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Against YA
June 5, 2014 2:12 PM   Subscribe

Yes, Adults Should Be Embarrassed to Read Young Adult Books (SLSlate)
posted by box (458 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
(Note, please, that I do not agree with the author's argument.)
posted by box at 2:13 PM on June 5


Slate really wants to tell people what they should (and shouldn't) be doing.
posted by octothorpe at 2:14 PM on June 5 [29 favorites]


Yes, Adults shouldn't bother reading Slate.
posted by drezdn at 2:15 PM on June 5 [103 favorites]


Trollllling for clicks, trollllling for clicks...
posted by tavella at 2:15 PM on June 5 [29 favorites]


For an article against YA fiction, the reasons seem pretty juvenile.
posted by maryr at 2:17 PM on June 5 [16 favorites]


I don't agree with this premise. On the other hand, I personally would be embarrassed to not read "adult" books.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 2:18 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


the people who know me irl know that i am virtually incapable of embarrassment.
posted by bruce at 2:19 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


They are being kinda dicks about it. But I sort of agree. I have been relatively embarrassed as a human being that the most popular books across all age groups for the last decade have been YA. I mean, have you actually sat down and read Twilight? It's like a fucking 11 year old wrote that. And it was a bona fide publishing phenomenon.
posted by mediocre at 2:19 PM on June 5 [49 favorites]


And yet, when everything is said, adults shouldn't be reading YA.
posted by Keith Talent at 2:19 PM on June 5


With articles of this quality, I can't wait to sign up for Slate premium!
posted by Think_Long at 2:20 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


I really don't care so long as they read something. And can we honestly say that bestseller adult genre fiction is any more difficult or higher quality than YA? Please.
posted by blnkfrnk at 2:20 PM on June 5 [39 favorites]


Young adult is, fundamentally, a marketing category. It doesn't tell you anything about the quality of a book. And for that matter, "adult" books don't have a lot of unifying characteristics. Neither, really, does "literary fiction." These are all kind of silly categories, I think.

Anyway, I like for books to have satisfying endings. If she thinks I should be embarrassed about that, I can live with it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:20 PM on June 5 [43 favorites]


Naaah.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:20 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


Adults should be reading Chilton's manuals, 2600 magazine, and toothpaste tubes.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 2:21 PM on June 5 [77 favorites]


Don't forget Dr. Bronner's! Many fond memories of feeling like I lost my mind because I read their bottle of soap in the shower.
posted by poe at 2:23 PM on June 5 [24 favorites]


I prefer the article in the original Onionian.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:23 PM on June 5 [9 favorites]


Team Tiffany Aching.
posted by fight or flight at 2:24 PM on June 5 [56 favorites]


Really wishing there was a way to flag as clickbait. Articles like this are just machines for converting grar into pageviews.
posted by phooky at 2:24 PM on June 5 [13 favorites]


Yeah, somehow I don't think Ruth Graham would be all that much happier if all the folks reading The Fault in Our Stars were instead reading whatever pablum happened to be the latest spewed out by Dan Brown.
posted by Justinian at 2:24 PM on June 5 [7 favorites]


Are we all supposed to be embarrassed about going to see PG-13 movies, too?

Of course, movies deliberately angle for the PG-13, because producers know the bigger your potential audience, the bigger your potential hit. Same logic holds with books; "hit" books being, at least lately, books which are read by both adults and young adults, as opposed to only adults, is just y'know, math.
posted by mstokes650 at 2:24 PM on June 5 [4 favorites]


I was all ready to come make some sarcastic comment but the author of this piece is actually pretty self-aware and is careful not to denigrate YA as a category in the course of making her points. I'm not convinced of her thesis but I do think she makes it about as well as one could ask for.

Though... Rereading it now I think my biggest complaint is that I think she tries to do three things and fails at one of them. She explains why she is against the prevailing trend of adults reading YA, she inserts a broad disclaimer about YA not being bad per se, but I don't think she does that great a job of explaining what "adult" "literary" fiction is supposed to offer that's so much better. The closest she comes is in describing why she liked Submergence but at least half the things she mentions I can find in good YA, and she doesn't give any specific examples (perhaps to avoid spoilers).
posted by Wretch729 at 2:25 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


Keep in mind, works like "Catcher in the Rye" would be marketed as YA if they came out today.
posted by drezdn at 2:25 PM on June 5 [27 favorites]


This may be true, but don't tell my heart... My achy breaky heart...
posted by Debaser626 at 2:25 PM on June 5


FFS, I'm only 57!
posted by sneebler at 2:26 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


I was stuck "somewhere" for a couple days and read James Patterson's "Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment", his entry into the YA canon. The only good thing I had to say about it is that it read very quickly. But other than that, it was a fucking pile of garbage.

The Maximum Ride series is one of James Patterson's biggest financial successes. Spawning 7 sequels since 2005.
posted by mediocre at 2:26 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


What interests me is why "YA" has taken off among an older demographic. It isn't more sophisticated, as far as I can tell - I have a bunch of YA books from the seventies and early eighties (Norma Fox Mazer, ME Kerr, etc) that are pretty smart and well-written and complex and often have really "unsatisfying" endings, and yet those books weren't widely read by adults. (Although if you'd like an older YA recommendation, you should totally read the extremely creepy and wrenching On Fortune's Wheel, The Wings of the Falcon and Elske by Cynthia Voight - The Wings of the Falcon in particular is not what one expects from YA fantasy.)

So it seems like a lot more adults read this stuff. Why?
posted by Frowner at 2:27 PM on June 5 [18 favorites]


Adults can read whatever the hell they want.
posted by drezdn at 2:27 PM on June 5 [6 favorites]


it was a fucking pile of garbage.

This is different from Patterson's other books (or Dan Brown or what have you) how?
posted by kmz at 2:28 PM on June 5 [6 favorites]


The best reading philosophy is still to read what you like, try not to get stuck in a rut and for crying out loud, don't be afraid to try something new every now and again.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:28 PM on June 5 [19 favorites]


I've read so many complicated, weird, morally ambiguous, beautifully written YA books. So many books that -- even now that I'm in my thirties! -- improve my life, sometimes with pure enjoyment, sometimes by giving me the tools to better understand things I didn't have the words to understand.

I fundamentally disagree that YA novels lack the kind of irony and doubled perspective the author is asking for. Some do; but some of the best bring out a delicious distance between your imagined 15-year-old self and your present-time self who is both rolling her eyes a little bit and delighting in your younger self's youth.

Really great books are rare in whatever genre. (Including literary fiction.)
posted by Jeanne at 2:29 PM on June 5 [7 favorites]


Just because books resonate with teenagers doesn't mean they don't also resonate with adults; should we all stop reading Jane Eyre or Little Women or David Copperfield? I spent my birthday lying in the hammock drinking lemonade and re-reading The Hunger Games because it was the best way I could think of to spend my time.

If I'm going to enjoy something and it's not hurting anyone, I don't particularly like being told I should be ashamed of it.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:30 PM on June 5 [25 favorites]


These are the books that could plausibly be said to be replacing literary fiction in the lives of their adult readers. And that’s a shame.

Bull. It's not replacing anything. I am currently re-reading Middlemarch, and usually try and make it through a dense "good" book every couple of months or so. I adore Dickens. But I also read "trashy" sci-fi and young adult books, including TFIOS: I have different itches, and sometimes, YA fiction scratches it. And let me tell you, TFIOS connected with me a lot more (and was better written) than the "adult" romantic fiction I've attempted to read. Nicholas Sparks? Ugh.
posted by damayanti at 2:31 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


If you're an averagely-literate adult and you only read one type of book, you should probably look into other types just in case. If YA is honestly your favorite, life is too damn short for military history that you're not into. It's a free country and specifically free in thhe sense of reading whatever, but I still think adults should make an attempt at being culturally well-rounded.
posted by blnkfrnk at 2:31 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


You're only as Young Adult as you feel!
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:31 PM on June 5 [8 favorites]


I don't know who should be reading what, but I do think it says something about the state of the publishing industry today.

Like, in the 70s, people were still reading shit books, but they were being marketed as for grownups. Now we have this huge swollen sector of "young adult" fiction which is really not any different than just regular adult fiction.

Most of the YA series I see people reading are things like The Hunger Games and Twilight, which have teenage protagonists but otherwise aren't really juvenile in tone. It's not like "From The Mixed Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" is sweeping the nation.
posted by Sara C. at 2:31 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


(The main thing I notice consistently about YA is that it is easier to read than literary fiction, whether that's Dickens, Wharton, Delany, or whomever. So I surmise that some people read YA who would normally have read junk adult fiction but are now reading YA, and some people read YA because they are no longer interested in/capable of more difficult stuff. Even awesome YA novels generally just aren't as complex in terms of characterization and ideas as a reasonably good Booker long-list, for example, and the Booker doesn't exactly go to inaccessible writing. (So, for instance, the Dalemark Quartet by Dianna Wynne Jones, which is really terrific - it's just not as complex a book as...oh, gee, what's a good parallel? Let's say, di Lampedusa's The Leopard, which is a great and easy to read novel which, like the quartet, is about nation building. The Wynne Jones isn't nearly as morally complex as the di Lampedusa, even though the Wynne Jones is pretty darn sophisticated.)
posted by Frowner at 2:33 PM on June 5 [13 favorites]


Heh, this theme really is a perennial. Somebody will probably be writing articles about how today's readers are wallowing in superficiality from now until the end of time.

I don't read young adult books, but that's just because it's a genre (one of many) that doesn't float my particular boat. No offense to people who do like it. I go for the space ships and ray guns, you go for The Fault In Our Stars. As long as we're both reading books, it's all good. Reading fiction is a net win for everybody, no matter what kind of fiction it is.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:33 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


I think people would do well to read a lot of different things, including YA novels, but I don't spend much time thinking about it. Certainly not enough time to justify an obnoxiously judgmental article.
posted by brundlefly at 2:33 PM on June 5


You also should learn Russian so you can read Pushkin in the original. If you're American and are interested in your country's history, you need to be able to read at least Navajo and Vietnamese, really.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 2:34 PM on June 5 [7 favorites]


On a related note, I need to know what music it's okay for me to listen to. Is Frank Zappa allowable if I make sure not to tap my foot? Or should I just stick with later Coltrane?

Or here's another thought: give me a stack of Maurice Sendak books, and go fuck yourself.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 2:34 PM on June 5 [14 favorites]


Yes, Adults Should Be Embarrassed to Read Young Adult Books (SLSlate)

Everything's okay, I fixed it!
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:34 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


Adults should read Gianrico Carofiglio's Il silenzio dell'onda (The Silence of the Wave), Daniel Manus Pinkwater's Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, and Eileen Spinelli's Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 2:34 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


The only thing in there that really made me bristle was her grouping Nashville with detective novels and i was ready to fight about it until I clicked through and realized she was talking about a TV show instead of the Robert Altman movie.
posted by edeezy at 2:34 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


For what its worth, I'm pretty sure the author was more referring to the relatively cynical cash grab YA market that exists in the bafflingly massive Young Adult Supernatural Romance sub-genre.
posted by mediocre at 2:35 PM on June 5


You're only encouraging them.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:35 PM on June 5


So it seems like a lot more adults read this stuff. Why?

The same reason adults watch Pixar movies: high quality production values without difficult thematic or structural elements. It's smart fun with no bad language, explicit sex, or really gross stuff.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:35 PM on June 5 [8 favorites]


"From The Mixed Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" is sweeping the nation.

But it should! *Hides in museum until it does.*
posted by drezdn at 2:35 PM on June 5 [22 favorites]


Adults should be reading the Illuminatus! Trilogy.

They should then find a child who can explain it to them.
posted by delfin at 2:35 PM on June 5 [13 favorites]


So I surmise that some people read YA who would normally have read junk adult fiction but are now reading YA, and some people read YA because they are no longer interested in/capable of more difficult stuff.

Sometimes it's also emotionally easier; I do read Dickens and Waugh and Nabokov and whomever, but sometimes it's just so much more relaxing to read about problems that aren't my own (like how much I enjoyed watching Jersey Shore from an anthropological perspective). Shit, I deal with adult problems all the time in my actual life, why would I want to remind myself of that by reading about them? Also, adult fiction can be ROUGH; I was thinking about re-reading For Whom the Bell Tolls and then I remembered that the last time I read it I cried for a week and figured I should get my medications sorted out before I risk any more Hemingway.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:36 PM on June 5 [7 favorites]


They should then find a child who can explain it to them.

Hopefully that child will turn them on to some LSD first.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 2:37 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


I feel like the article actually presents a big argument for why young adults WON'T have problems transitioning from YA novels to more "adult" fare:
But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Shailene Woodley, the 22-year-old star of this weekend’s big YA-based film. “Last year, when I made Fault, I could still empathize with adolescence,” she told New York magazine this week, explaining why she is finished making teenage movies. “But I’m not a young adult anymore—I’m a woman.”
I think teens who find YA fiction appealing because they reflect the realities of their lives will grow out of those books very quickly as they try to navigate the confusing path to adulthood. I am not a particularly well-read person; I have holes in my literary canon so big you could ride Moby Dick through them. But I remember even when I was still in high school, I knew really well what high school life was "supposed" to be like (and how my experienced differed), and I thought I knew pretty well the tropes of university life. But everything beyond that was a great unknown, and I remember wanting books and media that could tell me what that long stretch up to and including 30 was supposed to be like. YA books often don't provide that.

Or to take another example from television: I remember watching shows like Undergrads and Undeclared in my first year of university and thinking they were awesome because "holy shit it's like my life right now they're so real and funny and insightful and awesome." By my second year of university, they were already quaint reminders of what it was like to live in a dorm and not know what the hell you were doing while pretending to all the other freshmen that you did. But now we had different challenges and different lives and those shows didn't speak to any of that. (Probably because they both got cancelled. But that's besides the point.)

I also don't really get the issue of "all these adults reading YA novels will make it uncool for teens to read YA novels!" I don't remember ever caring what adults around me read, and I don't think any of my friends really did either. I mean, that's anecdotal evidence, obviously, so I can't prove anything either way, but I would like to know where this apparent phenomenon comes from and if it's actually real.
posted by chrominance at 2:39 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


Even awesome YA novels generally just aren't as complex in terms of characterization and ideas as a reasonably good Booker long-list, for example, and the Booker doesn't exactly go to inaccessible writing.

I don't know if this is true. I've read both and don't find that Booker Prize winning novels are remarkably deeper or more complex/difficult to read than the best YA that's out there right now. The main difference is that the former tend to be more character driven while the latter tend to be more plot/action driven. But even so, most of the "Bookers" I've read have been very readable, move along at a clip, memorable characters who didn't require a PhD to comprehend, etc.

To me the difference between those categories is more "what kind of experience am I looking for here" and less "X form is easy while Y form is Just Too Darn Hard". It's like the difference between watching Grand Budapest Hotel and the new X-Men thing. Both are fine movies, but they're just doing very different things.
posted by Sara C. at 2:42 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


A few points:

(1) Writing does not have to be "sophisticated" to have considerable literary merit. A great deal of Mark Twain's oeuvre (of which I am quite fond) can be read by young adults without difficulty, as can most of the writings of Hemingway (which I personally dislike).

(2) YA is not only a marketing category (as ArbitraryAndCapricious points out), but it is a very recent one that says more about who publishers think they can get to spend money on books (hint: parents).

(3) Until very recently, YA was a domain in which publishers had relatively lax editorial standards regarding the premise and construction of the work, especially in genre fiction. Consequently, stuff was getting published there that probably would have been seen as "too risky" in other domains. Just as some of the best writing in moving picture drama is now on TV rather than in theaters, a lot of talented authors have tested the waters of YA fiction because they feel it affords them more creative freedom.

(4) The elephant in the room of mass market fiction is Romance, a genre whose consumption by the populace at large dwarfs everything else. If the New York Times bestseller list listed the bestselling novels indiscriminately, the entire list would be composed of Romance novels almost all the time. Which is why that genre is exempt from consideration. A considerable chunk of the "adult YA phenomenon" are adults who have been voraciously reading Romance for years.

The bottom line is that not all YA fiction is "written for children," and that a substantial chunk of what adults used to be reading isn't markedly more sophisticated than the YA fiction that has recently become popular. The main thing that has changed is that people wandering into YA has suddenly made them visible.
posted by belarius at 2:42 PM on June 5 [24 favorites]


Edification is a great reason for reading. It is not the only reason for reading.

And frankly, sign me up with the legions of people who are glad just to see that many people are reading (virtually) anything at all.
posted by Nerd of the North at 2:42 PM on June 5 [4 favorites]


So it seems like a lot more adults read this stuff. Why?

I would think it's part of the rise of geek culture thats also made it semi-socially acceptable for adults to dress as comic book characters in public when it's not Halloween and wear shirts that say "Team Edward!"
posted by fshgrl at 2:43 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


I blame Harry Potter.

*ducks*
posted by mcstayinskool at 2:45 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


If being an adult and reading this is wrong, I don't wanna be right.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:47 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


I only wasted enough time on this to read the first half-page, but it was enough to come up with these objections to her whole premise:

1. She makes a big deal out of the ages of purchasers - 30 to 44, IIRC. Did it never occur to her that those people are buying the books for their children?

2. Why should I not read what my child is reading? Suppose it's full of hidden Satanic Christian brainwashing? I'd want to know about that, before she ran off to some Christian Fellowship camp in the middle of the night.

3. Not every adult has the intellect to enjoy reading Proust or whatever. Not every adult has the inclination to read such stuff. Here's the bottom line: being an adult means you get to do pretty much what you want with your free time. I don't get to tell Ruth Graham what she should read, unless she asks me. Nobody asked her.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:47 PM on June 5 [12 favorites]


Also, yes, we get it, Shailene Woodley is a clickbait machine.
posted by Sara C. at 2:48 PM on June 5


It always kills me that Harry Potter's publisher did two versions of the books here in the UK. The first had cartoony covers intended to appeal to kids, but the second used arty B&W photographs deliberately designed to let adults read them on the Tube without embarrassment.

I can't think of anything more pathetic than that for adult readers, really - not only are you choosing to read a kid's book, you haven't even got the courage of your convictions to do so openly.
posted by Paul Slade at 2:51 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


That's the nice thing about e-readers. You can read whatever the hell you like without making a public declaration of your value as a potential sexual partner out of it.
posted by acb at 2:52 PM on June 5 [9 favorites]


What interests me is why "YA" has taken off among an older demographic. ... So it seems like a lot more adults read this stuff. Why?

I belong to a book club in which we read a wide range of current books -- mostly fiction, but some biography and the occasional pop-sci sociology type thing -- and a lot of the women in my book group also read a fair bit of YA, and I can tell you why.

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

We don't read cutting edge experimental fiction, but a lot of what we read is the type of grown-up literature that makes it onto the shortlists for various literary prizes, so it isn't complete crap, and for the most part we really, really don't enjoy it. We actually joke about it routinely, and yet no matter how we change up how we pick the books, at least 2/3 of what we pick ends up being stuff few of us even liked reading.

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.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:52 PM on June 5 [28 favorites]


Fellow grown-ups, at the risk of sounding snobbish and joyless and old, we are better than this. I know, I know: Live and let read. Far be it from me to disrupt the “everyone should just read/watch/listen to whatever they like” ethos of our era. There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader. And if people are reading Eleanor & Park instead of watching Nashville or reading detective novels, so be it, I suppose. But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something.

You know, if it had just taken one or two more steps past the false dichotomy in its framing, this could've been a reasonably interesting piece; it's actually a lot better than your average #slatepitch clickbait. But it's hard to take seriously anyone who actually thinks Twilight is somehow substituting for Henry James, as though they were just fungible to an audience just looking to read something, anything. The real world of writers and publishers and audiences, of cultural marketing and cultural consumption, is more complicated than this piece wants it to be.
posted by RogerB at 2:52 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


I can easily abide adults reading Young Adult fiction (it's got Adult right there in the name!). Even if it's the kiddiest-crappiest of kiddie crap, hey, at least they're reading.

But I will never understand (childless) adults who pay ten or fifteen dollars a ticket to see the latest 3-hour dumb interchangeable schlock movie based on some superhero comic book they've barely heard of.

(I blame Harry Potter for that! Harry Potter -> Dark Knight -> whatever Avengers/X-Men thing they're plopping out this week)
posted by Sys Rq at 2:52 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Damnit, everytime YA comes up on Metafilter my "sounds like I'd like to read that" list grows by at least two or three books. And I'm an adult.
posted by chavenet at 2:53 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


The thing I don't get is the premise that people really should be reading some particular thing, and if they're reading something else, then they're slighting the thing that they obviously should be reading. That thing is usually books that fall into the marketing category "literary fiction," which in the US basically means fiction that is considered smart but is not particularly challenging and that is reviewed in mainstream places like the New York Times book review. (I used to work at a bookstore, and the owner referred to that stuff as "upper-middle-brow.") But there's no reason that everyone should default to "literary fiction." Sometimes I like to read literary fiction, but sometimes I like to read crime novels or academic history or essays on American folk music. I just don't accept the premise that I owe literary fiction my leisure time. I sort of bristle at the idea that I do, not only because I don't think that literary fiction is necessarily better or smarter than anything else, but also because I don't believe that reading should be some sort of worthy chore that I do to make myself a sufficiently superior person.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:53 PM on June 5 [11 favorites]


The main thing I notice consistently about YA is that it is easier to read than literary fiction, whether that's Dickens, Wharton, Delany, or whomever. So I surmise that some people read YA who would normally have read junk adult fiction but are now reading YA, and some people read YA because they are no longer interested in/capable of more difficult stuff.

Also, apologies if I'm misinterpreting this but it sounds like you're saying that people read YA novels because they're either dumb or lazy, especially the last sentence. The thing is, life is hard -- there are a lot of challenges and there's a lot of sadness and pain and stress and misery. If people want to use their leisure time to read stuff that is easier for them or that they simply enjoy, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. It doesn't make you dumb or lazy if you're using books to take a break and relax; as long as what you're reading is worth it to you, that seems like a sufficient reason to read it to me.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:54 PM on June 5 [15 favorites]


Keep in mind, works like "Catcher in the Rye" would be marketed as YA if they came out today.

Only if Holden was updated as a moody vampire fighting for cyber-freedom with his 133+ haxxorz skilz.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:54 PM on June 5 [7 favorites]


Every time you hate-read a clickbait article, a little part of you dies.

Not even once.
posted by naju at 2:54 PM on June 5 [9 favorites]


I can't think of anything more pathetic than that for adult readers, really - not only are you choosing to read a kid's book, you haven't even got the courage of your convictions to do so openly.

I really loved the Adult covers for Harry Potter. Here in Canada, the books were much higher quality in general. In fact, the whole reason I bought the first HP book I bought was because I had picked it up in a bookstore and been astonished by the quality of the book relative to the usual mass market paperback. It was printed on this gorgeous, creamy, wonderful paper that even *smelled* nice.

I eventually bought and read all 7 Harry Potter books because that first one was just so lovely to hold that I wanted to keep it.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:55 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


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.

Yes, a good ambiguous ending in literary fiction is fantastic and thought-provoking. But most of them are just "Oh How Clever I Am" endings -- the endless 'But it was all fiction written by the protagonist' endings, or the resurgence in 'Lady or the tiger' endings.

It is possible I just read one of these endings and it made me angry.
posted by jeather at 2:56 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


This is different from Patterson's other books (or Dan Brown or what have you) how?

This is actually really interesting to me as a comparison with YA, as opposed to literary fiction or The Classics or whatnot.

Because, yeah. Let's be honest.

YA is marketed to girls/women of all ages. Dan Brown/James Patterson/John Grisham is marketed to guys/men of all ages. So why is the "youth" aspect a draw for female readers, whereas the "for grownups" aspect is a draw for male readers, from a marketing perspective?

There does not seem to be any real difference in the quality, content, themes, or characterization in a Stephenie Meyer book as compared to a Dan Brown book, aside from just the fact that the main character of a Dan Brown book is going to be a grownup man, and the main character of a Stephenie Meyer book is going to be a girl or very young woman.
posted by Sara C. at 2:57 PM on June 5 [16 favorites]


Much like most of the music I listened to as a teenage, I would cringe with gulping bouts of horror to re-read some of the so-called YA I read as a teenager. Yet thankfully at the same time, there were books and music that have stayed with me as an adult and I will continue to read, much like there is contemporary music and YA books that I enjoy as an adult. Just because it's written for a certain age doesn't mean it can't be quality and to be biased against it on that premise alone is a closed-mindedness and lack of intellectual curiosity I can't even fathom. It also doesn't mean some of it isn't shit.

Children's books on the other hand....well, you'll have to rip my E.B. Whites and Wind in the Willows and Old Mother West Winds out of my cold, wrinkled, age-shriven hands.
posted by barchan at 2:58 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Not every book exists to test your brain to destruction. Some of them are just stories. They're meant to engross and entertain, not to challenge. If they manage that regardless of target audience, then good for the author.

(Signed, a guy who doesn't read YA books as a habit, but does watch cartoons about giant robots punching each other, sometimes with a rocket ax)
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:59 PM on June 5 [7 favorites]


I might feel embarrassed if I only ate cookies, but I'm not in the least bit ashamed that cookies are one of the things I enjoy eating.

Wait, why are you people all talking about books? Am I in the wrong thread?
posted by aubilenon at 2:59 PM on June 5 [8 favorites]


I think people just like stories. No?
posted by peripathetic at 3:00 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


A few years ago, I had a bad, bad, bad bout of depression. Like, stay in bed for months and shower bi-weekly depression. So my doctors were throwing all sorts of medications at me, the worst had me in the ER with convulsions, the more tolerable ones just took away all emotions and motivation.

I didn't have any concentration, so I went back to reading YA fiction when I wasn't staring into space and finding reasons not to hang myself from the doorknob. I finally picked up The Fault in our Stars, even though it did not seem like anything I would normally enjoy. I read it in one sitting (another plus of YA books), and when I was done, I noticed I was crying. I hadn't cried, or really exhibited any emotion, for half a year, but after finishing the novel, I had a sort of catharsis where I cried for a few hours, and then I was able to gradually begin feeling again, although it took a while before I was functional.

