA? I dont' think it was grouped that way but I don't see much difference between that kind of a story and the Hunger Games.

john said...

I finally admitted to my wife I reread all the "Little House" books after reading them to our young daughter many years ago.

Mrs Whatsit said...

If you are worrying about whether Slate would approve of what you're reading, you're doing it wrong.

Thorley Winston said...

Adults should be embarrassed for reading Slate or taking seriously those who do.

richard mcenroe said...

Diane Ravitch summed up the problem with modern YA fiction in "The Language Police" [2007] ( http://tinyurl.com/nttthg3 ) and it's only gotten worse since then.

Mark said...

What Mrs Whatsit said.

Anonymous said...

Does, "Little Women," count? Clearly that book was for girls, that is what the publisher, Thomas Niles, asked for when he spoke with Louisa May Alcott about it. Everyone should read this book for its life lessons. I'm looking forward to the time my granddaughter is old enough to understand so I can read it to her.

I'm more mellow since I became a granddad, must be the bourbon.

Freeman Hunt said...

Heh. I agree with the writer at Slate. That doesn't happen a lot. I don't terribly mind reading children's stories to children, but I don't have any interest in reading one on my own.

I tried to go back recently and reread A Wrinkle in Time to see if it would be of interest to my son. That was my favorite book in third grade. (I know because I wrote that down in the cover back then.) I didn't make it very far. Boooorrrring. All the characters were getting on my nerves. YA characters are so often so pretentious. I can see why a young person coming into his own might find that appealing, but as an older person I found it tiresome.

I also get the impression that a lot of YA glorifies intelligence as though intelligent people are intrinsically better than others. (Imagine if it did the same with beauty, over which a person has about the same level of control?) I think that's just about the last idea an intelligent young person needs to be absorbing.

Another problem for the adult reader is that the headier YA that attempts to convey deep ideas to the reader is conveying deep ideas to young people--adults have already encountered these ideas and would need deeper treatments. The YA treatment is boring to the adult. It generally lacks the "Aha!" magic that it would have for the young person.

Maybe it's only the YA books I've encountered lately, but those are my impressions.

mccullough said...

Most of these YA books are geared toward girls. Actually, most fiction is.

Sam L. said...

Best reason to date for avoiding Slate.

I suspect Slate writers and readers would have a very hard time reading Heinlein juveniles, it being written at above their grade levels.

Christy said...

The literature police in my high school soul was terribly embarrassed that I still loved fairy tales. I got over it in my 20s when the marvelous Italo Calvino published Italian Folktales.

I've always found that I'm better read than anyone who has ever pulled that sneering why-are-you-reading-that? crap on me. I'm remembering the reaction of one book group when I chose Neil Gaiman's Sandman Volume III. They laughed at a graphic novel, but only one of them was familiar enough with A Midsummer Night's Dream to realize just how wonderful one of the stories was.

Revenant said...

I enjoy reading the occasional YA book more than I enjoy reading the occasional Slate article.

Unknown said...

Hardy Boys are still around, Danny Dunn not so much.

SGT Ted said...

Adults should be embarrassed when they tell other adults what they should be reading. Or any of the other control freak shit the neo-puritans want other people to stop doing.

Zach said...

The real problem is that "adult" fiction (or literary fiction, or serious fiction, or whatever you want to call it) is turning into a dead genre. Dull characters, dull plots, no ideas. But readers still want to read, so other genres are moving into the space of "fiction written for adults to be read for pleasure."

Interesting thought exercise -- what's the last book you can remember that
1) Was written for adults
2) Sold well enough to be considered mass market, and
3) Was not genre or genre derived?

The Corrections, maybe? And that was an Oprah's Book Club book.

Zach said...

I don't like YA, myself, because I think it's too prone to pushing people's buttons in obvious ways. Everybody's got cancer, or AIDS, or cancer-Aids. Parents are alcoholic and abusive. I actually agree with the Slate article here -- YA novels are much too prone to presenting a teenager's self image uncritically, and making the main character too much of an audience surrogate.

Shanna said...

I've always found that I'm better read than anyone who has ever pulled that sneering why-are-you-reading-that? crap on me.

I've always been a reader, but I read for pleasure. If I want to learn something from a book, I am going to read non-fiction.

