Wow. Just wow. There’s an article over on Slate entitled, “Against YA: Adults should be embarrassed to read children’s books.” I’ve read anti-genre screeds before, but this one is over-the-top in its haughty, holier-than-thou attitude.
People have opinions. That’s part of what makes us human. We all decide which books, movies, and music are good and which are bad. I can be as judgmental as the next guy (ask me about Twilight or Da Vinci Code). I do not, however, tell people that they should be “embarrassed” to read any particular book, and it’s ludicrous to say people should be embarrassed to read entire genres.
The opening line is, “Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.” The article then continues to talk about YA books. The author, Ruth Graham, seems blissfully unaware that young adults are teens, not children. The books that she discusses in the article are all focused on things like love and relationships and coming of age. Children’s books are focused on things like cats in hats, using the potty, and dreaming about where wild things dwell. Or, when I write them, they’re about animal poop.
But I digress. My issue with this article — which is actually an editorial, but let’s not pick nits — really isn’t Ruth Graham’s ignorance of the difference between children’s books and young adult books. My issue is the dismissive attitude toward an entire genre.
I’ve heard these things before because I have eclectic tastes. I read a lot of science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries. I have enjoyed some young adult, Westerns, romances, and chick lit. And there’s not a darned thing wrong with that. I’m certainly not embarrassed to say that I’ve enjoyed some of the genre fiction a lot more than some of the drek that has somehow found its way onto bestseller lists in recent years. I could name some other booksellers that look down upon me because I read and enjoy genre fiction. I could also name some writers that look down upon me because I write technical nonfiction and children’s books instead of “real literature.”
I read for two reasons: to entertain myself and to educate myself. Sometimes, those happen simultaneously; I might mention Freakonomics or The Drunken Botanist. Sometimes, the education aspect is mere curiosity, when I just want to see why everyone is so excited about this book. But sometimes, when I’ve had a hard day and I just want to turn my brain off and relax, I’ll pick up a book by Carl Hiaasen or Janet Evanovich or Terry Pratchett and enjoy it. I’ve heard other book people call YA or genre fiction a “guilty pleasure,” but there’s nothing guilty about it for me. It’s just pleasure.
There are bad YA books, of course. There’s also bad literary fiction, bad nonfiction, and bad bacon (believe it or not). On the other hand, I have yet to find a genre with no hidden gems, and that includes supernatural romance. If I was embarrassed to read YA, I’d never have discovered books like Terry Pratchett’s Dodger (pictured above).
My advice to you is to ignore the BISAC classifications, the shelving sections, and Melvil Dewey. Wander a bookstore or library and pick up something that looks unfamiliar and interesting. Ask a friend for a recommendation. Use my suggestions from last February for finding new books (note #19 on the list).
If you end up reading a teen book or a romance, don’t hide it. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed. Chat with people about it and they may suggest something else you end up enjoying.