Maybe the simplicity helped me. Maybe John Green is an evil wizard with the ability to remotely manipulate emotional breakthroughs. Maybe I coincidentally finished the book at the exact moment my brain chemistry decided to work again. Or maybe, despite my English grad school experience, I have the sophistication of a 13-year old with a thing for nonthreatening boys. Regardless, I am out of bed, shower daily, and haven't looked twice at a doorknob in a while.

Basically, what I'm saying is screw this condescending, click-bait harpy. Who the fuck does she think she is to judge what I read and how I feel? I wish shit like this didn't get this site's attention.
posted by bibliowench at 3:01 PM on June 5 [56 favorites]


Oh good this article seems like the perfect opportunity to share my Twilight fanfiction. Ahem.

It was raining. In my heart. Also outside. The windshield wipers on my old (but in a charming, not an ew gross sort of way) truck kept time with the beating of my heart. Which was slow. Slower than yours. I sighed.

I pulled into the parking lot of my new high school, and looked at the faces of all the students streaming into class. Their happy faces smiling brightly even as the weather was so, so dark. In my heart. Also outside.

I stepped out of my truck and walked slowly into the administration building. I didn't use an umbrella. I wanted to feel the water. Like actually feel it. On my long, dark hair which always looked wet anyway. I had been told. I didn't know what to believe.

The secretary behind the desk was plump and jovial, wearing some ostentatious floral pattern which couldn't hide the pain in her eyes. "Oh, hi hon," she said, patronizingly. "Who are you, now? Are you our new girl?"

"I guess that's me," I sighed, blinking back tears. "Bella Duck. Here for my first day of school. I just moved here from someplace warm. I didn't fit in there. Either."

"Well, you're gonna wanna be running along to room 601. If you need help finding it, just ask anybody. Everyone here's real nice."

I'm sure. I'm so sure they were nice. But I knew I could find it on my own. It took me like half an hour, but I did find it. I did. I was late.

Wasn't I always?

My first class was chemistry. Or maybe physics. I don't like science. Not enough feeling in it. I sat at an empty lab station and listened to the teacher's quiet droning try to pierce the veil of my ennui. As ever, she was unsuccessful. Like everyone. Would always be.

That's when I saw him. Him. Him. The single most beautiful creature I had ever seen. He was beautiful. He was pale like milk. His eyes were dark like the sky on a moonless night. And his hair did that thing where it was short all over and then sort of randomly spiky and then stuck up in the front.

"Hey," I heard a pleasant voice say next to me. "Are you new here?"

I turned to look at the face behind the voice. I was disgusted. "Why?" I sighed (I don't really say, I just sigh. They sound similar when you say them aloud, but feel so much different to actually say.)

"Oh, I just don't remember seeing you," said the totally put-together, clearly mortal, well-adjusted person speaking to me. "My name's Matt. Do you want to be lab partners?"

I turned and stared at that lovely creature on the other side of the room. I sighed, I think. Twice.

"Um, hey... I don't mean to overstep, as we just met, but you might want to consider staying away from that guy."

I spun with rage to face this so-called Matt. "WHAT DO YOU CARE?" I shouted. Nobody even looked at me.

"Well..." he said, trying his best to soften the blow. "That guy's name is Morculent, or something. He only hangs out with his siblings, all of whom look like that. So they're either white supremacists, or they're vampires. Like legitimately vampires who will kill you and turn you into one of their kind. Either way, that guy is a jerk. I offered him an invitation to a party one time and he set it on fire. While I was still holding it out to him. He hates human people and has clearly been in high school for like four hundred years which in and of itself is super creepy even if his entire m.o. wasn't denying you agency, which it definitely definitely is, so just like maybe tread cautiously is what I'm saying?"

I turned to stare at Morculent as Paul or whatever his name was droned on. Morculent stared back at me. I felt my heart quicken. I stared at him. He stared at me.

I stared.

He stared.

We stared.

There was only one thought in my mind at that moment. All else disappeared immediately.

"How," I thought, "Many books do you think I could get out of this?"

posted by davidjmcgee at 3:05 PM on June 5 [23 favorites]


Anyway I read A LOT of Y.A. and am not embarrassed aaaaaaaaat aaaaaaaall. So there, SLATE.
posted by davidjmcgee at 3:06 PM on June 5


It's kind of weird that she mentions this book Submergence which, if the Booklist review quoted on the amazon page is correct, is post-modern literary airport fiction (emphasis mine), which to me says it's adult easy-reader, or just another form of YA.

I would very likely have agreed with her more or less wholeheartedly if I hadn't read The Fault in our Stars, which had nothing to do with vampires or witches or fantasy, and which I would have loved for my 14 year old niece to read but which was so intense I couldn't send it to her without having my sister vet it first. I thought it was one of the truest novels about loss that I've read in a long time.
posted by janey47 at 3:06 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


There's a specific kind of adult that this is aimed at. The one that almost exclusively reads YA or childrens lit and then tells people about it.

Take your Winnie the Pooh, nerdy wizards, and sexy teenage vampires and keep it in your hello kitty backpack. Of course you can read whatever you want, you just need not tell everyone that this is what you do. You guys and crossfitters. Damn.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:09 PM on June 5 [11 favorites]


I think we should all have better things to be embarrassed about than our choice in novels. Its really tiring how much people judge others based on their media consumption and other personal choices that aren't all that important in the long run.

A much more interesting article would be one about the things found in adult fiction that can't be gotten in YA and then maybe suggestions for books rather than a judgmental screed.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 3:10 PM on June 5 [10 favorites]


YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction.
I'll preface this by pointing out that I'm primarily a genre reader.

Curiously I just read Mockingjay back to back with Parable of the Sower, both of which have rather ambiguous better-but-not-happy endings. A few weeks back, I commented that good "family" movies talk up, while the typical adult movie talks down. That's less true in book publishing, but there's a lot of adult novels that hit the bestseller lists by pandering.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:10 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


darnit, I clicked on the clickbait. But at least I stopped myself before reading it.
posted by Zed at 3:12 PM on June 5


hey, hal_c_on, I have a hello kitty lunchbox and everyone at the office thinks it's GREAT and I don't try to get anyone else on the hello kitty lunchbox bandwagon, I just let them envy me and my hello kitty lunchbox that will never be mistaken for anyone else's. So there! :-)
posted by janey47 at 3:12 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


Take your Winnie the Pooh, nerdy wizards, and sexy teenage vampires and keep it in your hello kitty backpack. Of course you can read whatever you want, you just need not tell everyone that this is what you do.

Sorry for not displaying the proper amount of shame about the things I enjoy.
posted by bibliowench at 3:13 PM on June 5 [23 favorites]


But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Shailene Woodley, the 22-year-old star of this weekend’s big YA-based film. “Last year, when I made Fault, I could still empathize with adolescence,” she told New York magazine this week, explaining why she is finished making teenage movies. “But I’m not a young adult anymore—I’m a woman.”

Am I misinterpreting this? To me the idea of a 22-year-old suddenly becoming too mature for this stuff over the course of 1 year is fucking hilarious.
posted by Hoopo at 3:15 PM on June 5 [17 favorites]


Yeah, like janey47 I found it hilarious that the novel she recommended that is way more sophisticated than all this YA trash, is, you know, kinda pulpy? British spies! Terrorist hostage-taking! Perilous deep sea dives! Which is all perfectly fine, of course. But i've read Fault In Our Stars and in the same month I've read stuff that would make her beloved Submergence look like 3rd grade boys' adventure material. I don't see why we need to draw any lines in the sand at all. It's all good.
posted by naju at 3:15 PM on June 5 [4 favorites]


I am a super literature snob, and the other day I watched The Host, based on a Stephanie Myers book, because I was sick and feeling sorry for myself. My dad loves Harry Potter to a degree that I do not understand, and he's a huge (adult) book reader.

Junk food media is totally fine in isolation but much like real junk food if it becomes your entire diet you will start to rot your insides.
posted by jess at 3:15 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


According to Readability-Score, this article is written at a 10-12th grade level. Perfect for young adults!
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:18 PM on June 5 [6 favorites]


Adults should also read a good book of short stories by Yu Hua called Boy in the Twilight.

Adults may have previously read Yu's novel, Brothers, but Boy in the Twilight, damn, what a good collection of stories. Adults will be reminded very much of Joyce's Dubliners.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 3:19 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Take your Winnie the Pooh, nerdy wizards, and sexy teenage vampires and keep it in your hello kitty backpack.

That's an awful lot of stuff aimed at girls we're sneering at here. (Which is also an issue in sneering at YA in general, or so my writing-oriented friends tell me.)
posted by immlass at 3:21 PM on June 5 [21 favorites]


I'm a grown-up.

The Fault in Our Stars is one of the best books I've read about loss and impermanence.
The Harry Potter books are immersive, exciting, often enthralling storytelling.
The Graveyard Book is legitimately creepy and legitimately moving.
The His Dark Materials trilogy are among my favorite books of all time.

I could go on. Plenty of fantastic work is being done under the YA umbrella and faulting books and their readers for what is essentially a marketing choice strikes me as... sort of childish?

So, hey, what are the YA books that mean a lot to you as a grown-up, despite what the publishers' marketing departments thought would be best for sales?
posted by davidjmcgee at 3:21 PM on June 5 [14 favorites]


Am I misinterpreting this? To me the idea of a 22-year-old suddenly becoming too mature for this stuff over the course of 1 year is fucking hilarious.

I suspect the way to interpret this is: "this movie is going to be big and if I do any more teen roles I'll get typecast as a teen actor and have a very short career left to me, so I'd better start positioning myself for older roles right away."
posted by Zed at 3:22 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


This whole topic is making me depressed (not depressed, depressed, but sad). I'm off to Denver to see The Mountain Goats tonight (John Darnell is a friend of John Green), so I'm going to have a beer, enjoy the show, and look forward to Slate's future article about how my musical taste is puerile as well.

Seriously, bitch, I made it through Finnegan's fucking Wake. I can read whatever the fuck I want to.
posted by bibliowench at 3:22 PM on June 5 [15 favorites]


It's really interesting to read the arguments of the people in this thread who disagree with Graham's position. Unfortunately, as happens too often, they risk being drowned out by people yelling that she shouldn't have made it.

"People telling you what you should or shouldn't read" isn't some monstrous act of judgmentalism; it's called "book reviewing" and "cultural criticism" and it does not mean you have to obey them.
posted by oliverburkeman at 3:23 PM on June 5 [14 favorites]


It kinda sucks to calling her "harpy" and "bitch" and whatnot. I'm sure there is some less fraught set of insults that would suffice.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 3:25 PM on June 5 [17 favorites]


Whatever, Young Avengers is awesome.

Read what you like. Enjoy it. Discuss it with others. Play with it. Overthink that goddamn plate of beans. Use it to zone out and veg.

Because, you know what? Some of us are tired after a long workday and YA is pretty awesome for that. Or, sometimes it is fun to take a simpler narrative and tease out unintensional meanings. Both are valid.
posted by dinty_moore at 3:25 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


To me the idea of a 22-year-old suddenly becoming too mature for this stuff over the course of 1 year is fucking hilarious.

Shailene Woodley is basically exactly myself at around that same age. Pretentious, opinionated, zero filter, and no idea how full of shit she is.

Hopefully it bodes well for her growing up a little and eventually being a cool person, though. For all her tendency to spout off on things she knows fuck all about, she seems to have a decent head on her shoulders.
posted by Sara C. at 3:26 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


Of course this better not apply to television because I will stop occasionally watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood as a grown man when they pry the remote out of my rigor mortised claw.

Fred Rogers looks me in the eye and tells me, across time and the impassable border of death, that, of all the people in the whole world, there is only one person just like me, and that I'm special, and I know exactly what I'm doing and what it looks like. Would be nice if the world of adulthood would occasionally scratch that itch, but we're a grim and serious and crime-and-despair-obsessed lot in this modern life we've made.

I'm sure Walter White had an instructive life story, and I'm sure the writing is great.

Sometimes, though, you just want to know where fucking crayons come from.

Fortunately, my young nephew is smart enough to also be a fan of the lesser-known but sort of crazy joyous Three Investigators books, so I can read them to him and no one will know that I, too, am enjoying them.
posted by sonascope at 3:27 PM on June 5 [29 favorites]


Also, I missed a lot of good YA when I was a kid because I was too grown up for that shit. So I'm catching up now.
posted by dinty_moore at 3:27 PM on June 5 [6 favorites]


Take your Winnie the Pooh, nerdy wizards, and sexy teenage vampires and keep it in your hello kitty backpack.

That's an awful lot of stuff aimed at girls we're sneering at here.


Winnie the Pooh and Harry Potter are aimed at girls? I think that's a reach.
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:27 PM on June 5 [4 favorites]


Oh boy. Here we go. There are not any downvote buttons on Metafilter, right?*

First up. I have a very strong streak of cultural elitism in me. I love modernist art (painting, music, etc.). I love postmodernist as well. In my current living situation people make fun of me for liking old French films or slightly not as old Russian films about medieval iconographers. I've read Finnegans Wake. Twice. DFW and Pynchon.

I have read randomly selected pages from most of the popular YA novels turned into hit TV shows/films in the past few years (as best as I can tell) and without exception the writing in those pages has been utter shit. Just horrible horrible crap. The sort of thing that the naive and virgin minds of young people would find enthralling but that any educated and cultured adult would rightly turn their nose up to.

When I meet another adult who says they are a reader I'm all like hooray! A kindred spirit! When it turns out to be Twilight or even Game of Thrones I smile and bond and think to myself "oh, not really a reader then, eh?"

To say "at least they're reading something" is wrong. Not reading and reading YA is the same thing.

OK, that's the worst of it. I do firmly believe (as a good modernist/pomoist) that there is no qualitative different between the high-falutin' arty shit I read and YA. And that there is nothing wrong with reading YA per se. I don't read that stuff but I do watch every single fantasy/sci-fi film/TV show that ever comes on TV (especially vampyres -- thanks Joss!). It's OK to do both and like both. But there is a difference (that's the modernist side of me talking).

What is that difference? I don't know and I don't necessarily want to think that way. So let's look at it this way: read your YA but please also read Bachelder and DFW and Barthelme and Markson. There's some really amazing shit out there beyond the simplicity of who loves whom, who bites whom, who grows into what, etc. There's also people who care about how the words are written on the page. People who challenge assumptions about basic story arcs, and character development, and emotional connection. There is a world that's not just Mcdonald's and Olive Garden but that little Ethiopian spot with that weird soury spongy bread.

You get the idea.

Also, people are correct. Dan Brown is no better than Stephanie Meyer. So it's not just adult fiction vs YA but things meant for mass popular consumption v art. Yes, I admitted to cultural elitism, but you can hold it against me.

I needed to get some things off my chest.

* I got in a debate recently on redditt where I defended the local homeless population and received an average of 10 downvotes per comment (of 15) in a sub with 2,000 subscribers. It was a glorious day of offending folk.
posted by bfootdav at 3:31 PM on June 5 [10 favorites]


Seriously? Yes, of course the adults who read HP lean female. Not exclusively, but enough to be very noticeable. Ditto adults who like things like Pooh. And I don't believe for a second anybody using that particular set of examples doesn't know that.

That's an awful lot of stuff aimed at girls we're sneering at here.

So, yes, let's be frank: Hal_c_on? That's just flat out misogyny, right there, and the same can be said for other people who don't quite say the same things right out. It's like saying things are less mature just because they're pink instead of blue. The conventional wisdom is that the average adult reads at the eighth grade level, and I believe it, and most commercially-oriented fiction takes this into account. Reading stories about adults shooting each other is not inherently more mature and sophisticated than reading stories about teenagers falling in love, it's just that one of them appeals to men and the other appeals to women. Nobody gets to have some moral high ground for reading stuff like Game of Thrones that's full of rape and murder over reading Harry Potter.

If someone wants to feel morally superior for the fact that their personal casual reading is Joyce and Tolstoy, fine, but that's got nothing to do with YA.
posted by Sequence at 3:33 PM on June 5 [15 favorites]


My cousin and her girlfriends (all ladies in their 40s) went to see some sort of of 50 Shades of Grey nonsense and were talking about it on Facebook, OMG you guys! SO AMAZING.
posted by emjaybee at 3:36 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction.

Bah, neither adult fiction not YA reflects the real world. I say the only books that accurately capture how adults just randomly stumble from decision to decision throughout life that will always end in inevitable death are "Choose Your Own Adventure" books.
posted by FJT at 3:38 PM on June 5 [4 favorites]


If not liking Harry Potter is misogynist, then surely not liking Twilight would be way more misogynist.

So any criticism of gender roles in Twilight would therefore be misogynist.

I don't think this claim holds up.
posted by squinty at 3:38 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


These books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction. These endings are for readers who prefer things to be wrapped up neatly, our heroes married or dead or happily grasping hands, looking to the future. But wanting endings like this is no more ambitious than only wanting to read books with “likable” protagonists.


Can't... pump... fist... harder...

Junk food media is totally fine in isolation but much like real junk food if it becomes your entire diet you will start to rot your insides.

But I'll try!
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 3:38 PM on June 5


I'm not embarrassed to read YA, I just don't enjoy most of it. For me, in my 40s, reading another coming-of-age story just isn't that interesting of an idea.
posted by Revvy at 3:39 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


I really want to see some Slate/Salon clickbait that chides fanfic writers. (Or readers, although that wouldn't be as fun.)

I don't know why I enjoy this sort of clickbait so much, but I can't get enough of it.
posted by postcommunism at 3:39 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


keep it in your hello kitty backpack

I will note that this is a jerky thing to say, and also, separately, that bibliowench has disabled her account. I don't pretend to know her reasons, but I hope she's just taking a break.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 3:40 PM on June 5 [11 favorites]


Outside of a few works, I've never enjoyed literary fiction. It's not that it's difficult or challenging; it's that it's boring and sometimes even annoying. The things that critics seem to find moving, I often find tedious and trite. So, yeah, when I feel like reading fiction, I might choose a YA work like The Hunger Games, because it's nice to just enjoy a story once in a while instead of taking some sort of unpleasant cultural medicine.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:41 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


I highly approve of reading for pleasure, reading whatever you like, and so forth, but before declaring that YA is uniformly badly written, please read Benjamin Alire Saenz's YA books, read Margo Lanagan's short story collections, read Martha Brooks, read Karen Foxlee; I don't really have the taste for a lot of commercial YA, but I manage to find quite a lot of YA that I think is genuinely good as literature, maybe not in a James Joyce way but certainly not in a Divergent way.
posted by Jeanne at 3:41 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


Seriously, I still have a beef with mainstream literature for teaching me that my problems (that included my friends dying) weren't real problems, because real problems were masturbation and daddy issues and didn't belong to teenage girls.

If mainstream literature was better at dealing with women, I'd feel better about reading it. I'm a person, not a cipher.
posted by dinty_moore at 3:41 PM on June 5 [10 favorites]


Any guesses what secret shame media bfootdav isn't telling us about?

Seriously, I'm a total snob. Definitely a cultural elitist when it comes to, like, "Here's why Sol Lewitt is a genius and Thomas Kinkade is shit." I like opera and hate movies based on toy franchises. I have no idea who most of the artists on the iTunes top 10 are right now. Sometimes I'm even a snob about YA literature. I remember re-reading The Giver a few years ago, after loving it in junior high, and realizing that it just really seriously has nothing on a book like We or The Handmaid's Tale or even the usual suspect dystopian fiction from the high school canon.

But you know what? YOU CAN RIP THE HARRY POTTER FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS. Sometimes shit's just fun, you know?
posted by Sara C. at 3:41 PM on June 5 [6 favorites]


Margo Lanagan's short story collections

Seriously, Margo Lanagan is a fucking boss. Anyone wanting to chide YA for not being well-written hasn't read Tender Morsels.
posted by davidjmcgee at 3:44 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Also Twilight is complicated because there is a lot to criticize from a feminist POV but a lot of the criticism is really "girls like it because they are dumb" and I would really be happier with interpretations that give more room for girls to be active and critical readers even if they are also being swoony!
posted by Jeanne at 3:44 PM on June 5 [6 favorites]


If not liking Harry Potter is misogynist, then surely not liking Twilight would be way more misogynist.

So any criticism of gender roles in Twilight would therefore be misogynist.


That's... not how logic works. How about this: If "books that are grown-up enough to be okay" is a subset of books that is traditionally aimed at men, and "books that are immature and shouldn't be read by adults" is largely fantasy and romance that's traditionally aimed at women, then the problem isn't the books themselves, the problem is your standards for what's "mature" and what isn't.

There's absolutely plenty of room within those categories to criticize the gender roles in Twilight COMPARED to the gender roles in other YA that doesn't have the same problems, like Hunger Games, and not compared to, say, the gender roles in A Song of Ice and Fire or any Tom Clancy book. None of the problems with Twilight are inherent parts of writing a paranormal romance, it could have been done better without aiming it any older. But if you think people who like stuff like Twilight are all inherently reading the wrong things compared to people who read "adult" novels that are just as misogynist, then, yes, that's probably got something to do with what you think of the fact that the market is primarily female.
posted by Sequence at 3:45 PM on June 5 [9 favorites]


So, I guess 2 hours of Star Trek fanfiction every day is right out...
posted by allthinky at 3:45 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


>Any guesses what secret shame media bfootdav isn't telling us about?

Oh goodness, I admitted to watching a whole range of things (all the Twilight movies. Hell, I even have all the The Good Witch movies on my computer right now and have written fanfic for it!). But when it comes to reading, something that takes a lot more time, then it's a different story.
posted by bfootdav at 3:46 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Winnie the Pooh and Harry Potter are aimed at girls? I think that's a reach.

Harry Potter adult fandom is mostly women, yeah. And it's the adults we're sneering at here, not the kids. I don't know about Winnie the Pooh--is there an adult dude fandom of Pooh that I missed? I'd be happy to be wrong about dudes complaining about grownup Twilight readers and Harry Potter readers and their Hello Kitty backpacks being sneery solely about the feminine, but I'm pretty sure I'm not.
posted by immlass at 3:48 PM on June 5


I read for fun. Or, occasionally, for catharsis. Most highbrow literary fiction provides neither. I don't get this impulse to turn leisure reading into a chore.

Though I do agree that YA or whatever other thing intended for popular mass consumption shouldn't be the entirety of your media diet. It's good to occasionally be challenged by the media you consume, whether that challenge is intellectual or emotional. But I object to the idea that I owe it to anyone or to culture as a whole to read what's supposedly "good for me" or what's lauded as fine literature.
posted by yasaman at 3:49 PM on June 5 [4 favorites]


That's an interesting post, bfootdav. You've got some cognitive dissonance going on there, but I can completely agree with this:
...There's some really amazing shit out there beyond the simplicity of who loves whom, who bites whom, who grows into what, etc. There's also people who care about how the words are written on the page. People who challenge assumptions about basic story arcs, and character development, and emotional connection. There is a world that's not just Mcdonald's and Olive Garden but that little Ethiopian spot with that weird soury spongy bread.
People should stretch themselves as readers, at least once in a while. And if they do, and they find the right authors, it can be like discovering a whole new universe. New ways of thinking about and being human. Definitely a good thing!

But where we disagree, maybe, is if people need to be pushed to stretch themselves in this way. I think readers will always find good books, and if they keep reading eventually they'll find their way to new and ever more wonderful things. The most important task (where social pressure should be focused) is to make reading a lifetime habit. Get 'em hooked, and they'll discover (or rediscover) great literature on their own.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:51 PM on June 5


The heroes in men's airport thrillers like Tom Clancy's or Dirk Diggler's books may as well have Kung Fu Grip, like GI Joe. They are written to about a difficulty level for a smart 8th grader, too.
posted by thelonius at 3:51 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


I'm reading To Kill a Mockingbird at the moment and I'm struck by how thoroughly it blurs the lines between "young adult" fiction and "adult" fiction. It pretty much renders those definitions meaningless. Here's a book that deals with race, rape, justice, and class with more wisdom and insight than almost anything else I've come across. And yet it's accessible enough for (and partly written for, I think?) most kids from 7th grade on up. Ruth Graham, what do you think of that book.
posted by naju at 3:52 PM on June 5 [11 favorites]


While I'm an admittedly infrequent reader of YA, I can pretty much tell that people who proclaim themselves cultural snobs are probably the kind of people who are boring as shit to hang out with because they'll be too busy letting me know how much better they are than everyone else. Holy cats.
posted by Kitteh at 3:53 PM on June 5 [11 favorites]


But when it comes to reading, something that takes a lot more time, then it's a different story.

But isn't that just a matter of taste? I actually feel like I'm more likely to choose light reading material as opposed to Srs Bsns Fiction precisely because it takes a long time, and if I'm devoting hours and hours to consuming this cultural product, I'm more inclined to want to enjoy myself.

Whereas sure, I'll go to a minimalist art show and look at some monochromatic paintings and nod and mutter, "Indeed," to myself for a couple hours, why the fuck not?
posted by Sara C. at 3:54 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Or to put this another way, what people need is early education in what literature is (getting them hooked on it), and a good roadmap to modern fiction in the form of critical analysis and/or book reviews, and they'll find what they like on their own.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:56 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Dirk Diggler's books

Angels Live In My Town: A Brock Landers Mystery
With Chest Rockwell
posted by davidjmcgee at 3:56 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Though I do agree that YA or whatever other thing intended for popular mass consumption shouldn't be the entirety of your media diet.

Yep. It's like that rabbit thing from QI, where the panelists irritate Stephen Fry by claiming it's bad to eat too many rabbits, while he insists again and again on the important distinction that eating nothing but rabbit is the actual problem.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 3:56 PM on June 5


FWIW I've never gotten the impression that To Kill A Mockingbird was written as a children's book. It's a book with a protagonist who is a child, which is a totally different thing.
posted by Sara C. at 3:56 PM on June 5


But wanting endings like this is no more ambitious than only wanting to read books with “likable” protagonists.