I've gone through all kinds of phases. When I was YA aged (12/13/14 I was reading Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy, Anne Rice, etc...When I was high school I was mostly reading classics, for class and out of class for authors I liked, like Jane Austen, Bronte's, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy. In college I started reading fluffy romances when i was reading for school because I think my brain needed a break (I remember buying the first HP book (followed immediately by the second and third) after finals one year because I had heard they were good).

Then I graduated and I guess my brain was bored again so I started reading non-fiction.

So I figure if someone is reading something fluffy, that's just what they need at that moment.

Christy said...

Zack, doesn't a genre label get slapped on everything to give it an automatic audience? Take Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn. The novel is crime fiction only incidentally. Otherwise, it meets your criteria.

Freeman Hunt said...

I read almost entirely non-fiction these days. A fiction book has to be one of the best ever written for me to finish it. If the writer's writing and insight doesn't shock me with its sublimity in the first chapter, I'm done.

Anthony said...

Somewhat OT but as a 50+ male I admit to watching Pretty Little Liars on A BC Family. It's based on some YA books. It's kind of noir-ish and fairly well done but....it doesn't have a lot of violence, no swearing or nudity (tho much to my occasional disappointment on the latter) and it's just kind of nice and safe for a change.

Freeman Hunt said...

I don't think classic fairy tales count as YA. A culture's fairy tales are part of its canon. If you aren't familiar with them, you can't say that you're well educated about that culture.

Deirdre Mundy said...

A lot of what's currently labeled as 'YA' would have been straight up fantasy, science fiction, or horror 20 years ago. Why should it be OK to read Nicholas Spark, but not Rachel Hartman or Marissa Meyer?

YA may be more of a 'beach read' for many adults, but many adults who read YA are looking for entertainment-- why is reading YA worse than watching "American Idol?" Good YA is better than many TV shows...

buwaya said...


Recent adult novels that have sold well, that are worth reading.

Soldier of the Great War
Halperin

buwaya said...

Adult novels that are popular.

Anything by Michael Dobbs.
Best recently is Winstons War

MrCharlie2 said...

I don't (since Harry Potter doesn't count), but people should read what they like.

MrCharlie2 said...

I like what Zach said: novels should have life, that was always their point as a literary form. Read Captain Alatriste, or Patrick O'Brien if you are a snob

MrCharlie2 said...

"Recent adult novels that have sold well, that are worth reading.

Soldier of the Great War
Halperin"

Yes, absolutely, best book I ever read. REALLY. Halperin, best writer living. And, what kid wouldn't like it.

Bob R said...

I'm actually more embarrassed to read Slate. I have never read an article in Slate that is nearly as good as Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men (or any of the books in his YA Tiffany Aching series.) That's a high bar, and Slate can't even see it.

Christy said...

+1 for Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series. They were my listening as I fall asleep books for a while.

I was a big Slate fan, even subscribed back when they tried it. Their BDS finally drove me away with the tiresome predictability.

Largo said...

Shana, you quote C.S. Lewis well here.

I am in no wise embarassed to say that I love the original tales of Winnie the Pooh. (NOT Disney.)

But as for the applicability Lewis, perhaps "Young Adult" means something that "Children's" does not.

Luis Alegria said...

That's Helprin not Halperin, sorry.
BTW, if anyone needs a bit of background on Italy in WWI, most importantly wrt cultural and political implications, "The White War" by Thompson is fascinating.

Luis Alegria said...

And re Helprin, that book anyway, no, kids won't like it. I doubt many under age 40 will like it. Thats why its an adult choice.

Joe said...

I just finished reading the Anne of Green Gables series. Montgomery can write better than most of the crap that passes for "adult" literature.

There is very little new adult fiction I bother with since most is so fucking pretentious.

Joe said...

Oh, and if you want to read a great book, try "Blood and Chocolate" by Annette Curtis Klause.

Oh, and "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak--the greatest book ever written.

Freeman Hunt said...

"I read almost entirely non-fiction these days. A fiction book has to be one of the best ever written for me to finish it. If the writer's writing and insight doesn't shock me with its sublimity in the first chapter, I'm done."

Changing the subject without changing the verb or pronoun was a funny mistake to make in that sentence. I guess I'm done with me!