This is the fucking problem with not only her article, but her whole damn worldview. Look, sure, I can read complex themes and I can read complex literature, but I don't do it to be "ambitious." I do it because I want to fucking read the books, because I think they'll be interesting. This nonsense assumes the only reason for reading books is aspirational, as though you couldn't possibly be a complex person without reading gimmicky, awful books that seem more like they're written - hilariously - for the sort of teenager who wears black and quotes Nietzsche a lot.

Why shouldn't we want to be satisfied by the ending of a book? Why shouldn't we want to see our protagonists wander into the sunset when the book is done, or feel their pain as they don't? When did becoming an adult mean becoming deeply bitter and cynical, such that we're too "sophisticated" for either happy or sad endings?
posted by corb at 3:56 PM on June 5 [17 favorites]


I just started reading YA books in my forties. When I was a teen I was reading scifi, complete works of Shakespeare, Homer, Herman Hesse, Twain, etc... Personally I think all fiction is escapism, and every genre has 80-90% crud. You can find something worth reading in any genre, and simplicity or complexity as well.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:57 PM on June 5 [6 favorites]


I can pretty much tell that people who proclaim themselves cultural snobs are probably the kind of people who are boring as shit to hang out with because they'll be too busy letting me know how much better they are than everyone else.

Sure. When I hang out with people who are not the cultural snobs I am I find things in common that we can both enjoy talking about. I enjoy socializing and bonding with people over all sorts of things. If it can be something I'm truly passionate about like modernist art all the better but if it's just the Star Trek marathon that's awesome too. Cultural snobs are people too and have peoplely needs.

But yeah, I am kind of boring.
posted by bfootdav at 3:58 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Sara, my teacher assigned us a chapter of it in 6th grade. At least a few classrooms teach the book to teens, surely?
posted by naju at 3:58 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


When did becoming an adult mean becoming deeply bitter and cynical

FOR REAL.

"Look man, we'd probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what's human and magical that still live and glow despite the times' darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it'd find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it."
-David Foster Wallace
posted by davidjmcgee at 4:00 PM on June 5 [26 favorites]


But when it comes to reading, something that takes a lot more time, then it's a different story.

But isn't that just a matter of taste?

Sorry, that was all about the pun. Once I had the idea for that it became the reason for my comment. It's Art over content.
posted by bfootdav at 4:00 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Come to think of it, I wonder if To Kill a Mockingbird is an example of a YA book that has been retroactively pulled out of the YA "ghetto" to be elevated into the halls of classic Literature.
posted by naju at 4:03 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


At least a few classrooms teach the book to teens, surely?

Well, sure, but we also teach Shakespeare, Sophocles, and Dickens to teens, and those aren't considered YA, either.

We had To Kill A Mockingbird (in its entirety, not excerpted) in sophomore year of high school. At a shit school, surely, but we were evaluating it critically in ways that sixth graders typically aren't.

I will say, on the other hand, that if you're looking for a text on the Jim Crow South, yes, it absolutely is whitewashed. Though I'm fairly certain that wasn't done for children, but for white middle class adults of the time it was written.
posted by Sara C. at 4:04 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Meh. I recommend YA books to adult library patrons all the time, and frequently recommend adult books to teenagers, because I don't care one bit if a book is marketed as YA if the story is compelling, the characters fleshed-out and real, and the writing is good. I'd rather read a YA book like, say Code Name Verity, which taught me a lot I didn't know about female pilots in WWII, than the latest drivel from Dan Brown or the many, many "chick lit" books that all seem to have exactly the same plot. (Not that there's anything wrong with reading those for fun! Read what you like!)
posted by sarcasticah at 4:06 PM on June 5 [4 favorites]


So, I guess 2 hours of Star Trek fanfiction every day is right out...

No way! Fanfiction is the most postmodern thing going these days. It also has deep cultural significance, in the sense that it has democratized story telling and allowed LGBTQ & feminist communities to write and reclaim their own narratives in the face of a mass media that has denied them representation. As an added bonus, it has revitalized writing as a hobby for legions of young people, particularly women. Fanfic is just fine.
posted by dialetheia at 4:07 PM on June 5 [13 favorites]


I'm sure there is some less fraught set of insults that would suffice.

"Slate writer."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:09 PM on June 5 [7 favorites]


Sometimes, you just want to crack a book that only takes 2 or 3 hrs to read start to finish.
posted by OHenryPacey at 4:10 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction.

I don't really read "YA" as an adult so I have no stake in this, but I've certainly read some in my life and I think a lot of her premises, like this one, just aren't true of YA as a category even if they are of the particular bestsellers she picked up. Especially about the presence of emotional and moral ambiguity - I mean come on. The one thing you can be pretty sure you aren't getting is a lot of experimentation with structure and style, and probably not completely sure.

I read for fun. Or, occasionally, for catharsis. Most highbrow literary fiction provides neither. I don't get this impulse to turn leisure reading into a chore.

On the other hand I think this is an extremely unfortunate thing to believe/experience.
posted by atoxyl at 4:12 PM on June 5 [4 favorites]


I find the attitude expressed in this column, that one has a responsibility as a reader to seek out challenging, difficult material to be very curious in the sense that it is rarely applied to other art forms.

If I told somebody that the most recent movie I saw in the theater was "Godzilla", I am not likely to have them scoff, "You philistine, you really should be seeking out art-house, subtitled, foreign films to challenge your brain instead". If someone found out I regularly watch "The Voice" and "Pit Bulls and Parolees" I doubt their reaction would be (like a commenter did upthread about reading), "Well, that's ok, but make sure you balance that out with some 'Mad Men' and 'The Americans'".

My degree is in English Lit. I could easily do the "here is a list of all the impressive classic authors/books I've read" thing. I even got an "A" in college level Shakespeare. But if you were to look at a list of the books I've read in the last year or two you'd find a pretty good number of crime/detective novels, which I guess would be the male equivalent of YA. I still read the classics for pleasure from time to time, but honestly, sometimes I just want an easy-to-follow, fast-paced, well plotted book that is going to entertain me for a few hours and that I can finish fairly quickly before it starts to feel like a chore. Every time I crack open a novel I'm not necessarily looking for grand enlightenment or to be "challenged". Why is a high difficultly setting considered a required component of reading in a way that it isn't for other entertainment forms?
posted by The Gooch at 4:19 PM on June 5 [7 favorites]


On the other hand I think this is an extremely unfortunate thing to believe/experience.

Which part? Not being argumentative or anything, I'm genuinely curious. I've never thought it was seen as particularly unfortunate or weird to read for entertainment.
posted by yasaman at 4:23 PM on June 5


The one thing you can be pretty sure you aren't getting is a lot of experimentation with structure and style, and probably not completely sure.

Yeah, don't be sure! M.T. Anderson's The Astonishing Life Of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation is structurally and stylistically baller, as is Margo Lanagan's work (mentioned above). Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking is stylistically inventive (especially the first book), as is Louis Sachar's Holes. There's so much good out there, it's a crying goddamn shame to dismiss it (as Graham does) because of fucking marketing.
posted by davidjmcgee at 4:23 PM on June 5 [6 favorites]


I have seen two people, JUST TODAY, transition seamlessly from "YA is stupid" to 50 Shades Of Gray. Just in case you're wondering whether this is really about YA or about a much more complex notion of what it is not respectable to read.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 4:26 PM on June 5 [31 favorites]


Why is a high difficultly setting considered a required component of reading in a way that it isn't for other entertainment forms?

I... feel the urge to answer you, even though I don't agree with the article in the FPP. Literature is different from visual and auditory arts because it takes a long time to fully appreciate compared to a painting or a song, or a movie.

I'm not saying a high difficulty setting is required, but many people feel that it should be because you're already spending a good chunk of lifespan reading books. Might as well make that time as well spent as possible.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:27 PM on June 5


What I took away from this piece was that if you exclusively read YA (and yes, not all adults who enjoyed Harry Potter and the Hunger Games and the like only read YA for for those who do), you're really missing out on a lot of good books.
posted by Asparagus at 4:27 PM on June 5


Wrong medium, but this discussion is making me think of this Kelly Link quote:

I'm no longer watching television in which middle-aged men figure out how to be men. I'd rather watch shows about teenaged girls figuring out what it means to be a monster.

Kelly Link is awesome, by the way, even if I don't think her writing is considered YA
posted by dinty_moore at 4:28 PM on June 5 [12 favorites]


What I took away from this piece was that if you exclusively read YA (and yes, not all people who enjoyed Harry Potter and the Hunger Games and the like only read YA for for those who do), you're really missing out on a lot of good books.

That's entirely possible, but that is not -- at all -- what the piece says. You're essentially rewriting it in your head to imagine the piece that could have been written that would have had every bit of value that this piece has and none of the tendency to degrade the cultural conversation unnecessarily. Which is generous.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 4:29 PM on June 5 [11 favorites]


And people who don't read any YA are missing out on a lot of good books. Everyone, all the time, is missing out on a lot of good books. I'm pretty sure that if GoodReads achieved sentience and fed me a steady stream of the right book at the right time, I still couldn't get to the end of wonderful things during my lifetime.

I try not to get too anxious about that Prospect.
posted by Jeanne at 4:36 PM on June 5 [7 favorites]


Just in case you're wondering whether this is really about YA or about a much more complex notion of what it is not respectable to read.

I would consider it a reasonable transition if the arguer was aware that 50 Shades is a Twilight fanfic, but otherwise, ugh.
posted by elizardbits at 4:36 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Ruth Graham says she's based out of New Hampshire. where in New Hampshire. this sounds like filthy Nashua talk to me. Nashua people with their twin jealousy of Manchester and Boston. people should not live in Nashua. do you hear me Ruth
posted by Greg Nog at 4:39 PM on June 5 [11 favorites]


is this the Or Die part of nh i have heard so much about
posted by elizardbits at 4:41 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


lmbo @ the idea of being embarrassed to read a thing. read all the things you want. you are (hopefully) so much more than the sum of what you read.
posted by Sternmeyer at 4:41 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


I don't think people are reading The Fault In Our Stars instead of David Foster Wallace or Middlemarch, it's the new Love Story or less embarrassing Nicholas Sparks.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:47 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


you are (hopefully) so much more than the sum of what you read.

I am a but a pale shadow of Dead Souls.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 4:47 PM on June 5


> What I took away from this piece was that if you exclusively read YA you're really missing out on a lot of good books.

From what I got, the piece is silly chiding about "acceptable" cultural artifacts in a way that was oblivious to and incurious about the reasons why adults might want to read YA, and which proposes that people either read The Fault in Our Stars OR House of Mirth, but never both. It also hits current memes about childhood blurring too deeply into adulthood, or adults themselves even regressing, to some kind of general social badness.

I'd say the author comes across as blinkered, but it was so blatantly clickbait that I doubt she really feels that strongly about it.

But tut tutting opinion pieces about what constitutes proper popular culture are a guilty pleasure of mine, so *shrug*
posted by postcommunism at 4:49 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


Considering that a significant portion of the good shit happening in the genres I'm interested in (fantasy, science fiction and comics) is happening in YA (and occasionally even middle grade!) and that it's a subgenre that female authors are constantly shunted into, yeah, cold dead hands. Seraphina is the best dragon book to come along since the Temeraire books started coming out and has amazing worldbuilding. Daughter of Smoke and Bone and it's sequels are some of the best produced audiobooks I've ever listened to (and I've heard a LOT) and they have the kinds of interpersonal relationships I absolutely adore, the kinds that get me through the week, in my fiction. I've been reading Tamora Pierce since middle school and her writing has grown and aged with me, but I'll still reread Circle of Magic, because it feels good. The Hunger Games did a great job with creating a dystopia that felt within the grasp of the modern world. The utopianism of the Collegium Chronicles combined with the way its characters overcome interpersonal problems and evil plots makes me feel more optimistic when I'm having a bad week. And all those are written by female authors, because while YA still privileges men like John Green above equally good women, it still puts out a larger variety of genre fiction by female authors with female protagonists.

Most "literary fiction" is super boring to me and it's so dominated by white dudes that I can't really be bothered with it. Plus, I don't see why I shouldn't read books about teenagers and dragons all the time if I want to. It's my fucking time.
posted by NoraReed at 4:52 PM on June 5 [10 favorites]


I don't think people are reading The Fault In Our Stars instead of David Foster Wallace or Middlemarch, it's the new Love Story or less embarrassing Nicholas Sparks.

Sorry, but this sounds like someone who hasn't actually read this book. While it contains some of those stylistic elements, I didn't see it as much of a romance at all. It's far weightier than those comparisons imply.
posted by naju at 4:57 PM on June 5 [6 favorites]


(Or maybe I'm completely alone on that one. Oh well.)
posted by naju at 5:03 PM on June 5


Greg Nog, I know what you're saying, but some googling reveals that she's not near Nashua.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:05 PM on June 5


no longer interested in/capable of more difficult stuff

Well, for myself, it's about a benefit/effort ratio. For example, I found To Kill A Mockingbird just a pure joy to read and would read it even if it had no value at all beyond pure entertainment. But once you get to a work that's more "difficult" than, say, House of Leaves, I have to ask myself: is it worth it? How many hours is it worth expending on this book?

I know many here will love James Joyce. But I don't. Reading Joyce, to me, is just pure labor: no enjoyment at all, just trying to slog through something because it's good for me. So no, I'm not going to read Ulysses. I don't think the payoff is likely to be worth the countless hours of drudgery. Unless I see Joyce's readers almost visibly glow with inner wisdom, forget it.
posted by tyllwin at 5:06 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


It's been a few years but I totally read it as a romance. I mean, it's also about disenchantment with idols and chronic illness and shit but it is the kind of book that would not be out of place on a shelf with a bunch of White People Almost Kissing covers
posted by NoraReed at 5:06 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


at the risk of sounding snobbish and joyless

Um… Too late.

Read whatever the hell you want whenever the hell you want.

I've seen this quoted here before, but it seems appropriate:

"Books are well written, or badly written. That is all." — Oscar Wilde
posted by tempestuoso at 5:08 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


TFIOS isn't as deep as Middlemarch but it's not as weepy fluffy as Nicholas Sparks ; it's hard to find any good comparison because the contemporary adult books about death try so hard to be unsentimental. It's not one of my favorite YA books but maybe that's why it's had so much resonance : it doesn't try, at all, to hide behind a tough guy pose.
posted by Jeanne at 5:11 PM on June 5


Isn't this just part of the same cultural trajectory that has grown-ass adults playing videogames, watching cartoons and playing dressup at comic conventions? I honestly can't tell the difference between a 17-year-old's tumblr/twitter feed and a 35-year-old's anymore. What happened? My mother certainly wasn't into the same stuff I was into when I was 17. I mean, people can do/like whatever they want, it's just a confounding trend.
posted by desjardins at 5:11 PM on June 5 [17 favorites]


If not liking Harry Potter is misogynist...

Wait...what? I'm just not into wizards and magic and shit. Jeez.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:13 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


Reading Joyce is like climbing a mountain, because it's difficult and you shouldn't do it alone. And there's always the risk of falling off the novel into the depths of Not Giving A Crap About Literature Anymore.

I read Ulysses in a Comp Lit course where the teacher assigned a chapter before each class. He'd start with a little lecture about what Joyce was doing at that point in the book, and then we'd talk about what we'd read. It was a revelation for me. I'd never seen anyone use words like that before. It was hard but exciting, and when it was over I felt like I'd seen a new perspective on the world. (Just like you get at the top of a mountain.) Not the kind of thing you want to spend your life on, but totally worth doing once or twice.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:16 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


grown-ass adults playing videogames, watching cartoons and playing dressup at comic conventions?

Video games, animation, and comics are methods of storytelling and not kinds of stories. Worrying about the method by which people are engaging stories is like worrying about adults enjoying certain filmic aspect ratios.
posted by davidjmcgee at 5:16 PM on June 5 [10 favorites]


I find the attitude expressed in this column, that one has a responsibility as a reader to seek out challenging, difficult material to be very curious in the sense that it is rarely applied to other art forms.

Hmm, I don't think it's uncommon. Anime fandom makes fun of those who watch dubbed anime or those that have only watched Dragonball Z. Gamers decry the "casuals" for playing Candy Crush Saga. Even I did it a little recently when I noticed why everyone threw money at Winter Soldier, but doesn't care about Snowpiercer.

It happens with food too. There are people who think Panda Express is Chinese food or that California rolls are exotic.

I think this is just a side effect of having consumer decisions reflect a certain identity or lifestyle. And perhaps also the effect of using emotions to sell stuff. Because it's only when you're invested in something and believe that it's a part of you, that you start crafting reasons why it's better than everything else.
posted by FJT at 5:16 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


My mother certainly wasn't into the same stuff I was into when I was 17.

My mother was more into Harry Potter than I was. On the other hand, I don't introduce her to the YA I read because I think dystopian futures about lesbian gang leaders and werewolf apocalypses would likely be a bit of a turn-off for her.

I suppose as a middle-aged man living in Georgia I should be abandoning entertainment that demands a certain level of skill and problem-solving for the local religion of watching football with a beer.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:22 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


Naju, I've read The Fault in our Stars. I don't comment on books I haven't read. Love Story was trying to say something about families and class, and if it seems shallow now, it's because we are pretty far from 1970 and The Fault in our Stars seems realer because it takes place in the world we live in now.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:27 PM on June 5


"Wonder" and "Eleanor and Park" were two of the best books I read last year. So freaking what? I'm reading a book now that's an adult book called "& Sons" and loving it, as well. But I stop reading a heck of a lot more "adult" books than YA novels. Maybe it's because I only really read YA novels that are recommended to me by friends, but honestly, I don't care what other people think of my reading habits.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:28 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


The Outhousers suggest Four Mature Works for those of you who are now suitably shamed.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:28 PM on June 5



Video games, animation, and comics are methods of storytelling and not kinds of stories.


E.g. 'Heavy Rain', 'Waking Life', 'Our Cancer Year' for an example in each category.

I'm pretty sure my parents generation had and still has their own ways to waste time in equally or more so juvenile fashion.

TV alone has scores of shows every year with unsophisticated themes and formulaic presentation, and I like Bridge, but let's not pretend it's inherently superior as a diversion.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:29 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


The problem is not that adults now read books intended for young people. The problem is that current books intended for young people are written in the most hideously poor prose imaginable. This is the refrain among my adult friends who read the stuff: "oh, yeah, it's terrible writing, but the story is just so fun."

The author's take seems to be: terribly-written, maudlin, drearily emotional novels are fine for kids, but we grown-ups deserve something better. She is wrong. Those novels are not fine for kids. Young adults deserve better, too.

Shakespeare and Homer were "for young adults," after all. They were for everybody. If we can all read universal texts like that, we should at least be allowed to read stuff that isn't awful apart from the narrative.
posted by koeselitz at 5:30 PM on June 5 [8 favorites]


Which part? Not being argumentative or anything, I'm genuinely curious. I've never thought it was seen as particularly unfortunate or weird to read for entertainment.

The idea that "literary" fiction does not provide entertainment or emotional satisfaction.
posted by atoxyl at 5:32 PM on June 5


Seraphina is the best dragon book to come along since the Temeraire books

ok so i just bought this and if it sucks you are in trouble
posted by elizardbits at 5:33 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


Hmm. No. Fuck you, Slate. I'll read what I want.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:36 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: I should get my medications sorted out before I risk any more Hemingway.
posted by emjaybee at 5:37 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


There's something incredibly insufferable about treating all non-YA fiction as a self flagellation.
posted by Ferreous at 5:40 PM on June 5 [6 favorites]


Naju, I've read The Fault in our Stars. I don't comment on books I haven't read.

Fair enough, sorry. It wasn't a super profound book or anything, but my takeaway was about 80% related to mortality, tragedy and illness and our sanitized, damaging narratives around them. The romance stuff was just the hook that hung around that theme. But - maybe that's just what I chose to focus on.
posted by naju at 5:42 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


One side of the coin is "people only read genre/YA because they're not smart/adventurous enough for serious literature. The other is "people only read 'serious literature' because they think it is good for them/have a superiority complex." I'm pretty sure most people read whatever they read because they, you know, enjoy it.
posted by atoxyl at 5:42 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


I guess the question is do I only enjoy Dahl when he's writing stories about uncles who get their snozzberries stuck in the drain of a bathtub?
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:43 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Listen to modern pop. It's about love, romance, sexual desire, unrequited love, romance and sexual desire, the unpleasant consequences of love, romance and sexual desire, how hard it is to be a criminal, and whatever it is they do at the club besides be at the club.

Listen to modern kid's music, like on Kid's Place Live, which by itself is worth the satellite radio subscription. The songs are about sugar ants, electric cars, smoke alarms, meditations on the nature of life (it's Like a Jump Rope, and We're Not Just Along for the Ride), what it's like to be a gummy bear, being happy with who you are, being tolerant of those who aren't like you, and shampooing a shark that winds up in your bathtub.

So it is with YA fiction. The authors have stricter rules to follow, which paradoxically opens vistas much wider than the quoteUNquote "mainstream" authors can play in and expect to be published or read.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:45 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


bfootdav: "I got in a debate recently on redditt where I defended the local homeless population and received an average of 10 downvotes per comment (of 15) in a sub with 2,000 subscribers. It was a glorious day of offending folk."

Reddit is the YA fiction of websites. Yes, every single sub.
posted by koeselitz at 5:46 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


I don't read a lot of YA, but I did read TFIOS and the Hunger Games trilogy since so many people raved about them. They all fell flat to me, but I don't think it was because of the themes. I found Katniss a really shallow protagonist, and after really liking the first half of Fault, it all came off the rails in the second half to me.

But in spite of not caring for those books, I don't think that YA as a genre is inappropriate for adults or an embarrassment to read. There are plenty of adult novels that fall flat for me as well. In general, I stick with the C.S. Lewis line that

It is my opinion that a story worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then.

Elsewhere he states the corollary, that a book worth reading at ten is worth reading again at fifty. It's not an issue of genre or intended audience. It's all about quality.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:47 PM on June 5 [19 favorites]


The idea that "literary" fiction does not provide entertainment or emotional satisfaction.

My bad, I probably should have included a "for me" in there. And there is literary fiction I enjoy and that I derive emotional satisfaction from, it's just frequently such a slog to find it. I dutifully read every single piece of short fiction featured in the New Yorker for the two or three years I had a subscription. I can count the number of times I was genuinely moved or entertained on one hand. (The non-fiction and poetry, on the other hand, made it all worth it.) I give literary fiction a try at least a few times a year, based on reviews from book blogs and best-of lists, and generally end up setting it aside in favor of something else. Given limited time and energy, I pick the genre or YA book that I'm fairly certain I'll like, or at least find unoffensive to read, over the literary book that I struggle to maintain interest in for weeks. I don't know, maybe I'm just really bad at finding literary fiction that aligns with my interests and tastes. Non-fiction is a safer bet for me when I want a break from "lighter" reads.
posted by yasaman at 5:59 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


I must be doing it wrong. The last YA anthology I picked up was on the basis of a list of authors whose adult short stories I liked.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:05 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


It seems things have swung from "YA is acceptable for adults to read" to "YA should be treated with the same level of seriousness and given accolades on par with traditional literary fiction"

I'm sure you can do all sorts of meta-analysis on things like twilight, hunger games or harry potter within the context of modern culture and such, but at face value they're not that deep. There's nothing wrong with that, but you can't really read much more out of the text beyond what's presented.
posted by Ferreous at 6:11 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Isn't this just part of the same cultural trajectory that has grown-ass adults playing videogames, watching cartoons and playing dressup at comic conventions? I honestly can't tell the difference between a 17-year-old's tumblr/twitter feed and a 35-year-old's anymore. What happened? My mother certainly wasn't into the same stuff I was into when I was 17.

Maybe your mom wasn't, but before she went and got religious, my mom was the only one in the household who actually beat Secret of Mana. My dad was the one who brought all the pulpy sci-fi books into our house, and the first computers, including the games. And that generation was kind of the first people for whom this kind of media consumption was ever possible, so, no, my 90-year-old grandparents weren't into that sort of thing, but they didn't have the general habit of being into video games and comic books and animation as children to continue it into adulthood. But my grandmother's really into knitting and so's my mother and so am I, so some stuff has always been the same. Why should other things we enjoy necessarily have huge generational divides?

I mean, maybe you don't see many retirees doing convention cosplay, but historical reenactment, which is basically just history cosplay, has been a thing since the Middle Ages. Nothing's really changed that much about the sort of things people like.
posted by Sequence at 6:20 PM on June 5 [17 favorites]


There is a world that's not just Mcdonald's and Olive Garden but that little Ethiopian spot with that weird soury spongy bread.

bfootdav, for an avowed culture snob and postmodernist, you seem to have missed the big cultural conversations in the past five years about white hipsters fetishizing ~authentic ethnic restaurants as a way to differentiate themselves from the mall-going chaff (ie, their families and socioeconomic class of origin). There are a lot of interesting essays about touting your taste as a consumer as a new class marker; you might want to check them out. But seriously, if you think you are special and urbane because you know what injera is and can name-drop David Foster Wallace, you need a reality check. Good grief.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 6:23 PM on June 5 [20 favorites]


On Monday, I had a patron come into my library. The day before, she had picked up one of her son's books at random, the first in the Heroes of Olympus books he had brought home for summer reading, and ended up reading the entire thing. She had me locate the next two in the series, which I found and checked out to her.

Today, she came back in, had me search our library system for the fourth (most recent) book in our system, put a hold on it when I found it in the next town over, and call the library in question to let them know she was coming to pick it up. She probably has the book in hand now and is deep into the adventures of Percy Jackson. She will probably be back on Saturday for the prequels.

Thanks to YA, a mom who is normally likely too busy to read anything beyond a magazine in a waiting room read four fucking books in a week. What's more, she made fucking time to read. She sat down and made up for the fact that one in four adults have not read a book in the past year. She put those people on her tab. She read four books for herself in a week.

Look, I get the whole reading snobbery thing. I look mournfully at my suggested book displays that go untouched while Patterson's PATTERSON by PATTERSON goes out the door by the armful. But then I check myself - these people are fucking readers. They borrow books, they buy books, because reading is something they want to do. Who the hell am I to tell them they're doing it wrong? My job is to make sure there's another book waiting for them, to make sure there is an option for all tastes on the shelves, because they are coming back to read more.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:27 PM on June 5 [37 favorites]


I'm already embarrassed enough about what I read.
posted by cherrybounce at 6:32 PM on June 5


I am an adult and I just read Tuck Everlasting for the first time in my life. I feel that I gained a better understanding from the novel as an adult than I would have as a young adult.

The late and great Maurice Sendak recently said to Colbert "I don't write for children. I write, and then someone says 'That's for children.'"
posted by donut_princess at 6:33 PM on June 5 [15 favorites]


Pretty much all genre fiction is written at a level that a Junior High School student would be able to read and fully comprehend already. The only thing that seems to make a book YA is that the main character is a child/teenager (in the same way that if a book features a robot it will get classified as science fiction I guess).

Harry Potter is a fantasy series that by virtue of the main character being a child/teenager is YA. Hunger Games is a scifi series (dystopian future = science fiction) that by virtue of the main characters being a child/teenager is YA. Twilight I understand to be a romance/horror series, that by virtue of the main characters being teenagers is YA. If we follow this then something like Ender's Game would by YA as well

It is foolish to single out Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, or some other YA novel for having horrible prose, shallow characters or pat resolutions because they are no worse than genre stalwarts like Foundation, Dune, or whatever Dan Brown or Tom Clancy are putting out. If genre fiction is well written (and that means more than having an interesting plot), or the author has a certain reputation then it gets called literary fiction but that seems to be the distinction.

Never Let Me Go, Midnight's Children, and The Handmaid's Tale are all works of science fiction that have been instead classified as literary fiction. Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill a Mockingbird all have young main characters, making them works of YA, but are classified as literary fiction. I would submit that much of William Gibson's work is literary fiction that has instead been classified as scifi.

The sad fact of my existence is that I presently only get 15 minute reading blocks, so if I do any reading at all its got to be genre fiction, otherwise books just become their plots and then I may as well be reading genre fiction anyway.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:40 PM on June 5 [6 favorites]


I used to work at a legal publishing company. It was nerd central - cardboard cutout figures of Aragorn in cubicles, people would smirk if a manager mentioned the number 42, etc. One guy in our department was a bit scoffing of some of this and then he hit a task for a few weeks that involving clicking after a page loaded, and then again after a few minutes. Utter tedium. In desperation he took the first Harry Potter book. One day later he was back at the cube he got it from "goddamn you people, you didn't tell me this shit was as addicting as crack." And he took the second book. When he left the company for another job he suggested that he might just apparate.

Hell, a good yarn is a good yarn. I have no gripes about adults reading YA. It's gotta be better than reading another Dan Brown book.
posted by Ber at 6:44 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


It's gotta be better than reading another Dan Brown book.

This is the prose equivalent of "better than a kick in the teeth".
posted by mr. digits at 6:49 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


Yeah it's kind of a false equivalency saying "well standard bestseller YA is better than Dan Brown!" No shit, most YA is probably better than Danielle Steel too.
posted by Ferreous at 6:54 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Also, I do not get this concept of reading being an unalloyed good. I guess if you are a librarian or bookseller you want people reading regardless, but if someone has the time to read a Harry Potter book in a day, they could spend it on a better book.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:54 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


And down the cliff we went. It was a poisonous day. Every now and again the wind would take a rest from pressing us to the wall, and try to pull us off it instead. We would grab together and sit then, making a bigger person’s weight that it could not remove. The sea was gray with white dabs of temper all over it; the sky hung full of ragged strips of cloud.

We spilled out onto the sand. You can fetch sea-hearts two ways. You can go up the tide wrack; you will find more there, but they will be harder, drier for lying there, and many of them dead. You can still eat them, but they will take more cooking and, unless your mam boils them through the night, more chewing. They are altogether more difficult.

Those of us whose mams had sighed or dads had smacked their heads for bringing that sort went down toward the water. Grinny ran ahead and picked up the first heart, but nobody raced him; hearts lay all along the sea-shined sand there, plenty for all our families. They do not keep, once collected. They can lie drying in the tide wrack for days and still be tolerable eating, but put them in a house and they’ll do any number of awful things: collapse in a smell, sprout white fur, explode themselves across your pantry shelf. So there is no point grabbing up more than your mam can use.
-Margo Lanagan, "The Brides of Rollrock Island."

It's easy to read the most popular books and decide that YA is uniformly badly, woodenly written; it's also incorrect.
posted by Jeanne at 6:57 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


Yeah, of all the bad arguments in favor of ignoring books for grown-ups in favor of books for children, the worst has to be "At least people are reading!" If you are a grown-ass human being, it is better to watch a movie by Agnes Varda than read Stephanie Meyers. It is better to listen to the music of Sofia Gubiadulina than to read Dan Brown (listen like sit down and pay attention, not have it in the background while you do chores). It is better to play Gone Home than to read Harry Potter. A medium is not magic. All that matters is content.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:00 PM on June 5 [4 favorites]


And yet magical names are invoked!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:08 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


The thing about terrible books is that they can sometimes take you to amazing places. I have had profound experiences watching shitty movies, because something in them set off echoes in my brain that were haunting. That effect was probably entirely unintentional on the part of the director, but art works that way so much of the time, even when it's badly done. And most YA is no more badly done than most adult genre fiction. Who knows what people are getting out of it? Maybe nothing more than reading a cereal box, or wank-fodder, or dreams of wealth and power. Maybe it's a spiritual feast they badly need because it hits something deep in them. I don't know, so I don't judge.

And I also wanted to remind people that adults a few decades ago did things like join secret society lodges that involved rituals and funny hats. They read joke books. They played pranks. The "serious adults were serious" idea is a myth.

My parents had parties that involved indecent gag-gifts, much drunkeness, and cut-throat domino games. My mom played Bunko, a drunken gabfest masquerading as a dice game, with her woman friends. She also frequently colored in my coloring books as a relaxer.

In fact, nothing is less mature than an adult who is constantly worried about how mature other people think they are.
posted by emjaybee at 7:28 PM on June 5 [4 favorites]


The more I read "best-sellers!", the more I want to retreat into history and old classics, works where the writer was a writer, not some dude trying to hustle a movie deal.

Having said that, I have written some Twilight fan fiction. It might not be what you expect.
posted by SPrintF at 7:46 PM on June 5


What a pretentious piece of shit article. I'll read/wear/drink/watch whatever I damn well like.
posted by odinsdream at 7:59 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


I'm assuming that YA is what they used to call 'juveniles.'

I think there are possibly more rewarding things to read as an adult than juvenile fiction, but a) do what thou wilt and b) what the hell do I know? I spend probably 6 hours a week playing video games.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:05 PM on June 5


They only want you when you're seventeen. When you're twenty-one, you're no fun.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 8:10 PM on June 5 [7 favorites]


Genre fiction? Why let Literary Fiction off the hook? My current default is to judge anything by an MFAer as guilty until proven innocent.

I'm also inclined to wait a few years before touching stuff at all. Just to let the tide wash away the faddy bits.

Which, paradoxically, makes it easier to read genre fiction, so long as the author isn't too slovenly. I'm past life's half way mark, I'll take the odd cheap pleasure.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:20 PM on June 5 [4 favorites]


I'm from Vermont, I'll read what I want! (OK, I'm not, but you get the idea.)
posted by evilDoug at 8:22 PM on June 5


I have read both Infinite Jest and The Fault In Our Stars (and Hamlet and The Hunger Games and The Crucible and yes even fucking Twilight and much much more).

I contain multitudes.
posted by jasperella at 8:24 PM on June 5 [11 favorites]


I remember very vividly a scene from my 12th Grade Honors English Class. We had a 15 minute period, in the Third Period of the day, that was called DEAR: Drop Everything And Read.

Lydia, one of the top students in the school, pulled out a ragged library copy of 'Little House on the Prairie'. The teacher immediately criticized her reading choice as immature and a waste of time. Lydia immediately went into a rant.

"Look. I'm in all Honors classes. I'm having to read Dickens for English, the History of Spain for History, The Constitution for Civics, my Calculus homework, and conduct complex experiments in Advanced Physics. I'm also on the Debate Team, where I'm having to research Federal Agricultural policies. And write Admission Essays for the Ivy League schools I'm applying to. I need a break! So, I'm reading 'Little House on the Prairie'." She kicked back her legs and continued reading about Pa scolding Half-Pint for some infraction, while the rest of us dutifully slogged through 'Oliver Twist'.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:31 PM on June 5 [16 favorites]


if someone has the time to read a Harry Potter book in a day, they could spend it on a better book

no really, the subliterate troglodytes that comprise metafilter are all agog for your instruction
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 8:35 PM on June 5 [9 favorites]


I'd love to see the graph that plots out those who think adults shouldn't read YA fiction, and adults who enjoy Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, Friday Night Lights, or the brilliant Misfits. I'd love to know what that overlap is.
posted by Hildegarde at 8:37 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


I am embarrassed by (mostly) nothing (that I will admit to)! And certainly not young adult literature which I both love and mock in equal measure.
posted by triage_lazarus at 8:38 PM on June 5


Yes yes yes,

Go and pick up some Dostoyevsky, some Hardy, some Pynchon. Read something that will make you smarter, not more stupid.
posted by LarryC at 8:50 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Isn't this just part of the same cultural trajectory that has grown-ass adults playing videogames, watching cartoons and playing dressup at comic conventions? I honestly can't tell the difference between a 17-year-old's tumblr/twitter feed and a 35-year-old's anymore. What happened? My mother certainly wasn't into the same stuff I was into when I was 17. I mean, people can do/like whatever they want, it's just a confounding trend.

How old were the people who made the stuff you were into when you were 17? Probably your mom's age.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:51 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


Some folks are just really heavily invested in looking down their noses at what other people enjoy.

Or, put another way:

DON'T TELL ME HOW TO LIVE MY LIFE!!!
posted by wabbittwax at 9:39 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


In this day and age, we shouldn't shame anyone for reading books.
posted by TheMadStork at 9:42 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


I love reading. Right now I'm reading Judith Tarr's Three Lives, a YA fantasy about a trio of girls living in the far future, the now, and ancient Egypt. And when I'm done, I'll pick up The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng, which won the Booker Prize, and is set in Malaysia after WWII.

And reading the one will not have damaged in any way my ability to appreciate, and understand, the other.

I don't see why it's so important to pee in other people's Cheerios, sometimes.
posted by suelac at 9:57 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


DON'T TELL ME HOW TO LIVE MY LIFE!!!

I read that a long time ago and loved it. But I picked up again recently and it honestly felt a bit juvenile.
posted by philip-random at 10:03 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


it is better to watch a movie by Agnes Varda than read Stephanie Meyers. It is better to listen to the music of Sofia Gubiadulina than to read Dan Brown

Better for what? Better for relaxation, better for enjoyment? Better for self-improvement? Better for "building character"? Better for making someone more well-rounded? Better for making them less snobby?

It is "better" to feed the hungry and help the sick than to do any of those things. It's better to plant a garden than read a book. It's better to write angry letters to shitty politicians than to write trashy fanfic. If we're going to get into what has always seemed like sort of the opposite of the Oppression Olympics, well, not one of the things you do with your free time, not one of them, ever comes even close to winning the Nobel Prize For Most Virtuous Use Of Leisure Hours.

Me, I think it's better to spend time reading Dan Brown than to spend time judging how other people spend their free time. Not a one of us is up for canonization, and it's not because we haven't been reading the right books.
posted by mstokes650 at 10:18 PM on June 5 [10 favorites]


can we honestly say that bestseller adult genre fiction is any more difficult or higher quality than YA?

Exactly.

However, I must admit, (almost?) every time I read a YA book I think it wasn't that good or I wasted my time.

I mean, have you actually sat down and read Twilight? It's like a fucking 11 year old wrote that. And it was a bona fide publishing phenomenon.

FTFA: "Let’s set aside the transparently trashy stuff like Divergent and Twilight"

but ... "Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple."

Generally true. Also, there's no hot sex.

"From The Mixed Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" is sweeping the nation.

Mixed Up Files, like Westing Game (referenced in TFA), Bridge to Terabithia, Mrs. Frisby, and the Phantom Tollbooth are not YA. Those are aged 8-12. I mean, you may as well throw The One and Only Ivan in there. There's a 13-year-old girl, but it's not YA. (It is great, however.)

The real YA fiction is Steven King, Harlan Ellison, Last Exit to Brooklyn or shit like The Fourth Angel. Anything loaded with sex and violence and terror. Mainstream YA is mostly bullshit.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:24 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Also, one easy argument for adults reading YA is that parents should be familiar with their kids' content.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:25 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Well, mrgrimm - adults reading YA fiction is also ironically an easy argument for actual young adults not reading YA fiction. At least according to most of the young adults I've known.
posted by koeselitz at 10:29 PM on June 5


Of course we can all consume whatever media we want. Of course. It is interesting, though, that for the first time in my life at least, my peer group read more YA fiction than non-YA fiction--it seems YA fiction has to some degree displaced adult genre fiction (you know, airport bookstore books). I don't know if it's good or bad or why it's happening, but it's interesting.

It's also interesting how defensive and angry so many of us are getting about a pretty lame, innocuous Slate clickbate [sp.] piece:. Ain't nobody gone tell me what to read, nossiree!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:38 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


(ftr, I have no interest in youth culture at all and, as a former youth who would have immediately abandoned any aspects of my preferred cultural milieu the minute I saw a 41-year-old dude approaching, I think it's best to leave the kids' stuff to the kids. They deserve some shit of their own.)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:39 PM on June 5


I found an audio book of Ulysses by James Joyce, thinking it was a different translation of, well, The Odyssey. You can probably imagine how puzzled I was when I started listening to it.

After I watched Studio Ghibli's take on Howl's Moving Castle I went and read the novel that inspired it. I wasn't an adult then, but... Stories aren't exactly well-defined opaque things, are they? They're translucent and multi-faceted, and every person that comes to one is equipped with experiences that offer a different line of sight through the thing.

People see different things and their reactions to what they see has about as much variety. I find Terry Prachett's humour and whimsy exhausting in large doses but I can easily accept that for some people, it's what they like to read on a daily basis.
posted by aroweofshale at 10:48 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


(Note: I do like reading Terry Prachett.)
posted by aroweofshale at 10:49 PM on June 5


It sounds like another part of the increasingly common infantilization of adulthood (or perhaps extension of childhood), rather than a unique phenomena. You see 35 year old men and women dressing in effectively the same way they did when they were teens. You see them living at home with their elderly parents, just as they did in their teens. Is it any wonder that some of them continue to consume the same level/kind of media they always have?

Of course everyone has the right to read whatever they like, but I do think it is sad when the only literature some adults want to consume is that originally aimed at 14 year olds.
posted by modernnomad at 10:51 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Interesting fact apropos of very little:

It fascinates me that people don't consider James Joyce's Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man YA literature. On the one hand, sure, there's a lot going on in there, and I think that there are probably more literary themes to think about than your average 14 year old is going to get out of picking it up and letting it wash over her.

On the other hand? No other single book has reminded me more of being an actual teenager than Portrait. I'm honestly shocked that we wasted time reading The Dubliners in high school. Which is a great collection of stories, don't get me wrong. But I'm pretty sure that teen years are the years to get exposed to the real Joyce via Portrait. In fact a part of me thinks that, if we threw that at high school freshmen or sophomores, we could just push them off the deep end into Ulysses and they'd probably do better with it than most adults do approaching it as Big Serious Literature.

I'll never forget the time I read Moby Dick on vacation and gave myself permission to just treat it as a page-turner. Are there themes I probably missed? Sure, but I'm better equipped to go back and revisit them now than I was when I approached it as Srs Bsns.
posted by Sara C. at 10:53 PM on June 5 [4 favorites]


I read Portrait in a 10th grade English class. Didn't appreciate Joyce, though, until I got into Dubliners the next year.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:55 PM on June 5


Maybe you just need to read two Joyce things to get him. I was down with Dubliners and all, but it ended there for my high school Joycening. I later re-read Dubliners on a long-ass train ride. Shortly thereafter, I came across Portrait in a used bookstore. Maybe it doesn't matter what order you find Joyce, as long as you give him enough of a chance.
posted by Sara C. at 11:03 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


I kinda buy that theory
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:03 PM on June 5


Also, I do not get this concept of reading being an unalloyed good.

It hasn't always been the case. (PDF)
posted by empath at 11:12 PM on June 5


stavrosthewonderchicken: I'm assuming that YA is what they used to call 'juveniles.'

Actually, no -- which is really interesting.

When I was a kid there were two sections in the children's room of the public library: J (Juveniles) and YPL (Young People's Literature). YPL seemed to be middle-grade to early high school (e.g. Rifles For Waitie), while J was younger than that and topped out at around The Hardy Boys. The actual publishing category now referred to by the term YA didn't seem to exist.

YA as a descriptive term seems to mean mostly books aimed at high schoolers (maybe precocious eighth graders), focused primarily on interpersonal youth experience -- high school romance, high school heartbreak, people of high school age in fantasy societies dealing with metaphorical versions of high school angst. A lot of the enthusiasm for YA comes from young people in that age bracket who want books that take the emotions that wrack & perplex them seriously. There was an article about Twilight in which a 13 year old girl said that Harry Potter was fun, but that vampire romance series just felt deeper, more real, more powerful. I didn't like those books but I completely sympathized with what she was reacting to.

Of course I am biased, but I think a good example is Phoebe North's Starglass. It's a fine SF generation-ship tale with great world-building, but the focus of the storytelling is on its main character's feelings, how she feels about the people she has relationships with, how she feels about those feelings; plot developments serve to put her in difficult situations that evoke complex, conflicting feelings, and they're recognizably teenaged reactions (a middle-aged guy on the same spaceship wouldn't be so tormented about so many objectively "small" things). If you don't have, or can't care about, that depth of emotion, you'll have a hard time really enjoying it. But if you do, it's satisfying in a way that Harry Potter isn't.

Even if you broaden the genre of YA, you still have something different than My Side Of The Mountain, From The Mixed-Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or So You Want To Be A Wizard?. I think the latter books would be called MG (Middle Grade) nowadays. They pay attention to how the child protagonist feels, of course, but their focus is on what happens and what those characters get to do.

When we were young, the assumption was that once you got past actual kid's books, you'd just start reading (accessible) grown-up books. This doesn't mean Joyce and Updike, of course; I remember being really into Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt adventure novels. YA as a genre seems to have gotten its start (The Outsiders, etc.) with books for troubled kids & reluctant readers who didn't make that leap, and wanted stories which addressed their lived experience. It's broadened well beyond Problem Novels (thank heavens), but still seems rooted in a concern for the internal traumas of adolescence.

As you can probably tell, I still read all this stuff ... and Pynchon and Rushdie too. I guess I feel like I finished becoming who I am around age 11, and everything since has been amassing wisdom and life skills. So I can still tap into the wishes being fulfilled in Middle Grade books. True YA is actually a bigger stretch for me; I kind of skipped high school emotionally, so reading them really is "learning" and "growth"!
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:56 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


Two things.

First, it kinda breaks my heart to read all the comments in a thread on YA literature and people's tastes and not see a comment from jessamyn.

Second, in the two years I've read more YA than just about any time prior to the age of fourteen, solely due to NPR's Your Picks: Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books list and my desire to make sure there were no holes in my reading background and to also re-read so many of those books that fascinated me during my younger years and see how they look now to my older brain.

In conclusion, life's too fucking short to give a fat rat's ass about what everyone else is into, unless they're trying to force you to follow their lead. Then you have my permission to get stabby*.

*Not really
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 12:03 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


mostly books aimed at high schoolers (maybe precocious eighth graders)

Eh, I mostly read these in upper elementary/middle school (maybe fourth through seventh grades). I was a somewhat advanced reader, but honestly by the time I was in actual high school I was just reading... books. Not books marketed to young adults specifically.

To me the core YA market has always seemed to be kids slightly younger than the protagonists in the books. By the time I was a tween, I wanted to read about kids who were older than me, and maybe having slightly more dramatic or racier adventures. I think this is why the later Harry Potter books were so popular among the series' core demographic of 9-12 year olds. By the time the kids who'd started with the early, very juvenile, books got to the later titles, they were ready to read about kissing and death and the like, even though they were probably still a few years younger than Harry et al.

When I was in high school, I mostly read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, A Confederacy Of Dunces, gothy horror-ish stuff like Ann Rice, science fiction (oh, so much Pern), and occasionally further reading by authors I discovered in English class like Salinger, Jane Austen, and Maya Angelou.

I am frankly more worried about teenagers sticking with YA lit forever than I am worried about grown adults returning to it.
posted by Sara C. at 12:07 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]


You see 35 year old men and women... living at home with their elderly parents, just as they did in their teens.

I'm sure that has absolutely nothing to do with the terrible economy, high unemployment and soaring costs of living. It's definitely just because they're lazy and childish. /hamburger.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 12:20 AM on June 6 [16 favorites]


Actually, no -- which is really interesting.

I thank you for the clarification!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:25 AM on June 6


Sara C.: To me the core YA market has always seemed to be kids slightly younger than the protagonists in the books. By the time I was a tween, I wanted to read about kids who were older than me

I think you're absolutely right. Growing up, you read about things that might happen to you in order to prepare for them, in some way (not literally).

When I hear some parent complain that their 17-year-old kid shouldn't be reading novels in English class with sex and drugs and bad words and fucked-up situations in them, I always think "In ONE YEAR your baby will be off at college and doing all those things. What's the problem of grappling with those issues in a book now??"
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:28 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]


In conclusion, life's too fucking short to give a fat rat's ass about what everyone else is into

But, you just referenced a top 100 list of books voted in by 60,000 people for a popular website!

*head asplodes*
posted by FJT at 12:33 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


I don't know which side of the argument I come down on. On one hand, I do shy away from YA stuff, and when I've read it, I agree with the author that it can be eye-rolling. On the other hand, The Hobbit was intended as an actual children's book, and I think there's a real chance that The Lord of the Rings would get a YA today. And I would like to think that if I hadn't already read The Lord of the Rings, it would be ok for me to do so.

I think it stems from a problem of definition. Some of it's written for teens, with low difficulty and a teen mindset, and that kind of thing really isn't fit for adults. But a lot of books get stuck in there for the reason of 'I think teens will like this and it doesn't have too much sex or graphic violence'. Which is why I think The Lord of the Rings would end up in there today (also, it seems like sci-fi and especially fantasy novels are likely to get stuck with the label). So I think some stuff at least deserves consideration.

Also, to be fair, a lot of adult stuff is trashier, more immature, and less difficult than the better YA stuff. And one thing adult literature is far more likely to be than YA lit is really, really boring. That may account for some of the popularity resurgence of YA lit among adults.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:35 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]


When I hear some parent complain that their 17-year-old kid shouldn't be reading novels in English class with sex and drugs and fucked-up situations in them, I always think "In ONE YEAR your baby will be off at college and doing all those things. What's the problem of grappling with those issues in a book now??"

Are you kidding? Plenty of teenagers not yet 17 are dealing with things like sex (and sexual assault) and drugs (and addiction) and so on and so forth. YA tends, in my experience, to be a lot tamer than the actual experience of being a teenager ever was, but I find that it has an element of being sort of a safe space to deal with those issues without, usually, getting so deep into it as to be distressing.
posted by Sequence at 12:36 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


but honestly by the time I was in actual high school I was just reading... books. Not books marketed to young adults specifically.

This was my experience as well.

Though marketing tends to go in one ear and out the other in my case, so I don't have any concept of what YA really encompasses. I try to define YA in my head, I get a huge blank. It just seems so ... unspecific.
posted by aroweofshale at 12:39 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


I'm sure that has absolutely nothing to do with the terrible economy, high unemployment and soaring costs of living. It's definitely just because they're lazy and childish. /hamburger.


I wasn't suggesting that the only reason they were living at home was because they were lazy or childish. What I meant was simply that the goalposts of what acceptable "adulthood" is in North American (and largely white) culture have shifted. You can see it in movies, in fashion, in books, and yes, in socially acceptable responses to obtaining only low-paying jobs in a difficult economy. It's not like 2008 was the first major recession North America saw.

This type of thing is nothing new, sociologically speaking. "Teenager" as an identifiable, distinct life-age between childhood and adulthood is a 20th century concept. What we're seeing now is an extension of those teenage years well into adulthood, often into people's 30s.
posted by modernnomad at 12:40 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]


modernnomad: What we're seeing now is an extension of those teenage years well into adulthood, often into people's 30s.

Well, which do you consider more of an adult? A 2010 social worker with a bachelors' degree that doesn't make enough after student loans to get their own place, or a 1950 high-school dropout who does uneducated labor in a factory, but can afford to buy a house? There's more than one signifier of adulthood.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:48 AM on June 6 [6 favorites]


Sequence: Plenty of teenagers not yet 17 are dealing with things like sex (and sexual assault) and drugs (and addiction) and so on and so forth.

Sure -- but even if those book-banning parents really have been successful at protecting their own precious babies from all that, they're about to send them off into the big scary world. And yet they think ignorance and a Pollyanna mindset are better shields for a young person than giving them the chance to think in advance about the issues they'll be facing. It reminds me of abstinence sex ed.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:48 AM on June 6


I am always fascinated by people's ideas of what it is suitable for others to read. As a middle school English teacher, I often run into people's expectations of what I should be teaching, and usually it's based on an incorrect and fuzzy memory of what they read themselves (most people think their children should be forced to read the things they read, which they didn't like at all but felt were Important).

Many of my students don't like to read, period. I'm happy if those kids are reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Others love to read the appalling glut of series books that are out there. But kids who read become more fluent readers, and there is hope that they will eventually develop better taste. Even if they don't, at least they will have some recourse besides reality TV or sports, and something to do when the cheap cost of power is no longer a given in a post-hydrocarbon world.

When I was the age of my students, I read an awful lot of adult literature, mostly because it made me feel important, smart, and gloomy, but I also read a great deal of science fiction and (no lie) the Bobbsey Twins and the Boxcar Children when I was feeling particularly low. Now I read everything from Moby Dick and Middlemarch to Pratchett's YA novels and Patrick Rothfuss. Middlemarch is a delightful potboiler, BTW. I would periodically say, "No, Fred! Don't do it!" as I was reading it.

I bloody hate the idea that literature should be medicine, and I don't see why I should have to read about people I don't like at all, people doing things I find pointless, in parts of the world that rapidly become banal as I get to know them. The New Yorker's stories often make me terribly impatient for that reason.
posted by Peach at 1:03 AM on June 6 [5 favorites]


Lit as medicine?
Lit as escape?

Hmm.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:09 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure most people read whatever they read because they, you know, enjoy it.

I don't think this is true for everyone, though.

I know that there are lots of people who read literary fiction who enjoy it. My mom is one - she reads insatiably, and she obviously enjoys a lot of the literary fiction she chooses. I'd never say that she only reads it because she feels she has to.

That said, we don't just read because we think it's fun independent of any outside pressure. We also read because our culture values reading, and being well-read has status in some social circles. What kinds of reading are valued is also dependent on our culture; see the early disdain for the novel as an example of how this can change.

This Slate writer is only sharpening and making explicit our belief that reading such books is Good For You. It seems self-evidently true to her, and apparently to some in this thread - but it is in fact incredibly culturally dependent. To me, this seems like a blind spot.

Right now, I'm living in a city where almost no one reads. There is one small, decent bookstore in this city of 400,000; it caters to tourists and expats. I never see anyone else with a book, and if I'm reading, people assume it's for work--even the college students. I don't think that the people here should be reading, much less reading a certain type of book. There are plenty of ways to grow as a person, and it would probably seem kind of funny that growing should be such a solitary activity.

So, tl;dr, there absolutely is cultural pressure to read certain types of books. That's not to say no one would enjoy those books otherwise--obvs, people can enjoy lots of things. However, I don't enjoy them; I feel little connection. Yet, their value in my culture means that if I don't read them, some people will judge. That's why I referred to them as "unpleasant cultural medicine"--because other people have constructed them as a thing that is Good For You that you must take, even if you don't like it.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:04 AM on June 6


I actually started reading YA in the last few years when I wanted "serious fiction" with exactly the same kind of serious, complex morals and ending that this author claims YA lacks.

Of course there is YA that lacks moral ambiguity and complexity, and non-pat endings. But there is also just as much (or more) adult fiction that lacks these things.

some of the titles I've read that were certainly not easy, simple books

Sprout - great, complex writing (really playing with narrative form) and the least pat ending I've read (in years? ever? It is so ambiguous that I kept wanting to talk to people about it - if you've read it, please memail me)

Almost Perfect - less ambiguous ending, but still far from pat - and definitely not a simple, perfectly likeable protagonist

Boy Toy - one of the most morally complex books, YA or adult, that I've ever read
posted by jb at 2:37 AM on June 6


Much of the article reminds me of the propaganda the infants in Brave New World are subjected to. To paraphrase "I'm Alpha, not like those foolish Betas" or what have you. The author seems hostage to the niche marketing of our age and apparently doesn't know it... don't let us be ruled by our status anxiety. Throughout the ages reading fiction of any kind has at times been decried by the serious-minded and status-aware, and still is! Not just YA and not just genre. Try sitting through one of Shakespeare's sillier comedies with your serious-minded status-conscious friends who are doing the done thing but have no context and/or imagination, and try to explain all the jokes, I dare you.

C.S. Lewis famously said “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” And his mate Tolkien said various things about the only people who objected to escapism being gaolers, (or jailers if they write for Slate magazine, obviously).

Don't fence me in baby, I won't have it.
posted by Coaticass at 3:28 AM on June 6 [15 favorites]


Beautiful quote, Coaticass! Thanks. It's good to read something like that after a thread of dodging subtle and not-so-subtle hints that my reading choices indicate that I, as a person, am stupid, and that I am only going to get more stupid if I don't listen to the likes of LarryC and cease catering to my own tastes.

So wow yes it's nice to be grown up enough to embrace the person I've become. I'm a librarian, and I don't have any particular need to defend my tastes to anyone, on Slate or here, but I don't see how anyone can slam fellow Metafilter readers for not being willing to educate themselves enough. There are few sites on the internet that have broadened my horizons the way this place has - and yet here we are, some of us being told by others to better ourselves or else face stunted personal growth...?

Personally I would like the selection of what people talk about when they discuss "YA" to expand beyond a few bestsellers. It feels a bit like judging all non-YA literature ever by whatever is available in a small airport bookstore.
posted by harujion at 4:00 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


I am a children's librarian. You should see some of the complex, beautiful, serious writing that comprises middle grade (4-6) fiction these days. Really, really good books.

Oh, and Harry Potter isn't YA, is it? Every library I've ever worked at has had it in the children's room.
posted by Biblio at 4:05 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


Here is Forever Young Adult's reaction to the article. Nice and juvenile, as is their wont. But it's a great site for learning more about YA media from an adult perspective. They review books, recap YAish TV shows, and recommend YA movies, and they have various pro-YA manifestos sprinkled throughout the site. It's a very positive site and extremely quirky, but endearing in its own special way. Lots to explore here. Enjoy!
posted by danabanana at 4:17 AM on June 6


I think Harry Potter starts out as middle grade but gets more YA-y as it goes on, since they grow up with the protagonists.
posted by NoraReed at 4:26 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


You see them living at home with their elderly parents, just as they did in their teens.

You are aware that the nuclear family is a historical anomaly 20th century industrialization, are you not?
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:38 AM on June 6 [5 favorites]


I'll read/wear/drink/watch whatever I damn well like.

Adults can read whatever the hell they want.

Fuck you, Slate. I'll read what I want.

It must be very tiring to go through life in a constant state of rage against people exhorting you to do certain things as opposed to others. Do you shout at the New York Times Book Review each week? Do you go to the Barnes and Noble philosophy section and yell at all the ethics books? What about signs on doors that say "push"?

Of course you can read what you want. This article seeks to persuade you that you should read certain things rather than others in your presumably finite reading time. The interesting way to disagree with it is surely to explain why you think YA possesses the qualities the author thinks it lacks. A chorus of "You're not the boss of me!" on the other hand could almost be seen as supporting evidence for her point.
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:09 AM on June 6 [12 favorites]


It must be tiring to go through a long comment thread and only read fractions of each comment just so you can be snide, ignoring the parts where people explain their reasoning. But hey, I'm not the boss of you.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:14 AM on June 6 [11 favorites]


ignoring the parts where people explain their reasoning

As mentioned in my comment upthread, I have found these parts greatly interesting. I continue to do so. They may even prompt me to explore more YA fiction than I have done. I was objecting to the theme in this thread that I find objectionable, rather than to all the ones I do not.
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:17 AM on June 6


Of course you can read what you want. This article seeks to persuade you that you should read certain things rather than others in your presumably finite reading time. The interesting way to disagree with it is surely to explain why you think YA possesses the qualities the author thinks it lacks. A chorus of "You're not the boss of me!" on the other hand could almost be seen as supporting evidence for her point.

Yeah I was expecting total Slate clickbait but the author makes her case in fairly well-reasoned, specific terms, and the MeFi defensiveness-to-11 response isn't exactly confidence-inspiring.
It’s not simply that YA readers are asked to immerse themselves in a character’s emotional life—that’s the trick of so much great fiction—but that they are asked to abandon the mature insights into that perspective that they (supposedly) have acquired as adults. When chapter after chapter in Eleanor & Park ends with some version of “He’d never get enough of her,” the reader seems to be expected to swoon. But how can a grown-up, even one happy to be reminded of the shivers of first love, not also roll her eyes?
posted by crayz at 5:28 AM on June 6 [4 favorites]


This article seeks to persuade you that you should read certain things rather than others in your presumably finite reading time.
Actually, the author has clarified on Twitter that she's not opposed to guilty pleasures. She just thinks people should feel guilty about them. And I actually do think it's a little weird to be so emphatic about people feeling guilty about things that don't hurt anyone and make them happy, and I think that's something she may want to unpack, possibly with the help of a therapist. It's like the Catholic Church wanting people to do penance for masturbating. Seriously: why do you care?

It was mostly a pretty dumb, shallow article that was meant to piss people off, and apparently it accomplished its mission. But I prefer to discuss the YA phenomenon with someone who shows me that they're smart by saying smart, thoughtful things, not by declaring that they're smart because they read the correct smart-people books.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:36 AM on June 6 [8 favorites]


Genre fiction? Why let Literary Fiction off the hook? My current default is to judge anything by an MFAer as guilty until proven innocent.

Literary fiction is a genre too. If you wanted to be mean about it, you could say it panders to the reader's desire to feel smart or discerning or something.

It's funny to me that they're attacking YA right at this moment. I'm going to guess that there's been more crap marketed under that label in the past few years than ever before-- but it's also starting to drop off. Market saturation to be sure but that can't be all of it. (More people are reaching the targeted age every day.) But just for now, YA is a really soft target for someone looking to start the genre wars up again. If you looked on the YA ("Teen") shelves at Barnes & Noble there were an incredible number of nearly identical series. But they are shrinking rapidly and stores are not modeled even for stuff that was selling last year. It'll be interesting to see how it shakes out.

With romance, cozy mysteries and trashy thrillers, on the other hand, I have seen no comparable weeding out. There's always weeding out and repositioning going on, just not on this scale.
posted by BibiRose at 5:45 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


It is utterly absurd to judge reading material by genre.

There are good books in every genre, and there is trash in every genre.
I can show you a YA book that has more depth and value than some of the adult romance novels. Comic books are for children, for younger than YA books, right? Yet anyone who claims that Maus should not be read by adults is an ass.

Here is a crazy idea:
Why don't we judge books based on things like writing style, depth of character, plot development, etc.?

Genre is used to catalog books - not to judge them.
posted by Flood at 6:08 AM on June 6 [6 favorites]


I'd love to see the graph that plots out those who think adults shouldn't read YA fiction, and adults who enjoy Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, Friday Night Lights, or the brilliant Misfits. I'd love to know what that overlap is.

I’ll go one further: How many people who think people should feel guilty about enjoying YA because it’s accessible to a younger audience think that adults should also feel guilty about enjoying Calvin and Hobbes?
posted by dinty_moore at 6:11 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


I'm an adult and I read YA voraciously. I've always been a huge reader, and when I was actual YA age I was raiding my parents' bookshelves. I read Gone With the Wind in 7th grade just because it was the longest book I could find in the house, and filled my young mind with plenty of Clan of the Cave Bears and John Jakes smut.

Then I got pretentious and thought the media I consumed in some way made me who I was, and read Infinite Jest and Rushdie and attempted Pynchon. But I no longer believe that my entertainment choices reflect anything about who I am as a person. And I'm secure enough in my self and my intellect (I mean, I'm a research librarian, I basically get paid to be smart and think all day) to allow myself whatever escapism and storytelling floats my boat. And my boat is often teenagers angsting over vampires or possibly saving the world in a dystopian future. I also read a ton of fluffy adult historical fiction with mysteries and circumspect make-outs. It actually takes quite a lot of skill to craft characters an audience cares about and a plot that sweeps you along in the shorter page numbers YA books generally allow. I have two 30 minute train rides a day and maybe half an hour before bed to read each day, what I want a book to do is transport me to imagination land, entertain me, and maybe give me some feelings of some sort. I have no patience for overly verbose prose like Neal Stephenson, and I don't care to read adult fiction about people coming to terms with their families, which seems like the focus of a lot of literary fiction. So that's why this particular adult enjoys YA novels.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:13 AM on June 6 [7 favorites]


the rest of us dutifully slogged through 'Oliver Twist'

Slog? Slog?

He ain't still in print because of high school English classes.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:28 AM on June 6 [8 favorites]


It must be very tiring to go through life in a constant state of rage against people exhorting you to do certain things as opposed to others. Do you shout at the New York Times Book Review each week? Do you go to the Barnes and Noble philosophy section and yell at all the ethics books? What about signs on doors that say "push"?

There is a significant difference between suggesting that you read something because it's good and suggesting that you should feel shameful about reading something else. If people actually got angry about suggestions (and my guess is relatively few people are more than rhetorically angry about even this clickbaity trolling) then we'd have a thread like this every week with people flipping their shit about the NY Times Book Review. And one every time a weekly sales flyer came out with suggestions of things people might want to buy this week. And a series of AskMe's trying to figure out how to get that jerk sommelier to stop suggesting bottles of wine to them.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:31 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


>YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction.

Popular litfic in the past decade or so (obvs not all of it, 'his thoughts were red', is that an Anne Carson reference?) seems to have taken a very strong turn towards mistaking deliberately and often smugly emotionally unsatisfying stories with adult intellectual complexity. For me and a lot of other women who gravitate to YA, these books are a better and imo truer alternative to writers like Philip Roth, Jonathan Franzen-- these lists and lists of repulsive white men who have no redeeming qualities other than mastery of that smug uppermiddleclass boredom, whose garbage we are expected to take seriously as art.

I'm sure mefi remembers "New Yorker Short Story" being used as a pejorative term for a certain kind of literary fiction that completely dominated the market in the late nineties-late-00s before they made a conscious effort to start bringing in more people like Junot Diaz et al. You all remember this right? The forced-cynical stories that all seemed to be about late-capitalist American exhaustion-- all those 'the world is trash, I'm trash, you're trash, gawd, why BOTHER' stories that were almost all about the moral and spiritual collapse/ennui of the American upper and intellectual (white) classes? If anything seemed juvenile, it was that particular litfic zeitgeist-- the incredible smugness and arrogance of assuming that the readers who could find meaning in their lives or art, who had causes or people they were willing to fight for, were just naive, like a middle school sibling telling his elementary school kid sister that there was no Santa Claus. YA was a strong antidote to that kind of emotionally stunted faux-adulthood.

Especially because a lot of the YA I read feels like it has a lot of the same emotional content as Pynchon or Isabel Allende or Joyce. It's a genre that's escaped the oppressive ennui fad of American millenial literary fiction, and I don't think there's any shame to be had there.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 6:34 AM on June 6 [14 favorites]


Look.

I'll use movies as an example.

The Criterion Collection has some seriously powerful stuff in their library. Recently I watched Walkabout and thought... what colossal heights this film has achieved. Olympian heights. However, getting someone I know to watch it, to just sit down and pay attention to something like this, is not going to happen. It's a matter of appetite. People want Funny, or Scary, or Bad Ass, or Intelligent in a story to chew on. Give them something complex, they get bored.

The article is lame to suggest you can't like YA if you're a Serious Adult, you can. The important emphasis is that the appetite of most adult readers is fairly limited, people tend to feast on a narrow range of characters, subject matter, plots, setting, etc.

Also Infinite Jest is not the only non-YA book out there.
posted by Taft at 6:43 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


It must be very tiring to go through life in a constant state of rage against people exhorting you to do certain things as opposed to others. Do you shout at the New York Times Book Review each week? Do you go to the Barnes and Noble philosophy section and yell at all the ethics books? What about signs on doors that say "push"?

Generally no, because those reviews, bookshelves, and doors are not engaged in an explicitly ideological statement which I think is one of the worst things that modern capitalism picked up from Victorian prigs: that leisure time must be "productive" or "educational" in some form in order to maximize the treadmill of competition.

Thinking about this discussion this morning, I'm reminded of something I read by a professional poet. Since professional poetry isn't even poverty these days, the professional poet is usually a teacher, analyst, and critic as well. He suggested that the 20th century was unique in that reading or listening to poetry was treated as a skill that needed to be taught. Earlier poets used advanced poetics and rhetoric, but there wasn't a concept that the poem is a riddle that must be deconstructed via critical method in order to be understandable on any level.

I think he was overstating the case somewhat. I'm wondering how much of this is true of fiction, given how much literary fiction is on the highschool curriculum and the YA library shelves. Am I really supposed to feel guilty for thinking that Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is one of the better attempts to create a modern fairy tale, while My Uncle Oswald is just a dirty little satire? What about tackling Hesse, Faulkner, Melville, Austen, and Shakespeare as a more ignorant and open-minded middle-aged adult rather than a jaded teen who knew everything?
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:46 AM on June 6


I'll add that being able to enjoy complex storytelling doesn't make you a better person or anything, it just...creates an audience to appreciate those kinds of stories.
posted by Taft at 6:47 AM on June 6


Here's what makes this clickbait: an accurate title for this article would be something like "young adult fiction is no substitute for the best adult literature", because that is the actual premise of the article. The author outright say well no, it isn't any worse than any run of the mill genre fiction and probably better than trashy teevee. She doesn't even attempt to address the best and most literary youth fiction which is of course as rare as the best and most literary any kind of writing. In other words the argument is basically no different than say arguing that your average bestselling summer beach read is not a substitute for the best adult literature. Well, duh. She barely even tries to suggest an argument that there is anything particularly worse about YA genre fiction - sure it may approach its topic from an adolescent perspective, as if that's any worse than the machismo power fantasy of many political thrillers or whatever. But she goes ahead and frames the article as " you should be ashamed of yourself for reading kiddy books" and hey look, it worked.

She also does this thing I'm seeing repeatedly where she kicks off with this attitude of " oh I know my opinion is going to be so unpopular I could barely bring myself to state it in public" oh yes but you forged ahead because you're just SO BRAVE. What a dishonest, lazy, self- serving bit of textual conceit that is.
posted by nanojath at 6:51 AM on June 6 [12 favorites]


They are being kinda dicks about it. But I sort of agree. I have been relatively embarrassed as a human being that the most popular books across all age groups for the last decade have been YA.

That's silly. YA books have been popular across all age groups since at least Twain's time, and some, like To Kill A Mockingbird, have just about out-sold the Bible. This is just clickbait; don't be fooled into mistaking this for serious cultural criticism that actually matters.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:53 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]


Actually, the author has clarified on Twitter that she's not opposed to guilty pleasures. She just thinks people should feel guilty about them.

I think I'd feel more guilty about reading an "adult" modern novel that approaches the human condition through the lenses of sex, drugs, and violence than To Kill a Mockingbird.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:56 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]


I don't know about anyone else, but I get all of the stimulation I need from reading Ziggy.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:57 AM on June 6 [4 favorites]


Yeah, this article is so much bullshit. Wonder by R.J. Palacio and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, just to pick two examples, have more to say about the human condition than any "adult" novel in which a rich white man talks openly about masturbation.
posted by Timmoy Daen at 7:11 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]



Slog? Slog?

He ain't still in print because of high school English classes.


Yup. Slog. At that point and time in my life, I just couldn't get into it. I don't think it was the writing itself, but that I had to deal with the workload of other classes, as well as a very challenging home life.

Currently? I love Charles Dickens, and rediscovered him on my own in University. But yea, my statement stands. In HS, it was a slog for me. Maybe in a different HS environment, I would have enjoyed it more.
posted by spinifex23 at 7:15 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]


Here's what makes this clickbait: an accurate title for this article would be ...

Yes, and this has been to a large extent Slate's modus operandi lately, to troll for outrage clicks in social media and news feeds. It seems to be working for them, financially (if not ethically). I haven't quite gotten to the point of remove Slate from my news feed and bookmarks, but I am very close.

It makes the old days of indignation about Slate and Kinsley trying to do honest news while subsidized by Microsoft seem quite quaint.
posted by aught at 7:15 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


So that said and, speaking as someone who occasionally will read a well-reviewed YA science fiction series (Ian McDonald's Everness books are the most recent example, and Paul Park's Princess of Roumania series a while back), I find the experience of reading YA books odd sometimes, not because the main characters or narrators and young people, but because I am used to a world that is not rated G/PG in content, even for teens' experience.

I've wondered about a couple things as I've seen the proliferation of YA books in recent science fiction. First, are authors (perhaps intelligently) working to cultivate the next generation of adult readers, in much the way that Heinlein or Andre Norton books brought readers of my generation into the genre?

Also, I sometimes wonder if adult readers who are a little burned-out by the intensity of much of the available "adult" stories, in genre or mainstream contemporary literature, where sex, violence, intoxicants, an dire predictions about social and ecological trends are all routine, might seek solace in YA books. I'm not sure if either of those is true, but I've been wondering about both possibilities. Even in very well-written YA series like McDonald's, I feel an odd sense of absence in the content or scope, I presume because of the way the story is told. (Maybe that's just what relative "innocence" feels like to a jaded middle-aged person.)
posted by aught at 7:28 AM on June 6


The headline alone made me cringe because it reminded of that time around 15 years ago when I used to think the same thing about Harlequin Romances and then a very smart person made a very convincing argument that I was being an asshole.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:30 AM on June 6 [5 favorites]


Actually, the author has clarified on Twitter that she's not opposed to guilty pleasures.

This gets at what bugged me about this article. Telling someone "you should be embarrassed" is an attack, and a socially loaded one. It has specific objects in mind, to incite the attacked to emotional defensiveness and to inspire smug self- righteousness on the part of your ideological partisans. If this article had been framed as "it's fine for adults to read YA fiction but let's acknowledge that it's a guilty pleasure" I highly doubt there would anything like the level or emotion of response. The author has said several times in her follow up twitter spree that hey, she reads detective novels she just recognizes them for what they are. What she pointedly doesn't say is hey, I read detective novels and I'm embarrassed to admit it because of course she is not embarrassed. So why does she frame her attack on someone else's genre indulgence as such? It's pure rhetorical trickery of the sort that drives so much of public discourse and it stinks. Its pointlessly divisive, it doesn't provoke constructive discussion, in fact it flatly impedes it. It's depressing that it works so well ( in terms of the baiting of the clicks) and that there is so little mainstream venue for better, more thoughtful discourse.
posted by nanojath at 7:30 AM on June 6 [14 favorites]


For borderline/ambiguous YA cases in science fiction, a curious experiment of sorts are John Barnes' Jak Jinnaka books (The Duke of Uranium etc.) which have a lot of the trappings of YA but take decidedly unexpected and nasty turns. I suppose that kind of thing is to be expected from Barnes, who has spent a lot of his career complicating science fiction's conventions (his The Sky So Big and Black is another example of a YA-seeming book that isn't really).
posted by aught at 7:34 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Genre fiction? Why let Literary Fiction off the hook? My current default is to judge anything by an MFAer as guilty until proven innocent.

It is interesting that genre fiction and YA writers get criticized for using familiar tropes, while literary fiction writers frequently do the same without being held up to the same scrutiny. So many writers of literary fiction seem to have come through an MFA program or supplement their income through a teaching gig at the university level and then too closely follow the "write what you know" mantra.

It is almost comical how many books in the literary fiction arena are about the adventures of an English professor living in a small, college town, as if that is relatable to anyone but a tiny fraction of a percent of the general population. No wonder so many people seek out other types of books to read.
posted by The Gooch at 7:35 AM on June 6 [9 favorites]


as if that is relatable to anyone but a tiny fraction of a percent of the general population

In general I agree that there are probably a surplus of novels and short stories about the lives of academic writers, though to be fair if a book is well-written you shouldn't have to have directly shared the character's experience in order to relate to it enough to enjoy the reading experience.
posted by aught at 7:38 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Perhaps I should write an article for Slate. "Are you an adult who reads clickbait articles? You should be ashamed of yourself." Then I can write the tell-all article for Salon: "I wrote a clickbait article, and this is what I learned".
posted by jeather at 7:45 AM on June 6 [5 favorites]


This article seeks to persuade you that you should read certain things rather than others in your presumably finite reading time.

Well, if the author's goal here was persuasion, then I think she's failed that one right out the gate.

Look, it's pretty simple, really. If you have the desire to be a connoisseur of the human literary experience and you are fortunate enough to have the leisure and the resources to pursue that desire, then you should try to read to challenge yourself. That's the only "should." There aren't any "shouldn'ts."
posted by octobersurprise at 7:45 AM on June 6


When chapter after chapter in Eleanor & Park ends with some version of “He’d never get enough of her,” the reader seems to be expected to swoon. But how can a grown-up, even one happy to be reminded of the shivers of first love, not also roll her eyes?

So the majority of what I read is fiction written for adults. However, it's fiction written a hundred years ago for adults, back in a time when there wasn't as much fetishization of ennui. The emotions that the author is dismissing as "childish" are, in fact, present in a lot of things we consider classics. Wuthering Fucking Heights. Pride and Prejudice. Lorna Doone. But it's okay, because it's okay to feel, because that's what books are written to make you do.

But there's this deep, ugly core of bitterness where the author and some here are sneering at love. Man, shouldn't adults roll their eyes! These people want to be with each other all the time! We know they're teenagers! We know their love is doomed to fail! We can't wait until they grow up and get married and then have terrible divorces with awful custody battles! Ha-ha, aren't we so much wiser than them! Man, they think they're going to be happy!

Like, fuck, man, are you saying you're seriously so jaded that you refuse to even read a book where someone might not have had their heart as broken by love and the world as you feel you did?
posted by corb at 7:46 AM on June 6 [13 favorites]


though to be fair if a book is well-written you shouldn't have to have directly shared the character's experience in order to relate to it enough to enjoy the reading experience.

That’s true, but something’s broken if I’m finding it a lot more easy to relate to stories about being an alien or a monster than being a middle aged white dude. And I don’t think the broken thing is me.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:50 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]


I mean, there’s something incredibly alienating about reading books that are supposed to help explore the human condition and then be told that people like you are inscrutable, simplistic, silly, or just not important. And that’s how a lot of mainstream literature treats anyone who isn’t a specific type of educated white guy.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:55 AM on June 6 [4 favorites]


Is this hatred of YA just one more symptom of our culture's essential hatred of teenaged girls?
posted by Hildegarde at 7:56 AM on June 6 [8 favorites]


I am frankly more worried about teenagers sticking with YA lit forever than I am worried about grown adults returning to it.

reminds me of a Roger Ebert/Gene Siskel discussion from a few decades back where they were worried about the plethora of youth-specific movies that were filling the theaters (a sort of post-Star Wars phenomenon). It wasn't that the movies were bad per say (many of them weren't), it was just that they feared they were leading to an overall "juvenlization" of the culture. Because up until Star Wars proved that there was HUGE market for a sort of fourteen-year-olds-of-all-ages product, there just weren't that many such movies being made. There was Walt Disney etc and then there was stuff that may have been dumb-insipid-predictable but it was definitely adult in terms of themes and situations ... with very little between. So if you were twelve or thirteen, you were necessarily seeing (sneaking into) more mature stuff ... and thus getting educated as to how the world really worked.
posted by philip-random at 7:57 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


And that’s how a lot of mainstream literature treats anyone who isn’t a specific type of educated white guy.

People keep saying this and it makes me wonder what genre I've been reading if Zadie Smith, Eleanor Catton, Marisha Pessl, and Siri Horstvelt (to name a few) aren't mainstream literature. They sure are educated and mostly white, but there are a lot of fantastic female literary fiction writers out there.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:01 AM on June 6 [4 favorites]


She also does this thing I'm seeing repeatedly where she kicks off with this attitude of " oh I know my opinion is going to be so unpopular I could barely bring myself to state it in public" oh yes but you forged ahead because you're just SO BRAVE. What a dishonest, lazy, self- serving bit of textual conceit that is.

Camille Paglia has a lot to answer for, sez me.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:02 AM on June 6 [8 favorites]


Is this hatred of YA just one more symptom of our culture's essential hatred of teenaged girls?

No more than hatred of BIG DEAL Hollywood action/adventure movies is an essential hatred of teenaged boys. What it is is hatred of their unformed tastes and overall lack of cultural sophistication and how their purchasing power tends to keep shoving it all in our faces.
posted by philip-random at 8:05 AM on June 6 [4 favorites]


If this article had been framed as "it's fine for adults to read YA fiction but let's acknowledge that it's a guilty pleasure" I highly doubt there would anything like the level or emotion of response.

It would arouse less anger, but I don't think it would be uncontroversially correct, either. With a small number of exceptions, I get roughly the same kinds and amounts of pleasure (and guilt?) from reading YA as from adult books -- roughly the same amounts of great prose, and heavy issues, and interesting questions.

(It's hard to find a YA book with the kind of epic sweep that Kavalier and Clay or The Goldfinch have, but it's hard to find an adult book with the sustained sharp intensity of Nothing, so it works out about even.)
posted by Jeanne at 8:06 AM on June 6


Jeanne, that's interesting, because I always thought of Kavalier and Clay (one of my favorite books) as longform YA.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 8:08 AM on June 6


They sure are educated and mostly white, but there are a lot of fantastic female literary fiction writers out there.

I don’t have time to dig out the pie charts right now, but talking percentages? No. No there are not. Fewer still that are considered critically acclaimed.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:10 AM on June 6


I don’t have time to dig out the pie charts right now, but talking percentages? No. No there are not. Fewer still that are considered critically acclaimed.

I'd be interested in seeing the pie charts. 5 out of the last 10 Booker prizes have gone to women, same for the Pulitzer for fiction. (I'm not at all saying that sexism isn't a problem in publishing, but it's pretty easy to stock a reading list with excellent recent fiction written by women without even getting to the obscure stuff)
posted by oinopaponton at 8:16 AM on June 6 [4 favorites]


No more than hatred of BIG DEAL Hollywood action/adventure movies is an essential hatred of teenaged boys.

So when do they get their "you should all be ashamed of yourselves" clickbait Slate article, then? My guess is never.
posted by dialetheia at 8:17 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]


She barely even tries to suggest an argument that there is anything particularly worse about YA genre fiction - sure it may approach its topic from an adolescent perspective, as if that's any worse than the machismo power fantasy of many political thrillers or whatever.

Yes, exactly! She really wants (as LarryC does above) to scold us (well, me, and those like me) for not reading "some Dostoyevsky, some Hardy, some Pynchon" but framing it as "YA is shameful" is much more clickbait-y.
posted by tyllwin at 8:17 AM on June 6


I don’t have time to dig out the pie charts right now, but talking percentages? No. No there are not. Fewer still that are considered critically acclaimed.

What? Please, show the charts. I think you're flying by instinct on this issue and are actually factually very wrong. Most contemporary literary fiction scenes are much more open to women than they were in the days of the middle-aged white guy canon that used to dominate in academia. Most contemporary university English programs are heavily focused on diversity and have been for a couple of decades now (unless the tide suddenly turned back the second I graduated and left the university). There are many, many, many respected female literary authors these days. What major white male literary authors are you thinking of that are dominating? I can't even think of one working today off the top of my head that gets much critical heat or popular attention. What? Thomas Pynchon maybe? But he's no better known or loved than Toni Morrison. Bring some evidence next time.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:26 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


@ moonlight on vermont

>for an avowed culture snob and postmodernist, you seem to have missed the big cultural conversations in the past five years about white hipsters fetishizing ~authentic ethnic restaurants as a way to differentiate themselves from the mall-going chaff

Perhaps my prose got the better of me; I meant to fetishize the ethiopian cuisine. Or I'm missing out on something more here.

>There are a lot of interesting essays about touting your taste as a consumer as a new class marker; you might want to check them out.

Pretty sure that's been a thing forever and we're all pretty adept at it.

>But seriously, if you think you are special and urbane because you know what injera is and can name-drop David Foster Wallace, you need a reality check. Good grief.

Special? Being a fat old homeless man does not feel special to me. That I think being an adult means one has become at least a little tired of the exact same simplistic stories and characters and emotional arcs experienced over and over and over again in every book/film/TV show intended for popular mass consumption and would thus appreciate art/literature that embraces a different approach (even if in these postmodern times it has all been done -- at a fundamental level) makes me an optimist. People do grow and learn and embrace things and ideas that young people would have no chance of getting. It is a shame when an adult purposefully avoids things that are designed for them with their greater knowledge, wisdom, and life experiences. Does this make them stupid or less special? Of course not. It's just I sincerely believe that most adults would get this stuff and appreciate that it speaks to them as adults.

(Also, I'm a modernist composer so I do have a horse in this race.)
posted by bfootdav at 8:30 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


What? Please, show the charts. I think you're flying by instinct on this issue and are actually factually very wrong.

Pie charts showing that men are well overrepresented in many journals that publish literary fiction. The demographics of who is reviewing is more skewed. This really should not be news to anyone – the tastes of literary fiction are skewed to appeal to a very small demographic.

I can provide more information, if you need it.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:39 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


(Re Harry Potter:) Every library I've ever worked at has had it in the children's room.

Isn't all YA fiction in the children's room of a library? I thought that was the whole point of marketing books which are otherwise fit for general adult consumption as YA -- that way they're easy for kids graduating from children's books to find (next shelf over), and it's more likely that parents will approve.

Once you leave the children's room of the library, you're in Just Regular Ole Books territory, as far as I can tell.
posted by Sara C. at 9:05 AM on June 6


adult readers who are a little burned-out by the intensity of much of the available "adult" stories, in genre or mainstream contemporary literature, where sex, violence, intoxicants, an dire predictions about social and ecological trends are all routine

As one of those adult readers who is "burned out," it's not the intensity, but the banality that drove me away. Sex, violence, intoxicants, and dire predictions aren't intense; they're routine, as you note. How they're handled can range from genius to insufferably pretentious navel-gazing.

If I had to put a finger on the biggest thing that separates me from my mother, who enjoys literary fiction, it's the joy in reading about everyday people like us and feeling a connection to them or deriving meaning from the author's (narrative) comments on their lives. My mother has that joy; I do not. I don't connect to characters in that way, especially not ones that have flaws I find annoying and preoccupations I find dull.

The last literary novel that I enjoyed was The Road; I chewed it up in less than a day. So I don't think that you could say it's "intensity" that puts me off. The last literary novel I put down without finishing opened with a family scene that was well-crafted and really gave you a sense of knowing that family in only a few pages, but I found I disliked them.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:08 AM on June 6 [4 favorites]


If a public library is big enough to support it, they tend have a teen area with loungy furniture, computers, and books directed at teens. Even if a library isn't big enough to support it, they tend to have a teen section of some kind. Teens don't see themselves as children, so increasingly libraries are locating the teen area as far away from the children's department as possible.
posted by Hildegarde at 9:15 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


For Pete's sake, why hate on other people over what they enjoy reading? There are a million reasons to choose one book (or kind of book) over another.

Sometimes I want broccoli; sometimes I want cookies.

Sometimes I'm far too busy to get through a long literary novel, so I'd rather read something that goes quickly.

Sometimes I get tired as hell with the Jonathan Franzen "dysfunctional white people" shit and need to read something where all the characters aren't assholes.

So yeah, sometimes I read David Mitchell and DFW and Umberto Eco and Julio Cortazar, and sometimes I read the shit out of Hunger Games and Harry Potter and His Dark Materials. One of my favorite books recently was Neil Gaiman's Fortunately the Milk, which literally took me 20 minutes to read, but was a total hoot. My wife reads YA fiction and cozy mysteries almost exclusively, not because she's stupid or immature (she ain't), but because she reads books for escapism rather than intellectual edification or whatever. She's read literary fiction and has decided she'd rather spend her (limited) time with Agatha Christie and Colin Meloy's Wildwood series.

So why write an article that basically says, "I don't like what you like, and you should feel bad for liking it"? Fuck that shit. That is all.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 9:17 AM on June 6 [5 favorites]


Pitch: A dystopian YA book about a world where fiction with teenage protagonists is outlawed.
posted by The Whelk at 9:18 AM on June 6 [7 favorites]


they were worried about the plethora of youth-specific movies that were filling the theaters (a sort of post-Star Wars phenomenon). It wasn't that the movies were bad per say (many of them weren't), it was just that they feared they were leading to an overall "juvenlization" of the culture.

Oh, this isn't at all my concern when I worry about young people just sticking with YA for life rather than growing up and branching out.

My main concern about it is that you then never really get out of the walled garden of books written for children and out into the wider world of literature. Which is sad just because of the wealth of stuff that's out there, but it's especially sad because that period of being grown up enough to go out and consume whatever media falls across your path is, in itself, a way of maturing. The moment I realized I didn't have to stay in the Children's Room, but could go anywhere in the library I wanted and read any book and nobody was going to take it away from me was HUGE.

It makes me sad to think that a lot of people will never have that because all the books that will ever be marketed to them are still just right here in the same dull section of the library you've always been given access to. No need to discover anything. No need to explore or stretch your wings. Just stay in your little cage.

There's a rebellion in deciding to read YA as an adult that is in some ways congruent to the rebellion of reading Gone With The Wind in seventh grade because it's long and you can. To never cross that threshhold in the first place is sad.
posted by Sara C. at 9:18 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Sara C., I think the trend in both libraries and bookstores is to move the young adult books away from the children's books; my last library had YA books on their own half-floor (with a small teen study/socializing area) and my current library has YA books on the main floor with the adult books but in a separate section (the children's books are upstairs). The idea is that teens want to distance themselves from reading children's books; they want to feel like what they're reading has more in common with adult books than children's books; and they certainly don't want to socialize in a space that's being used by younger children.
posted by Jeanne at 9:19 AM on June 6


But isn't that more about socializing?

I don't know, I didn't read YA as a teenager at all and would never have thought to put "what books I like to read" and "what room has a nice ambiance for goofing around with my friends" into the same category in any way.

YA books make a neat backdrop for the couches and all, but beyond that??????????
posted by Sara C. at 9:23 AM on June 6


It is a shame when an adult purposefully avoids things that are designed for them with their greater knowledge, wisdom, and life experiences.

There's a fair bit of yanking the goalposts around here. Since we've gone from YA is shameful to read at all to YA is shameful to read exclusively.

"... designed for them with their greater knowledge blah blah blah..." is the theory, but not really the practice of putting on a pedestal stories where white guys (with spouses as secondary) repeatedly not get it through misadventures in conspicuous consumption, sexuality, drugs, and/or quirky objects of lust, concluding with trivial epiphanies of armchair philosophy. The world needs another Gatsby via Garp like I need a hole in the head.

Yes, I'm overgeneralizing, but so is the anti-YA position here. Adult fiction that panders to the the frustrations of work, marriage, and parenthood is just as much a phenomenon as the YA fiction that panders to the frustrations of school, adolescent sexuality, and parents.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:23 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


You guys realize that adults write YA books, right? YA books aren't some strange preserve where adult perspectives and knowledge don't enter in. That is not the definition of YA.

If it makes you sad that someone sticks to particular kinds of books as a general rule (I know lots of people who read MG and YA, but no one reads only MG and YA, not even MG and YA-aged folks), are you equally sad for those people who never opt to read books written in other languages? What a cage indeed! Sure, there's lots of great books written in English, but think of all the great works you're missing!
posted by Hildegarde at 9:25 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


I do think teens get a little embarrassed if their section to go look for books is the same place that's got the colorful wall murals and the stuffed animals and the little children running around, though.
posted by Jeanne at 9:26 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


I don't know, I didn't read YA as a teenager at all and would never have thought to put "what books I like to read" and "what room has a nice ambiance for goofing around with my friends" into the same category in any way.

A fair bit number of books were cross-listed in my hometown library. Copies of To Kill a Mockingbird lived in both the general fiction and the YA section.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:35 AM on June 6


And no, the YA section wasn't on the same floor as the children's section. It was a small set of stacks between the genre fiction and the periodicals reading space.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:39 AM on June 6


A fair bit number of books were cross-listed in my hometown library. Copies of To Kill a Mockingbird lived in both the general fiction and the YA section.

Yeah see this is where they lose me. The cool spot to hang out with your friends that isn't too close to Story Time? Yeah, great, libraries are good at anticipating the needs of the community!

But seriously teenagers are old enough to go weed around in General Fiction if the book they're looking for is in General Fiction. Like who are we protecting with this "two copies of TKAM" scenario?

I think everybody should read whatever they like whether it's Young Adult Fiction or porn or John Grisham or Thomas The Tank Engine early reader comic books. It's the walls we build to protect people who don't need protecting that freaks me out.
posted by Sara C. at 9:40 AM on June 6


Adult fiction that panders to the the frustrations of work, marriage, and parenthood is just as much a phenomenon as the YA fiction that panders to the frustrations of school, adolescent sexuality, and parents.

OK, I guess I'm also distinguishing between adult fiction and literary fiction. In other words I would lump adult fiction (Game of Thrones etc.) with YA and say that adults can be interested in different ways of putting word to the page and not just different settings/characters but dealing with the same emotional arcs and story lines.

I am not at all interested in stories about work, marriage, and parenthood as stories about those things but more interested in how a story is told with very little care given to the plot, characters, and emotional content.
posted by bfootdav at 9:41 AM on June 6


Like who are we protecting with this "two copies of TKAM" scenario?

Grown-ups who don't want to share their space with teenagers mostly, would be my guess.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:43 AM on June 6


Teen areas in libraries are not about protecting anyone (except possibly adults who hate teenagers). Though teen areas tend to have more lax rules about, say, chatting with friends or playing roleplaying games or whatever than the study tables in an adult non-fiction area. Teen areas are designed to make teens feel welcome, not to protect them from adult books. Teens are welcome to roam around the rest of the library at will, and can even sit by the large-print books with a cup of tea if they like.
posted by Hildegarde at 9:47 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Grown-ups who don't want to share their space with teenagers mostly, would be my guess.

Then just shelve it in general fiction where it belongs. To Kill A Mockingbird is not a children's book, despite the fact that it has a child protagonist.
posted by Sara C. at 9:50 AM on June 6


At my local library, I put things on hold online and they turn up on the hold shelf when they're ready. It's just like ordering a book from Amazon, but with longer wait times and no money changing hands. With all the discussion here on spaces for different books, I'm wondering how many of the YA readers of any age are getting their books from the hold shelves the way I do.
posted by immlass at 9:51 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


io9: Really? Are We Still Genre Shaming People For The Books They Like?
You know what makes a novel a young adult novel? The marketing team decides to sell the book to teenagers. They turn up in the young adult section of bookstores or in the "teen" room at the library. What unites books like Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why with Stephenie Meyer's Twilight or Scott Westerfeld's Uglies? Very little, aside from the fact that they feature high school age (and often female) protagonists.

To say that these books represent a cohesive genre is a bit like saying that G and PG movies represent a genre because they are so frequently marketed to kids.
posted by davidjmcgee at 9:55 AM on June 6 [9 favorites]


Then just shelve it in general fiction where it belongs.

If it's a book that teens commonly read, why isn't the teen section part of where it belongs? I'd expect nearly any good sized North American library to have more than one copy of TKAM, and it doesn't seem all that weird to put them in both places where people would expect to find them.

It's like when grocery stores do end-cap displays of sale items. Just because the Ragu is on the end-cap doesn't mean it isn't also in pasta sauce section between the Classico and the Prego. Making good things easier for people to find is good.

(No statement on the relative goodness of Ragu intended by this analogy.)
posted by jacquilynne at 9:57 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Sara C: But seriously teenagers are old enough to go weed around in General Fiction if the book they're looking for is in General Fiction. Like who are we protecting with this "two copies of TKAM" scenario?

No one. But a failure of the Dewey Decimal System as used by that library was that fiction would have been one homogenous mass that is not very useful for browsing by genre or topic without some subdivisions. It's not about protecting anyone, it's about creating useful collections that can be browsed. Looking across a fiction shelf under that schema is similar to looking across a non-fiction shelf. Similarly, I rather like my bookstores, groceries, hardware stores, and drugstores to have some sort of browsing schema in place, unless it's the kind of store where you have to ask the friendly old person at the desk for everything.

Sara C: Then just shelve it in general fiction where it belongs. To Kill A Mockingbird is not a children's book, despite the fact that it has a child protagonist.

Why not?

bfootdav: OK, I guess I'm also distinguishing between adult fiction and literary fiction. In other words I would lump adult fiction (Game of Thrones etc.) with YA and say that adults can be interested in different ways of putting word to the page and not just different settings/characters but dealing with the same emotional arcs and story lines.

Most of what's been sold to me as literary fiction over the last few decades has been adult melodrama with pretensions of style and edginess which could certainly be found in YA and genre lit as well.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:03 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


Well now I want to see a grocery store organized alphabetically.
posted by Hildegarde at 10:07 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


If it's a book that teens commonly read, why isn't the teen section part of where it belongs?

Because teenagers are old enough to navigate a library to find a book they want without it needing to be located in a special area.

We have Children's Sections because young children have neither the reading skills nor the cognitive abilities to have full access to the sum total of all books that exist. Not because they're books children might like to read.

But, as stated above, that's not really why we have Teen sections. It's because teens like to hang out with other teens in a special room of the library that isn't too close to either adults who would be annoyed by them or children who would cramp their style. Theoretically, teenagers are allowed full access to all the books. So... let them go access all the books to find the things they want to read.

I'm confused by the supermarket analogy. Supermarkets are not organized the same way as libraries. Even if you take it out to a bookstore analogy, again it's pretty easy for most people to find out where the fiction books are in a bookstore, and find a particular book within the fiction section. Bookstores tend to have YA sections located in the Children's Section, anyway, probably because the age group YA is truly marketed to (for their purposes at least) is younger than teens, not older than teens.
posted by Sara C. at 10:17 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Thanks for that info, dinty_moore. I appreciate the correction. I think my perception may have been based more on the program material I remember from academic literature programs than on whatever passes for the literary journal market these days. I used to follow the journals, too, and actually, I seem to recall the bigger ones could often still be quite white male-centric in those days (those days being mid to late 90s). But I assumed the journal culture would have caught up to the academic culture by now. The academic culture when I was a student was very healthily and happily focused on balancing out problems with representation in the traditional Western canon, and it was great. It's disappointing to hear the journals are still failing to play fair.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:32 AM on June 6


We have Children's Sections because young children have neither the reading skills nor the cognitive abilities to have full access to the sum total of all books that exist. Not because they're books children might like to read.

That is genuinely not why we have children's departments in libraries. Libraries are, surprisingly, not all about books. Children's departments exist to house a wide variety of services, including community outreach directed at particular parts of the community, workshops and programs, and programming designed specifically in concert with the schools. But breaking a large collection down into rough audience also aids in browsing and serendipity, as any good classification system does (for non-fiction, anyway). There is nothing preventing anyone from moving from one area to another.

Supermarkets are actually organized in a very similar way to libraries. They are grouped by theme and kind. Only non-fiction is organized by call number, and even then, most libraries pull bits out and store it in different areas, depending on the needs of their patrons. DVDs, for instance, aren't usually shelved with the books by call number (though sometimes they are). Reference materials have their own section and often their own floor. Large print has it's own area (do you also object to large print areas?).

There is a lot of flexibility with fiction, because no one's really developed a reasonable way to organize it (except for Archive of Our Own). Cataloguers tend to throw up their hands when it comes to fiction and just resort to alphabetizing it. If we went with your model, Sara C., and just threw all the books in together, it would mean that picture books would be shelved in with the true crime, DVDs and old VHS tapes, cozy mysteries, board books, YA, Science Fiction, chick lit, middle grade, chapter books, and Fifty Shades of Grey. That's not functional, and doesn't support the kind of serendipitous discovery that people enjoy. So you will find a mystery section, and a SF/F section, and a YA section. Etc. To make browsing more fun. Many libraries also include a "local fiction" collection, or, say, a "cult fiction" section. "Beach reading." "If you liked Harry Potter..." It all depends on the creativity of the librarians and the needs of the community.

I don't know what bookstores you're going into, but the ones I've visited in the last 5 years give YA it's own territory, usually adjacent to children's, but not in it.
posted by Hildegarde at 10:34 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]


> my statement stands. In HS, it was a slog for me. Maybe in a different HS environment, I would have enjoyed it more.

Ah, there's the pity of it, then. I took such things as a relief from the grind. But then, I am daily grateful that HS is a distant memory. (And I'm relieved that you haven't been put off Dickens for good.)

Our library keeps YA as far from the children;s section as is physically possible. Whether this is to put adolescents at their ease, or adults at their ease, or just the luck of the draw, I do not know.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:37 AM on June 6


I have no idea what amazing well funded libraries y'all are going to, but the non-college libraries in my area only have a children section and make sure to place the DVDs in front for the adults. The only new development I've seen is the small auxiliary "tech" library, which is mostly full of internet connected computers, with most of the scant shelf space dedicated to DVDs, job hunting books, self help books, and a bunch of Dummies' guides for new tech like that new fangled Windows ME.
posted by FJT at 10:42 AM on June 6


That is genuinely not why we have children's departments in libraries. Libraries are, surprisingly, not all about books.

Yes, but this conversation is. Children's Sections of libraries have children's books in them because generally children are only allowed/expected to read children's books.

This is not why Teen Sections of libraries have YA books in them, or so we've been told upthread.
posted by Sara C. at 10:49 AM on June 6


I fail to understand why the slow-motion demise of 'literary fiction' as a genre should in any way imply a moral failing on the part of people who choose not to be bored or insulted by literary fiction.
posted by lodurr at 10:50 AM on June 6


I don't understand why we're now criticizing libraries. They're just trying to get people in the door -- libraries have been in trouble for some time now across the US, and in many ways, the best they can do is make things easily accessible and welcoming.

So, in that context, what is the big deal if a library chooses to put copies of To Kill A Mockingbird in both the Teen and Adult sections? The book is assigned in many high school classes, so it should certainly be readily accessible to teens. Yes, they certainly can browse or search the adult section and find what they need there, but what's the harm in making it easier on them if they're already in the teen section anyway?

On preview: Sara C., I'm not convinced that the primary purpose of Teen sections in libraries is social rather than organizational. If easy access is the goal (which I think it is), than grouping all the teen books together in an easily identifiable section makes sense, and the social aspect is secondary.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 10:51 AM on June 6


no one's really developed a reasonable way to organize it

What are you talking about?

Go to any bookstore and you will be sure to find all the various fiction sections quite easily. It tends to be organized by genre/broad subject matter and then within that, alphabetically by author. The classics and literary fiction tend to just be under "Literature/Fiction" or "General Fiction". I can see not knowing the concept of what a genre is, but this is a life skill that teenagers are expected to grok relatively early on.

If the reason adults are reading YA literature is because they literally cannot FIND any other fiction in libraries or stores, we have much bigger problems than whether Gravity's Rainbow is like too boring or what.
posted by Sara C. at 10:52 AM on June 6


Also, it bears repeating that once you get past middle-grades, age segmentation is basically a marketing concept. If you write a book with a 14 year old protagonist, it will be marketed to 12 year olds (barring heroic effort on the part of you or your agent), regardless of its content.
posted by lodurr at 10:54 AM on June 6


What I'm talking about is classification schemes, like Dewey, like Library of Congress. They don't work for fiction.

Bookstores use marketing categories, the ones you object to so much.

Someone could develop a classification system for fiction based on, say, audience, genre, themes, virtues/flaws of the protagonist, era, emotional quality of the ending, etc. But almost no one, except, as I said, some online fiction archives.
posted by Hildegarde at 10:56 AM on June 6


The book is assigned in many high school classes, so it should certainly be readily accessible to teens.

But it already is accessible to teens on the basis of being stocked in the library in general.

I mean, are we really arguing that a fifteen or sixteen year old is too dumb to find any book not clearly labeled HEY YOU TEENS YOU HAVE TO READ THIS OR YOULL FAIL ENGLISH NEXT YEAR?
posted by Sara C. at 10:56 AM on June 6


Yes, clearly that's what we've all been saying. Glad we cleared that up.
posted by Hildegarde at 10:57 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Sara c., sometimes people like to browse.

I can't find it now, but back when Cory Doctorow started writing YA fiction he noted that the attraction for writers was that there weren't expectations about what constitutes YA fiction, unlike most other genres.

I imagine the attraction for readers is largely the same.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:00 AM on June 6


Sorry for not displaying the proper amount of shame about the things I enjoy.

No problem, everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Now excuse me while I go back to my Dawson's Creek.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:00 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Hildegarde: Someone could develop a classification system for fiction based on, say, audience, genre, themes, virtues/flaws of the protagonist, era, emotional quality of the ending, etc. But almost no one, except, as I said, some online fiction archives.

I don't know what library you're going to, but mine has some of the fiction books broken out as sci-fi/fantasy, mystery, horror, romance, etc.

Sara C.: I mean, are we really arguing that a fifteen or sixteen year old is too dumb to find any book not clearly labeled HEY YOU TEENS YOU HAVE TO READ THIS OR YOULL FAIL ENGLISH NEXT YEAR?

Not at all. My point is simply, who cares? If a library has five copies of TKAM, why not put two copies in the teen section for convenience's sake? We're not making teens stupider by denying them the opportunity to look for books in the adult section.

On preview: What ChurchHatesTucker says is also true. Browsing is fun, and maybe a teen will find a book in the teen section that they wouldn't otherwise read.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:03 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Look, I'm sorry, I'm being grar-ish for no reason and have completely lost the thread of what particular bug was even up my ass. Yeah, libraries and bookstores! Yeah, reading!
posted by Sara C. at 11:05 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


Some of those works had copies of To Kill A Mockingbird in the curated large print and the curated audio section. Oh no!

But, as stated above, that's not really why we have Teen sections.

I've never seen a teen collection isolated in this way. I have seen local history collections given their own room. So perhaps you should direct your complaints to local history readers instead.

I'm confused by the supermarket analogy. Supermarkets are not organized the same way as libraries.

If you're confused on this point, it's a wonder you can even have a conversation about fiction or libraries.

I walk into a store, and all the tinned beans are located on the same aisle on a shelf. I go to the other end of the store, and there are all the ice cream items on a freezer shelf. At one end of the library hall, all the books on opera are clustered together. In the middle of the hall, there's a shelf of phenomenology.

Because fiction might be as much as a half or a third of a public library's total collection, it makes sense to create curated collections that allow for readers to find works that are similar by browsing rather than going back to the card catalog.

Even if you take it out to a bookstore analogy, again it's pretty easy for most people to find out where the fiction books are in a bookstore, and find a particular book within the fiction section.

I can't remember being in a bookstore that just had a single fiction section either. This is a good thing, because half of the fun of bookstores or libraries is discovering new material in the same field. The bookstore may not have what I'm looking for in stock, but hey, didn't I read a review about this other author 18 inches down in the same section? That book might be checked out, but this book looks like it might be a better discussion of the topic.

Which is, I'll insist, one of the most important reasons we should have libraries and bookstores as opposed to just do everything by author/title lookup on Amazon. YA section I'm familiar with is a grouped collection including:

* new work written for readers of middle- or high-school vocabulary
* older work frequently taught in middle or high school
* work that thematically includes protagonists and POV characters of similar age.

Bookstores tend to have YA sections located in the Children's Section, anyway, probably because the age group YA is truly marketed to is younger than teens, not older than teens.

Not in the bookstores I go to. But I've not been in one for a few years since the local B&N cut the SFF section in half to make room for teen paranormal romance. That was the opposite end of the store from the children's section.

I mean, are we really arguing that a fifteen or sixteen year old is too dumb to find any book not clearly labeled HEY YOU TEENS YOU HAVE TO READ THIS OR YOULL FAIL ENGLISH NEXT YEAR?

Of course not. But putting similar books on the same stack for convenient browsing introduces people to more books, leading to people like me who walk in wanting a single volume and walk out with a half-dozen.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:05 AM on June 6


Sara C.: Look, I'm sorry, I'm being grar-ish for no reason and have completely lost the thread of what particular bug was even up my ass. Yeah, libraries and bookstores! Yeah, reading!

It happens. *reading hi-5!*
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:11 AM on June 6


I guess I just don't get how To Kill A Mockingbird, A Tale Of Two Cities, Love In The Time Of Cholera, The Outsiders, The Vampire Lestat, The Andromeda Strain, Dragonriders Of Pern, Franny And Zooey, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Neuromancer, On The Road, Emma, The Cherry Orchard and Angela's Ashes* are "similar books" that need to be in a curated collection.

*Just a quick rundown of stuff I remember enjoying as a teenager. I'd have added The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, but those hadn't been published yet when I was a teen. I'm sure I'd have liked them, though.
posted by Sara C. at 11:13 AM on June 6


I'm sure I'd have liked them, though.

That's why you shelve them together.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:19 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


That's why you shelve them together.

But what if she shelves them alphabetically by author last name?

This whole discussion of why there are YA sections in libraries or book stores just strikes me as rather odd. There just isn't a single reason, but the biggest single reason is marketing. Libraries and bookstores have slightly different motivations but they both want to increase the number of books going out the door and they both want to get young readers reading. And whether any of us think it's a wise tactic, the perceived best practice way to do that is by having YA segmentation.
posted by lodurr at 11:24 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


Nail, head, etc. I'd recommend each of those books (with the exception of Angela's Ashes, which I haven't read) to teenagers who like to read. So, all libraries are doing by grouping them together (if in fact that's what they're doing) is saying "hey, you might like this one too!"
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:25 AM on June 6


Sara C.: The moment I realized I didn't have to stay in the Children's Room, but could go anywhere in the library I wanted and read any book and nobody was going to take it away from me was HUGE.

Oh yeah, me too! I felt so guilty, like I was breaking the rules by looking at adult books. (I'd start in the kid's section, then kind of sidle over to the hardcovers on the wall when no one was looking.) It was a wonderful illicit pleasure.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:31 AM on June 6 [4 favorites]


I felt so guilty, like I was breaking the rules by looking at adult books.

Now imagine the next section over was labeled "not quite adult books."
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:47 AM on June 6


I always object to YA as even being a genre. I mean, what exactly defines YA as a genre?

It is a marketing category and it contains a multitude of genres within it. Some books within that category are great, some are rubbish, being YA doesn't make them one or the other.
posted by Fence at 11:51 AM on June 6


Kevin Stree & Sara C.: Word. But weirdly enough, it hasn't occurred to me since I was a teenager that anyone else would feel that sense of guilty transgression.

I had a related negative feeling toward YA. That was where I had to go if I wanted to find SF or fantasy, but I really hated that "YA" label. Except for F/SF, I rarely took home anything from the YA section. I was conscious from an early age that F/SF was ghettoized into YA (at least it was in the libraries I went to), but I managed to never generalize that to other fiction.
posted by lodurr at 11:52 AM on June 6


Now imagine the next section over was labeled "not quite adult books."

I would have shunned that section so hard, as a teenager.

I mean, by age 13 I was fully capable of reading any book, and the prospect of reading A Grownup Book or A Very Long Book or A Book With Swears wasn't even a thing anymore. Why limit myself to the "hey so we were thinking you should just read these and don't worry about those big scary grownup books" section?

As it is I pretty much only ever pick up YA if it's been mainstreamed enough to end up on the main table of the airport bookstore, or other adults start recommending particular titles to me. I'd never deliberately go browse in the YA section, and I wouldn't have as a teenager either. And not because I was a special snowflake, but because the YA section was known to be for middle schoolers.
posted by Sara C. at 12:02 PM on June 6 [3 favorites]


I go to a library where the fiction isn't broken out into genre (though some of the older books still have sci-fi or romance stickers on the spine and mysteries have an M call number instead of the general F). All the books are in the same stacks, alphabetically by author, and I gotta say I have been enjoying a much wider variety of fiction since they started doing this.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 12:03 PM on June 6 [3 favorites]


I would have shunned that section so hard, as a teenager.

Good thing the entire world isn't set up just for your preferences, then. I was in the same boat as you and never read books from YA as a kid/teen, and in fact I probably took a lot of unwarranted pride in that.

But most of my peers loved the YA section, and in retrospect I probably would have been better served to learn to socialize with them appropriately than to internalize the message that I was better and more intellectual than them for reading Kafka in 7th grade.

The idea that my reading selections made me any "smarter" or "deeper" than my peers has been a profoundly unhelpful sentiment that I've really had to struggle to drop as I've gotten older. The very pretension that would have led you and I to shun the YA section as teenagers is the same pretension underlying the Slate editorial, and it's just as false now as it was when I was 13 and thought I was smarter than everyone else.
posted by dialetheia at 12:18 PM on June 6 [4 favorites]


YA is more mature than it was when we were teens, though, Sara C. It's been a pretty short amount of time but the genre has changed quite a bit, and there are older teens -- including older teens who are good, enthusiastic readers -- reading a lot of YA.

I didn't read much YA as a teen, but I DID read a lot of adult books that were boring and irrelevant to my life and had weird sex in them and weird attitudes about women and -- in some ways I'm a better reader for having been exposed to that, I think, but in some ways I'd much rather have known where I could go find books that I would have had better luck with.
posted by Jeanne at 12:20 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


I DID read a lot of adult books that were boring and irrelevant to my life and had weird sex in them and weird attitudes about women

This is such a great point! Thanks for bringing this up. It's 100% true - at the age when I should have been reading books that helped me understand my place in the world, especially as a woman, I was instead absorbing a bunch of problematic crap from old white men about what they felt women should be (why oh why did anyone let me read Updike's Rabbit books at that age?). I don't doubt for a second that it had a lasting effect on my world view, and it's no coincidence that books for and about old white mens' feelings tend to be regarded as Respectable and Deep but books about womens' feelings are Shallow and Embarrassing.
posted by dialetheia at 12:25 PM on June 6 [6 favorites]


YA is more mature than it was when we were teens....

Yes and no. There's a hell of a lot more sex and violence, but as far as maturity of themes within the range of what are regarded as acceptable topics, I doubt it's really changed much.

I'm tempted to say that adult fiction has dumbed-down, but the truth of it is that we simply forget the dumb adult fiction from earlier ages. It's possible that the baseline standard was higher in some ways (well, since they're laying off editors in droves these days, I concede that's likely in any area where editors would help), but the Dan Browns have been always with us.
posted by lodurr at 12:30 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


I read some stuff at an age that was probably too young. People saw me reading Jerzy Kosinski and either didn't know what it was [parents] or thought it was clever of me [teachers]. I don't regret reading Catch-22 and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at about 12, but I was not really equipped to understand a lot of things about them. (The casual misogyny in Catch-22 kind of blew me away when I re-read it once again in my 30s.)
posted by lodurr at 12:35 PM on June 6


Also re. maturity of content...an awful lot of Philip Jose Farmer and Algis Budrys stuff was shelved in the YA section of my county library, when I was a kid. True, that was a result of genre ghettoization and not actual content standards, but...
posted by lodurr at 12:37 PM on June 6


But most of my peers loved the YA section, and in retrospect I probably would have been better served to learn to socialize with them appropriately than to internalize the message that I was better and more intellectual than them for reading Kafka in 7th grade.

That's not at all where I was going with the "I never went to the YA section of the bookstore as a teenager" thing.

I mean, really, at 16-17 most people you knew were still reading Lois Duncan and such, and not just regular books?

I don't remember any of my friends reading that stuff past junior high. And not because I ran with a super elite crowd of geniuses who were all reading Kafka and Proust. We were all reading plenty of shit. At a certain point we just put aside the Kid Shit for the Adult Shit.
posted by Sara C. at 12:41 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I think it's a difference between the "YA as publisher marketing category" we've got now and the "YA as a somewhat ad hoc and arbitrary collection of stuff librarians assemble, without always necessarily reading the books involved" that was more prevalent ~20 years ago.
posted by Jeanne at 12:41 PM on June 6 [3 favorites]


I mean, really, at 16-17 most people you knew were still reading Lois Duncan and such, and not just regular books?

Not to the exclusion of what you call "regular books" (many of which would be marketed as YA today), no, but yes most everyone I knew at some point in late middle/early high school went through a phase of reading your standard teenager books about teenagers running away from home and making out with boys and stuff. It's a 100% normal phase. There even seems to be some higher quality stuff at this level these days than there was when I was the right age for it, so yay. Anyway, I think you're just seriously misunderstanding what YA even is these days - it's not Beverly Cleary or Ghostwriters, it's John Green or His Dark Materials, stuff that I guarantee many of my friends would have been happy to read in early high school.

I alluded to this above but it's super key - in today's marketing climate, as has been pointed out several times, a lot of the books you call "regular books" like Catcher in the Rye or Lord of the Rings would totally be labeled as YA today. Whether you like it or not, that's just continuing a trend of narrower and narrower niche marketing that has affected practically every aspect of late-capitalist society, so good luck arguing against it.

Shit, for that matter, Salinger caught a raft of crap about Catcher being juvenile and YA-ey even at the time he wrote it, before there was even a term for it - that poor critical reaction was a big part of why he was so reclusive after its publication, even - and yet it's not regarded as "kid stuff" in your accounting. Honestly I'm not even sure what point you're trying to make anymore, other than that you didn't need a YA section, in which case good for you I guess.
posted by dialetheia at 1:00 PM on June 6 [4 favorites]


Ha! This is a funny demonstration of the old saw about anecdotes not being data and biased sample pools... Pretty much all the journals I used to like came out okay in the analysis posted upthread by dinty_moore. Paris Review in particular was one I had in mind as one of those big guys in my previous comment, but they actually came out okay in this study.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:21 PM on June 6


I'm not sure it's that the niches are narrower as much as that they're more rigidly deterministic. The reason Catcher in the Rye would be YA today is that Holden is a teenager. End of story. There have been some wildly inappropriate YA categorizations in recent years (Running with Scissors, which was shelved as YA by B&N for years, springs to mind), and relatively few noble escapes (e.g. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which I think dodged the bullet only because Christopher's voice is just so odd).

And we are mixing up categories. Most Beverly Cleary would be "middle-grade" nowadays, which AFAIK would probably be shelved in children's.

One of the reasons I was so disillusioned by YA as a kid was that I saw what I perceived as a degredation in prose quality from the "children's" books I'd been accustomed to reading, by people like Walter Farley, Jim Kjellgard and Marguerite Henry. In my library, Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series was shelved in children's, not YA, and there was precious little YA that was as well-written as that.
posted by lodurr at 1:28 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


lodurr: I'm not sure it's that the niches are narrower as much as that they're more rigidly deterministic. The reason Catcher in the Rye would be YA today is that Holden is a teenager. End of story.

Nah. Yes, Holden is a teenager, but the book could reasonably be considered YA because it is about themes and issues that teenagers think about and dwell on - identity, authenticity, the emptiness of "normal" teen pursuits, etc.

In many ways, Catcher in the Rye is actually the quintessential YA book.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 1:47 PM on June 6 [3 favorites]


Has it occured to anyone that not everyone makes a developmental jump from elementary-school books right into college-level materials, and that some people might actually benefit from having browsable collections of intermediate-level reading in between? Similarly I don't see a problem with collections for ESL and adults learning to read. Those collections might be a shelf, a descriptive tag in the catalog, or even a photocopied list. But I don't see that my ability to test out at a college-age reading level out of elementary school is a strong justification for demanding that those collections shouldn't exist.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:01 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


it's no coincidence that books for and about old white mens' feelings tend to be regarded as Respectable and Deep but books about womens' feelings are Shallow and Embarrassing.

This is horse-puckey, as ignorant as the assertion that YA is about sparkly vampires. There are hundreds of works of literary fiction that are widely regarded as Respectable and Deep, as well as best-selling, which are neither about nor by Old White Men. Updike has not been a major literary writer for decades, and is at this point treasured by a small minority (which, oddly, includes Zadie Smith).

The best-known literary fiction authors today are Toni Morrison, Junot Diaz, Zadie Smith, Margret Atwood, and Michael Chabon. Go back into the university-approved canon and you quickly hit the Brontes, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, James Baldwin, and quite a few others. The assertion that YA (or---blech!---fanfic) is where you have to go to get minority or queer voices is nonsense propagated by people who want an excuse to avoid sentences you might have to read twice.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:37 PM on June 6 [7 favorites]


I've been jumping in and out of this thread periodically, and one thing I've noticed is that there seems to be a general acknowledgement that YA is marketing category, but also say that people should "read what they want". The unspoken elephant in the room is the marketing budgets and movie tie-ins for certain YA novels do stack the deck for certain books, to the point where people who market books can kind of determine what book someone wants to read. I'm also not saying "literary fiction" is immune to this, as NY book reviews and bestseller lists are also marketing and promotion that put certain books in the front over others. And of course, this pressure is especially strong on the internet, where every online book listed comes with critic reviews, star ratings, sales rankings, a bundle of Likes, and plenty of buzz.

I guess to bring this back to the library discussion, I do miss those times I spent between school letting out and waiting for a parent to pick me up in the library. When I either finished with homework or just didn't want to do it and would aimlessly wander around in the shelves pulling books or looking up random subjects in either an old text-based computer terminal or card catalog. I'm not saying that every or most of the books I found were great, as I definitely cannot match most of the readers here in breadth or depth. But I am wondering if long term trends like marketing categorizations like YA or literary fiction, decline in public libraries, and the rise of book selling (and reading) online have contributed towards more siloing of genres and readers.
posted by FJT at 2:51 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


This is such a weird essay for me for several reasons:

Probably the most immediate is that I'm a 34-year-old guy who has kept reading comics well into adulthood. Comics have had a really fraught relationship with "young adult," and while people have rightly noted that YA criticism can be anti-teen girl criticism in disguise, many of the same charges have been leveled at comics. But the medium is incredibly broad, and even within books ostensibly aimed at young adults, there's a wealth of compelling, complicated narrative and characterization, both in mainstream and indie comics.

Secondly, the idea that YA novels have satisfying endings is undermined by one of the main books she cites: The Hunger Games. The end of the trilogy is emphatically unsatisfying and ambiguous in terms of the choices that Katniss has to make politically — a stronger knock against YA is that, including Hunger Games, the metaphoric world-building isn't expected to be as consistent or coherent as other "genres." That the 13 Districts would be a terrible political scheme and impossible to make into a functioning country isn't a big deal, nor anything that's really investigated in the book. Likewise, the magic of Harry Potter is neither consistent nor very coherent, but it's narratively effective.

Third, my critical faculties don't shut off when I read YA, at least not totally — pop and low culture are just as amenable to critical engagement as any of the srs bzns lit fic.

Fourth, YA isn't the only thing I read. I'd agree if the essay was talking about people — and I have a couple friends like this — who proudly proclaim that they only read YA. I think that's weird, but I also think that people who would only listen to punk or rap are weird.

Fifth, I'm a little surprised that Daniel Pinkwater's name hasn't come up — his Young Adult Novel is hilarious, and he's easily on par with Douglas Adams as a writer, which is to say, alternately silly and trenchant. It's just a good book, at any age.
posted by klangklangston at 2:52 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Other things worth thinking about: Tom Sawyer would be YA; Huckleberry Finn would be "adult" lit, but both are regularly read by youth and are American classics. Should I feel embarrassed for reading them?
posted by klangklangston at 3:01 PM on June 6


yes most everyone I knew at some point in late middle/early high school

I think this may be the disconnect between what we're talking about, since I'm thinking "teenager" = 13-18, and you're thinking "teenager" = 11-14.

As a freshman in high school, I sometimes still read things that would be classed as YA, heavily supplemented by other stuff. By junior year it wouldn't have occurred to me at all to set foot anywhere near the children's section because I had discovered the world of books written for adults.

not everyone makes a developmental jump from elementary-school books right into college-level materials

I think there's a weird and very fucked up dichotomy happening in this thread where the sum total of all fiction that exists is either Young Adult Fiction or like Saul Bellow or some shit.

Y'all realize that there is a whole world of books that is neither YA nor Old White Guy Literary Fiction, right? And that people who are sort of rolling our eyes at YA are probably not doing so because we're comparing it to Proust?

My suspicion of high school students continuing to just stick to kid books is not at all out of a sense that really everyone ought to be reading Pynchon. It's that there's just so much more out there, and that period of your life should be a time of discovery, not a time of just reading the same shit you've been reading since you were nine.
posted by Sara C. at 3:15 PM on June 6


There are hundreds of works of literary fiction that are widely regarded as Respectable and Deep, as well as best-selling, which are neither about nor by Old White Men.

And at no point did I claim otherwise. What I said is that books by or about old white dudes are much more likely to be deemed deep and respectable than books about teenage girls. A book about a teenage girl would practically have to be Shakespeare to get the baseline respect that e.g. another Franzenesque book would. That's all I'm saying - that's why I said "tends to" not "is universally so".
posted by dialetheia at 3:15 PM on June 6


I'm thinking "teenager" = 13-18, and you're thinking "teenager" = 11-14.

Nope, late middle school/early high school is basically 13-17. I mean exactly what I said.
posted by dialetheia at 3:16 PM on June 6


How in the world is "early high school" 17?

And, aside from the fact that YA books are now marketed to adults as often as they are marketed to children, are most seventeen year olds really making a beeline for the children's section? I mean, like, really?

If so I take it back and really AM lamenting the juvenilization of America. Because srsly like wut
posted by Sara C. at 3:22 PM on June 6


How in the world is "early high school" 17?

Are you seriously nitpicking this hard about a single year? Kids who were born early for their grade could be 17 at the beginning of junior year, jesus christ. For the millionth time, the fucking point is that YA books are not children's books. You are misunderstanding what is meant by YA.
posted by dialetheia at 3:30 PM on June 6


How so?

To me, YA is Twilight, Hunger Games, the later Harry Potter books, Divergent, Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants, The Fault In Our Stars, probably The Outsider, all that Lois Duncan teen runaways type stuff, etc.

When I was a teenager lo these many years ago, I don't think I knew anyone older than 13-14 who was still mostly reading that stuff and had not yet made the transition to General Fiction or the genres. Certainly by the time I was out of middle school, my peers and I wouldn't have been caught dead actually standing in the Young Adult section of a bookstore, even though we sometimes still read that sort of thing.

It makes me sad to think of someone who is seventeen or eighteen and has never thought to check out other parts of the library/bookstore. Then again, the way that popular series like Twilight and Hunger Games are marketed to adults at this point, I'm wondering if placing those books front and center outside the children's section actually leads teens to branch out more. When Divergent is on a table next to general best-sellers, maybe it means today's teenagers are actually branching out more and sooner than we did.
posted by Sara C. at 3:50 PM on June 6 [3 favorites]


In my experience kids 14-16 are reading a lot of YA, a lot of classics for school, and some contemporary adult books if they have time - it's not YA to the exclusion of everything else, but also not the idea that YA is something they ever want to completely outgrow.

My YA lit classes talked about how much teens need books to be mirrors and windows - books that reflect their feelings and situations and that show them something beyond that. Even if you're 17, you may need the complicated teen romance ; and you might need Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It's not one or the other.
posted by Jeanne at 4:00 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


The comment was a while ago, but...

I don't know about Winnie the Pooh--is there an adult dude fandom of Pooh that I missed?

The two A.A. Milne Pooh books are very funny indeed, and possibly amongst the most influential books of the early 20th century on British humorous writing (along with Beachcomber and the less up-his-own-arse books of Evelyn Waugh). The most obvious example is Douglas Adams, who obviously liked Milne's books so much he stole a character wholesale. The second book has an ending that gets more moving the older you get. So. I think I might read them again.
posted by Grangousier at 4:04 PM on June 6 [3 favorites]


I'm a little surprised that Daniel Pinkwater's name hasn't come up

Aw, yo.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 4:41 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


When I was a teenager lo these many years ago, I don't think I knew anyone older than 13-14 who was still mostly reading that stuff and had not yet made the transition to General Fiction or the genres. Certainly by the time I was out of middle school, my peers and I wouldn't have been caught dead actually standing in the Young Adult section of a bookstore, even though we sometimes still read that sort of thing.

It's not about you or your peers. Which strangely enough, is one of those stereotypes about teens that isn't entirely true.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:44 PM on June 6


The most obvious example is Douglas Adams, who obviously liked Milne's books so much he stole a character wholesale.

What character - Dirk Gently? Zaphod? Marvin?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:54 PM on June 6


Marvin = Eeyore, no?
posted by Sara C. at 5:05 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


My guess is he means Marvin = Eeyore.

But maybe there's an Eccentrica Gallumbits analogue in Pooh Corner that we just haven't noticed.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:07 PM on June 6


Pretty much, yes.
posted by Grangousier at 5:07 PM on June 6


It's funny how the word "adult" is right there in the name, but some folks still think anyone anywhere puts YA in with board books and early readers, no matter how many people try to explain otherwise.

I can't wait to see what you make of New Adult.
posted by Hildegarde at 5:29 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Paris Review in particular was one I had in mind as one of those big guys in my previous comment, but they actually came out okay in this study.

I kind of feel sorry for pointing this out and destroying your dreams, Saulgoodman, but the Paris Review's gender parity is very new - see the 2012 results.

Kudos to them for getting better and all that, though.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:01 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Okay, so this is a crappy article. But there are some things that may be worth thinking about.

One is that, despite the many denials above, our tastes and preferences are not neutral, our own, or separate from sociocultural norms/influences/trends/values. Our specific desires are shaped by culture, that is, by very complex, unbalanced power relations. This doesn't mean we're pawns or or suggest a deterministic analysis, just that large-scale trends don't occur in a vacuum and can be subject to broader cultural analyses.

Another is that the author's opposition of YA novels to "adult" literary fiction is BS. The massive uptick of adults reading YA novels probably correlates far more strongly to a decline in consumption of "adult" genre fiction (romance, detective, horror, etc.). As many above have noted, many adults read YA as an escape, as "pleasure reading" when their emotional state or busy schedule doesn't render diving into a 1000-page Great Russian Novel particularly appealing. That's a role Crichton, Brown, King, Steele, and Clancy served in previous decades. Readers my age don't read so much Ludlum; they read John Green. Especially readers who also read "literary fiction" (a la Morison, DeLillo, Tartt, Auster).

I suspect that one of the factors contributing to the tremendous popularity of YA fiction among adult readers is a response to social stigmatization of genre fiction. Perhaps the high/low art divide (debated so entertainingly above) contributes to some degree to current generations of adults' turning to relatively less-stigmatized YA novels. Of course it may also be true that this is a "golden age" of YA fiction, but that's far harder to establish, at least until the tribunal of history has deliberated more extensively.

I wonder which would be more "embarrassing" (for lack of a better word) to be seen reading on the subway, Hunger Games or The Da Vinci Code?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:48 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


Da Vinci Code, for sure, although I don't think it's "people on the subway" folks are really worried about with all this. The vast majority of people I know who read at all are more likely to be into Dan Brown or The Hunger Games than are likely to be into High Literature. (And a lot of people are into a little of everything, really.) You're more likely to see someone on the train reading Twilight than whatever won the National Book Award this year.

I used to work with a bunch of extreme Dan Brown fans -- all really smart people with otherwise good taste, too -- and was constantly having to bite my tongue about what shit it is, because nobody likes a snob.

I'm pretty sure that the critic people fear is the critic in their heads.
posted by Sara C. at 12:11 AM on June 7


Ms Graham will find many of the the virtues she extols in her favorite adult "literary" novels in books by Alan Garner, Robert Cormier and Fernando Savater, in Russell Hoban's The Mouse and His Child and in David Mitchell's Black Swan Green... Ms. Graham's voice evokes my third grade teacher, a reactionary nun whose pedagogical style used the fallacy of the excluded middle to drive home her points about my supposedly shameful taste in reading material (mostly Marvel comic books).
posted by abakua at 2:00 AM on June 7


Is Black Swan Green YA? I read & liked it and suspect it's solidly "literary fiction," as is the rest of his corpus. If indeed it's seen as YA then it's a great example of what some here have claimed, that YA is really just a marketing term that includes in reality quite a bit of "literary fiction."
posted by Joseph Gurl at 3:15 AM on June 7 [2 favorites]


Wait - you're saying that Eeyore is a robot donkey? You sure you're not thinking of Dick?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:31 AM on June 7


I for one am always thinking of Dick.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 4:46 AM on June 7 [5 favorites]


You're welcome.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:54 AM on June 7


See? INFANTILIZATION!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:32 AM on June 7 [2 favorites]


The thing that's so funny to me -- or maybe not funny, exactly -- is that Eleanor & Park is a beautiful book that is not at all the way she describes it (her description is just flatly ridiculous and maddeningly unfair; that book is about abuse and pain, not googly-eyed happy romance), and in the UK, it wasn't marketed as YA at all. So I guess if you read it in the UK, you don't have to be "ashamed," but if you read it here, you did, because it's up to the marketing department to decide whether something is shameful or not. (I actually read that entire book and thought it was gorgeous and didn't learn until later that the US publisher was considering it YA; I knew her previous book, which was about adults, and considered E&P similarly themed.)
posted by Linda_Holmes at 9:10 AM on June 7 [4 favorites]


Margaret Talbot at the New Yorker wrote an interesting profile piece on John Green, if anyone wants to read more about him or TFIOS. I haven't read any of his books but just reading about TFIOS here, it seems clear that his book isn't about idealized romance or easy endings or any of the accusations leveled against YA (not claiming it's great, though). I feel like lumping some of this stuff in with kids' books like Harry Potter is a big source of the misunderstandings and unnecessary judgments here. Much of today's YA has more in common with what people have called "regular books" than with the J-section stuff they remember as YA from their childhoods, just like Linda's example of Eleanor & Park (and I'm adding that to my reading list!).

The piece mostly focuses on Green but also touches on some of the stuff we've been talking about:

Like the best realistic Y.A. books, and like “The Catcher in the Rye”—a novel that today would almost certainly be marketed as Y.A.—Green’s books were narrated in a clever, confiding voice. (emphasis mine)

I also dug this well-placed cartoon from the same page...
posted by dialetheia at 10:24 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]


Joseph Gurl: Is Black Swan Green YA? I read & liked it and suspect it's solidly "literary fiction," as is the rest of his corpus. If indeed it's seen as YA then it's a great example of what some here have claimed, that YA is really just a marketing term that includes in reality quite a bit of "literary fiction."

Funny you mention that. An article in the Slate Book Review from 2012 postulated that Black Swan Green should replace Catcher In the Rye as the Great American High School Novel (putting aside the fact that both Mitchell and the setting of the book are English).

I'm not sure I agree, but I did love Black Swan Green, YA or no.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:04 AM on June 7


I don't mean to say this in a dismissive way, but I always figured The Fault In Our Stars was a Cancer Book. I'm sure it's fine as Cancer Books go, but yeah, Cancer Books about teenagers with cancer are always YA by default. It's a staple of the form.
posted by Sara C. at 11:54 AM on June 7


"Da Vinci Code, for sure, although I don't think it's "people on the subway" folks are really worried about with all this. The vast majority of people I know who read at all are more likely to be into Dan Brown or The Hunger Games than are likely to be into High Literature. (And a lot of people are into a little of everything, really.) You're more likely to see someone on the train reading Twilight than whatever won the National Book Award this year."

Yeah, I mean, it's kinda a tautology that people are more likely to read popular books, and popular press has long been different/seen as less than "High Literature."
posted by klangklangston at 12:41 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


I always figured The Fault In Our Stars was a Cancer Book.

Is it a Cancer Book if a huge part of the novel was to point out that Cancer Books are bullshit? Not a rhetorical question. You'd probably say yes, but I disagree.
posted by naju at 12:46 PM on June 7


Also, nothing is really YA "by default." What an odd thing to say.
posted by naju at 12:53 PM on June 7


Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction. These endings are for readers who prefer things to be wrapped up neatly, our heroes married or dead or happily grasping hands, looking to the future. But wanting endings like this is no more ambitious than only wanting to read books with “likable” protagonists.

You know, I really hate the token downer ending or the token ambiguous ending that a lot of modern literature (and tv, and games) seem to feel they need. The token downer ending is basically the same lazy storytelling as the Deus ex machina was, except the gods come in to crap all over everything instead of fixing it. And the ambiguous ending is sometimes good, but more often it's either lazy, used to escape an inescapable plot hole, or used by the writers to avoid having to show the (inevitable) nasty ending they've set up.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:10 PM on June 7 [5 favorites]


I have plenty of time to augment my reading of Great Literature with YA books because I don't watch football, basketball, baseball, soccer, bowling, golf, hockey, tennis, rugby, etc,. or prime time TV. How girly is that?
posted by a humble nudibranch at 1:30 PM on June 7


I just remembered that Slate's editor David Plotz has said on his Political Gabfest podcast that His Dark Materials are his favorite books. Secret Slate Self Shaming!
posted by davidjmcgee at 4:54 PM on June 7


The thing is, the ending to Eleanor & Park is very ambiguous in exactly the way she's insisting they never are. The entire argument just doesn't hold up; it's a polemic (as she called it on Twitter) but not a very good argument.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 6:09 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


>I'm pretty sure that the critic people fear is the critic in their heads.

Yes, but that "critic in their heads" is informed by interaction with culture. Many (most?) readers who are open to "serious" "literary fiction" have encountered a steaming shit ton of very harsh (and sometimes very thoughtful!) criticisms of popular adult "genre fiction," after all, making YA (especially critically-acclaimed YA--see all the passionate and informed defenses of YA writing/style/sophistication above!) a less stigmatized path for "escapist" reading than, say, Tom Clancy.

Our tastes are not inevitable, of course, but neither are they sui generis.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:51 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


A defense from Kat Kinsman on CNN.
posted by Coaticass at 10:33 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


Is it a Cancer Book if a huge part of the novel was to point out that Cancer Books are bullshit?

Most likely 'yes', for any of several reasons:
  1. People read it out of the same motivation / it's marketed to the same demographic;
  2. Similarly, works intended to 'comment' on a phenomenon very often provide the same kick to their audience as the books they're commenting on (e.g. allegedly anti-war films whose audience is mostly there because it's got lots of splodey stuff & ass-kicking);
  3. it's about the same subject matter as the 'cancer books'.
It's really difficult to avoid pandering. I have sympathy to people who want to not pander. But people are going to use your creative product how they're going to use it, and fiction is in any case a blunt instrument: if you're getting close enough in fiction to 'comment' on something, then you're very getting close enough that it's going to rub off on your story.
posted by lodurr at 4:28 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]


NPR has an interview with Ruth Graham.
posted by box at 6:36 AM on June 8


It's an interesting theory that YA is replacing adult genre fiction, JosephGurl, but I don't think the data would really back it up. For one thing, do you have any evidence that the adult genre market is shrinking? My sense is that it's moving to e-books faster than the market for literary fiction is, but sales of genre fiction remain strong. I also think it's a little silly to claim that people are reading YA rather than Tom Clancy, because it ignores gender, which is the huge elephant in this room. Adult readers of YA are overwhelmingly women. I would be surprised if Tom Clancy novels had the same readership. (And anyway, male-associated genres like crime fiction, thrillers and sci-fi are not stigmatized in the same way that female-associated genres like romance are. Tom Clancy is semi-stigmatized because he was a terrible writer and a right-wing asshole, but highbrow people recognize the existence of smart thrillers.)

What is possible, I think, is that YA is to some extent replacing "chick lit," or at least that former chick lit readers are now also reading YA. But chick lit is also a stupid marketing category, encompassing a pretty wide range of books about the romantic and career adventures of young or youngish women. So again, this says more about the marketing of books than about the taste of readers. I think it's interesting to ask why women are ok with embracing certain marketing categories that would seem at first glance not to be intended to appeal to them, but that's not the same as asking why women are willing to read stupid books. It just seems to me that a lot of supposedly-smart people are willing to have a discussion that is completely uncritical about a very dubious classification system.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:00 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]


That NPR interview is really weak. No new arguments. Plus they describe her has a 'journalist.' Is that actually accurate? Or is she an MFA brat?
posted by lodurr at 6:45 PM on June 8


Yes, but that "critic in their heads" is informed by interaction with culture.

I suppose, but there's a clear disconnect between the English professor in your head who admonishes you about "low culture" reading material (whether genre fiction or YA or whatever), and the actual reality of how Americans in 2014 relate to the novel.

I don't actually know anyone who honestly cares about this stuff. And one of my best friends is an up and coming literary fiction author. I've never actually seen anyone chastised about this in real life, and nor have I heard anyone spout off mean-spirited judgments on the subject.

We are decades past worrying about the idea that someone might read a pulpy novel.
posted by Sara C. at 9:27 PM on June 8


Plus they describe her has a 'journalist.' Is that actually accurate? Or is she an MFA brat?
She's a journalist, and I'm not seeing any evidence that she has an MFA. She also appears to be a very serious Christian who graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois. (Wheaton is a very good school that is also extremely Protestant in outlook. And by that I mean that ten years ago they fired a professor because he converted to Catholicism. You don't go there unless you're an Evangelical Christian. I think you may have to sign a statement of faith to even apply.) I think she's probably just a product of a milieu where it's considered really appropriate to tell other people that they should be ashamed of their pleasures, and that's good practice for writing sanctimonious click bait for Slate.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:58 PM on June 8 [6 favorites]


Your patience is greater than mine. I got lost in a sea of what I thought links to Billy Graham's late wife. Apparently they weren't all to her. I did notice, though, that her Slate portfolio were mostly on the religion beat.
posted by lodurr at 3:11 AM on June 9


Kathleen Hale defends YA writing.

As a YA writer myself, I was understandably offended. I’m not some schlocky trash-peddler. I’m a serious author, capable of far more than maudlin plot twists and clichéd dialogue. That’s why I decided to confront Graham in person.

I picked her up outside the graveyard before nightfall.
posted by feste at 12:00 PM on June 9 [6 favorites]


So it is with cancer films. These stories are not meant to be literal representations.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:50 PM on June 9


That Kathleen Hale article is awesome.
“Why did you say that about YA?” I asked, as tears streamed down my face like rain.

“Because it’s true!” she hissed. And I saw in the moonlight that her anger made her beautiful. This was before the war, when the oceans still had water, and the moon was still visible in the sky.

“YA is formulaic, worthless dreck,” she said, transforming into a vampire.
posted by mbrubeck at 1:01 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


So awesome. It's taking 100% of my restraint to keep from quoting the entire thing.
“The novel was invented in the 19th century,” I whispered, inhaling the sweet perfume of her glossy robot hair. “It was written for mass consumption and primarily consumed by women and poor people. Jane Austen and the Brontes? Rich white men would have been ashamed to read that stuff. They pored over what was then called serious literature—Latin and Greek texts that were hundreds or thousands of years old. Like you, they probably argued that the drudgery of simply getting through a text was a vehicle for meaning making. But does that make it right, Ruth? Does it?”

There was a cliffhanger.
posted by dialetheia at 2:54 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that Kathleen Hale thing single-handedly justified the entire brouhaha.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:24 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


another county heard from, in the person of Lyndsay Faye:
There are readers, and then there are serious readers. Mark the difference: a reader will allow his or her eye to wander over text indiscriminately, reading, for example, this year's Edgar Award winner for Best Novel Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger, the price of Spanish sweet onions at the grocery store, stop signs en route to work, the headlines on the cover of the New York Times resting in the basket at the Starbucks, the words on the Starbucks cup, the New York Times itself, and potentially, even the instructions on the back of the microwaveable instant Thai noodle bowl planned for supper. Of all these infractions, the reader should, of course, be most ashamed of deliberately picking up Ordinary Grace and turning the pages one after another, because it falls under the mystery genre, and it is the “juicy plots” of this genre that cause the amateur reader to lift the tome and squeeze it like a blood orange, allowing hedonistic juices to flow recklessly down his or her arm, and proceeding to lap the nectar like a feral, flea-ridden cur.
posted by lodurr at 10:12 AM on June 11 [4 favorites]


Oh my god, these responses are all solid gold! Another great bit from the Lyndsay Faye piece:
But Submergence offers so much more, as Graham goes on to explicate:

—weird facts
—astonishing sentences
—unfamiliar characters
—big ideas

…which explains why the novel has been “rattling around” in Graham’s capacious head for as long as it she claims. Upon finishing this section, I proceeded directly to an online flower site and sent Graham a bouquet written in the Victorian language of flowers meaning, “Congratulations for reading such an important book.” And when, in the article, she described reading John Updike and Alice Munro as a teenager, I purchased an entire sheet of gold stars (recalling my own halcyon days of reading Alice Walker and William Faulkner in high school) and sent her the reward she so richly deserves.
posted by dialetheia at 10:29 AM on June 11


[i got that via laurie king, btw, who's a pretty solid player in the 'serious-minded mystery novelist' category.]
posted by lodurr at 10:54 AM on June 11


So can we assume the author of the original article has a sort of unspoken puritanical agenda against reading for pleasure? Or is that unfair?
posted by Coaticass at 1:56 PM on June 11


I don't think fairness really matters at this point.
posted by koeselitz at 2:36 PM on June 11


Snark aside, I would like to understand what her real deal is. The argument she's making (to the extent is is an argument) just doesn't make sense to me -- and I think Faye and Hale both do great jobs of bringing that out, from different angles. So I have to think there's something else back there that's motivating this. It's not the classic 'you need to work for meaning' stuff; I think that would be giving it too much credit. It really does feel to me like some sense of feeling threatened. There people who ought to feel ashamed about what they're reading, is the message she's pretty clearly trying to transmit -- OK, so what's driving that?
posted by lodurr at 7:50 PM on June 11


Yeah, there does seem to be some kind of underlying "fun is inherently suspicious" thing happening.
posted by Sara C. at 7:55 PM on June 11


I continue to assume her real deal is that she wanted publicity. (See also: that person who wanted JK Rowling to stop writing books because it was unfair to other authors.)
posted by jeather at 8:36 PM on June 11


The thing is that our society, as democratic as it is, is fundamentally opposed to seriousness, to the idea that seriousness matters. We loath the notion, because to suggest that seriousness matters is to imply that some kinds of unseriousness are not worthwhile - and, true equality-minded democratics that we are now, we cannot abide anything so exclusionary.

But I think it takes a necessary and noble kind of bravery to insist that some things are more important than others. I am an elitist; and I'm okay with that. As I say, this is vastly unpopular today, and seen as heresy in some quarters. But I don't think that should matter.

That's why I sympathize broadly with Ms Graham, though I may not agree with all of her points. She should know that she's likely fighting a losing battle. We do not like nobility now. We don't like the idea that some things are important, worthy of meditation, worthy of being held sacred. That makes us nervous; it's so much easier to mouth the childish words of Hamlet and say that it's only thinking that makes it so. When someone tries to hold something up as noble, worthy of thought in itself, we tear that person down as undemocratic - who do they think they are, anyway, telling us what to like? Never mind the fact that denying that any one thing can be greater or nobler than another means denying nobility and greatness entirely - we'd rather not have those things if having them makes us uncomfortable. Athenian democracy had ostracism, a process by which any one human that the multitude felt stood out too much, by nobility or greatness or simple difference, could be forced into exile without charge; we don't have any such formal process, but people have learned to watch their mouths and be quiet about what is and is not worthwhile.

So, yeah: thanks, Ruth Graham. I like your article. I don't agree on all points, and I think it could have been better-researched and better-argued, but I will not join the people here mocking you and presuming that you must be suspicious of fun (!) because I like what you were trying to do, even if I see that it was a lost cause.
posted by koeselitz at 10:04 PM on June 11 [4 favorites]


I think there's a gigantic difference between an article about how people who enjoy Genre X "should be ashamed", and an article about how, yeah, guys, high art is important, and maybe you should take a break from your Harries Potter and read some contemporary literary fiction every once in a while.

I think some things are more important than other things, and I can be kind of a snob about it, but I don't think anyone should be ashamed.
posted by Sara C. at 10:25 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


See also: that person who wanted JK Rowling to stop writing books because it was unfair to other authors.

That to me was more about self-righteous indignation that Rowling was sucking up mythical publishing opportunities for the author of the piece. Anyone thinking for half a moment about it would have to realize that the publicity from such a view would be destructive to your changes at actually, you know, getting published.
posted by lodurr at 2:24 AM on June 12


But I think it takes a necessary and noble kind of bravery to insist that some things are more important than others. I am an elitist; and I'm okay with that. As I say, this is vastly unpopular today, and seen as heresy in some quarters. But I don't think that should matter.

It takes precisely the same kind of bravery that it dose to insist that some things are so wrong that people should be shamed for doing them. It takes the bravery of a Babbit, in other words.

So I pretty much have, and think she deserves, zero sympathy. She, and people like her, are a net-destructive force. All elitism is.
posted by lodurr at 2:26 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Eh, shame ain't so bad. I'm ashamed of a shit ton of shit.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:37 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


That to me was more about self-righteous indignation that Rowling was sucking up mythical publishing opportunities for the author of the piece. Anyone thinking for half a moment about it would have to realize that the publicity from such a view would be destructive to your changes at actually, you know, getting published.

It seemed to me a "well, publicity is publicity" article (a stupid one), and this one hit the same thing.

Yes, there is great literature and there is dreck and then in the middle are where most books live, and some YA will hit each of these piles (so will contemporary litfic) -- but I don't think it's easy to see from here which is going to go where.
posted by jeather at 6:10 AM on June 12


How about this question, then?

Why would one want to spend much of one's reading time inside the heads of teenagers and children, experiencing their problems, their worldviews, their reactions and responses? After all, YA has very young protagonists, right? This question is not for those readers whose YA reading is only a portion of their reading but for those who read a lot of YA and especially those who mostly read YA.

I work with teenagers all day, erryday, and the last thing I want is to read about their personal lives.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 3:58 PM on June 12


That's the main reason I don't read that much of it. It's fine sometimes, but all in all it just doesn't feel relevant to my life as an adult.

That said, a lot of adults fixate on teen media, and I don't think this is really that controversial. I don't want to be needlessly reductive, but it seems to relate a lot to the "We were state champs back in '92" mentality a lot of adults have, where they will always see themselves as who they were in high school. I can't entirely divorce myself from that, either, to be honest.
posted by Sara C. at 4:21 PM on June 12


I was wandering in an aimless fog of 20-year-old ignorance and incompetence in '92.

NINETEEN NINETY TWO RULEZ FOR EVA!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:22 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


I was all starting my period and being mad that I wasn't en pointe yet in ballet. (Very YA, in fact that may be the year I read Are You There, God...)

So, yeah, a banner year all around.
posted by Sara C. at 4:30 PM on June 12


Why would one want to spend much of one's reading time inside the heads of teenagers and children, experiencing their problems, their worldviews, their reactions and responses?

But is that inherently what you're doing when you read YA? A lot of it is really pretty much the same as adult narratives -- it's just aged-down to appeal to the target audience.
posted by lodurr at 6:16 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Well, either it's good characterization and the characters behave in YA ways, or they don't behave in YA ways, in which case it's bad characterization. Either way, probs, huh?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:33 PM on June 12


But what're "YA ways"?

If the subject matter has to do with 'teen problems', then there are "YA ways" those are dealt with or that they come up. (First love, first period, first anything.) But there are also perfectly non-YA things that happen to YAs: Abuse by authority figures, failure of relationships, unexpected illness. Putting them into a YA context can be very powerful.
posted by lodurr at 2:42 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


I'm not going to lay out all the differences between teenagers and adults, but I'm not ever going to agree with you if you're seriously trying to claim that those differences do not exist. I'm absolutely not going to disagree that YA contexts can be "powerful" (not that I'm even sure what that means), but let's be clear: teenagers are not the same as adults and their responses to problems are not the same as adults' responses to those problems, even problems shared (in the abstract) by adults.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 3:22 AM on June 13


I'm not ever going to claim that those differences don't exist (and am not sure how you could read my answer that way). But I would claim that if, as a writer, you're focusing first on "YA-ness" of your YA characters, you're likely missing some of the human-ness of your YA characters.
posted by lodurr at 5:03 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Why would one want to spend much of one's reading time inside the heads of teenagers and children, experiencing their problems, their worldviews, their reactions and responses? After all, YA has very young protagonists, right?

I'm not the primary audience for this question, but I see this as like, "Why read poetry?" "Why read song lyrics?" "Why read epistolary novels?" "Why read mixed-media works?" "Why read things that were originally serials?" "Why read sequential art?" "Why read shorts, short-shorts, flash, and drabbles?"

I don't see fiction as primarily an exercise of getting into the heads of protagonists and POV characters. It's also about storyteller and setting, and appreciating the art of an author who's talking with their audience rather than at them. What is the difference between Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and My Uncle Oswald? The former is written for juveniles while the latter is juvenile. The former is also a fairy tale and parable while the latter is a farce. Fairy tales and parables are difficult to do well with adults, while the latter works best with adults.

Put a kid in a wolf suit, make him a king of the Wild Things, and you have a classic 20th century work about dreams, rebellion, and returning home. Put me in a wolf suit, and you have a neurotic who looks like Homer Simpson with better hair in a wolf suit. The choice of a protagonist and the formal structures of juvenile and YA lit allow for authors to explore an entirely different set of questions.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:05 AM on June 13 [4 favorites]


I don't think that Oswald is a bad novel for what it is, a comic farce in which the title character teams up with the sexiest woman on Earth to start a sperm bank of genius using condoms and spanish fly. I find the notion that Oswald is more worthy than Charlie for adult readers because it's an adult novel to be wrong.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:04 AM on June 13


I don't only (or even primarily) read YA, but I think it's a weird question. I guess that I don't think that young adults are, as a class, inherently less interesting than anyone else. And I don't read fiction primarily so I can identify with characters who are like me. Actually, part of what can be fun about reading fiction is empathizing with characters who are very different from me. Also, people don't typically ask that question about teenage or young adult protagonists in classic or literary fiction, right? Nobody would say that about Stephen Dedalus or Elizabeth Bennet or Pip from Great Expectations, all of whom are young adults.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:02 AM on June 13


Right, which is why my question had nothing to do with that and also why I explicitly specified: "This question is not for those readers whose YA reading is only a portion of their reading but for those who read a lot of YA and especially those who mostly read YA."

I sometimes read YA. I sometimes read books in which the protagonist doesn't share my gender, race, religion, or even species. Which is why my question isn't being posed to people whose reading habits resemble mine.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:57 PM on June 13


Ok, then I think that the adult who only reads YA is a bit of a straw-reader, and I also don't think it's what Ruth Graham was talking about. She thinks that every adult who ever reads YA should admit that their reading habits are sinful. She isn't just talking about the hypothetical person who only reads YA.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:57 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


I would not say I mostly read YA. But I read a lot of YA, and it competes with SFF for the genre I read most (of course, lots of books fall in both those genres).

Some of the reasons I like YA follow. These aren't requirements in books for me, but books I want to read at certain times -- I am okay with reading books that don't follow any of these reasons. These aren't true of every YA book ever, either.

It cares about readability from page 1. You don't generally hear "no, but hold on, it gets really good 100 (300) pages in". This means I don't need to invest much time to know if I actually want to finish the book.

YA books tend to the optimistic -- we can change our circumstances/the world, things will get better, etc. Even in dystopias, even in books with sad or ambiguous endings.

In an unfair reason, because I can find good lists of upcoming YA books and good reviews from people whose opinions I know how to map on my own, something I have slightly more trouble with for SFF and have found essentially impossible in other genres. (This means that I never bookstore browse in those two genres.)

The books are short. I sometimes just want to finish a story. (This positive is mitigated by the Every Book Must Have A Sequel issue.)

YA, or the YA I read, is anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-transphobic. Imperfectly so, but it's nice to know that I will read a book and not be thrown crap that will upset me for no particular reason.

So generally, I know with YA I will get a story -- narrative and character based -- that will be engaging from the beginning, that won't be 500 pages long, that isn't going to be unrelentingly cynical (mysteries, no matter how well done, don't manage this because you know that the next book will have a murder again, and again, and again), and that I'm not going to run up on Boys Are Like This and Girls Are Like That and Oooh Icky Other People, or that if I do it will generally be put in there deliberately and the text will mark it as a bad thing.
posted by jeather at 10:37 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


YA, at its heart, whether it’s fantasy, mystery, contemporary, romance, or literary, is about growing up, finding boundaries, and discovering who you are. Many Millennials aren’t confident in their identity and who they’re going to become, living instead in a state of nebulousness created by a changing society, a shifting economy, and a radically altered world. These aren’t experiences that older generations can fully comprehend, which is one reason why Millennials find themselves so frequently targeted for ire as selfish or lazy. Under these conditions, it’s not surprising that the desire to seek out books that resonate is viewed as further evidence of the juvenile attitudes of Millennials.
-The real story behind the war over YA novels, s.e. smith
posted by NoraReed at 5:37 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


Smith's strikes me as a convenient account -- a narrative that works. But I don't really believe it. It's a triumph of verisimilitude over realism.
posted by lodurr at 7:02 PM on June 14


>Ok, then I think that the adult who only reads YA is a bit of a straw-reader, and I also don't think it's what Ruth Graham was talking about. She thinks that every adult who ever reads YA should admit that their reading habits are sinful. She isn't just talking about the hypothetical person who only reads YA.

Yeah, and her article is dumb. My question is definitely not at all meant to support her article in any way; it's just an extension of this discussion and my own curiosity.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:12 AM on June 15


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